Finding Solace in a Bowl of Mush
This week, as I unpacked some beloved children's books, I received a welcome shot of solace - a feeling that reached out from the past to bless me in the present.
And strangely, it gave me some peace of mind.
The book in question? Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd (Harper and Brothers, 1947).
I grew up with Goodnight Moon. I'm not sure how popular it was in the UK at the time - we had a jacketed hardback edition, sent by friends in America. Now it is a universal classic. I can remember listening to it being read in the warmth of the bedtime light, by my nan, my mum and my dad. It was as much a part of the nightly routine as the premise of the book itself - a little rabbit, saying "goodnight" to everything around him.
(Ah, that pronoun - him. The text doesn't actually refer to the rabbit as 'he'. It could just as easily be a little girl. Because who says girls can't wear blue and white stripy PJs?)
Rereading it, I realise that Goodnight Moon is an excellent example of mindfulness in action. The bunny anchors himself by observing the familiar. He sees that all is right with the world, and it calms him before bed - just as the book has done for countless millions of children. I sense this was a deliberate move on the part of Margaret Wise Brown (who studied to be a teacher). As a writer, she 'wrote books like this, and she wrote them for children, because she believed children deserve important books' (Marc Barnett, The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown).
In the great green room | There was a telephone | And a red balloon | And a picture of - | The cow jumping over the moon | And there were three little bears sitting on chairs |And two little kittens |And a pair of mittens | And a little toy house |And a young mouse
How I loved to spot that little mouse, hidden on each colour page! No matter how many times we read this, there was always one spread where the mouse was fiendishly hard to spot. (I used the same device in my books, Shhh! and I’ve Seen Santa!) In my memory, the mouse lived in the toy house (influenced by my childhood fantasy of having a pet mouse, and Beatrix Potter's Two Bad Mice perhaps?). But there's nothing to confirm this. It was a construct of my imagination - an example of how a child will engage in a make-believe world.
Goodnight Moon is gently soporific, with its lilting rhyme. I imagined the quiet old lady who's whispering "hush" to be the bunny's grandmother. I likened her to my Nan Warnes, herself a calming presence, sitting and knitting.
'The sound of the words, the ideas they convey and the pictures combine to lull and reassure when bedtime and darkness come. The rhythm of the little story is like the sing-song of disconnected thoughts with which children so often put themselves to sleep, and should prove very effective in the case of a too wide-awake youngster.'
- Virginia H. Mathews, The New York Times, September 7, 1947
Read this aloud to yourself and relish its beautiful simplicity:
Goodnight room | Goodnight moon | Goodnight cow jumping over the moon | Goodnight light | And the red balloon
I have always found the effect of the colour pages getting darker and darker (in contrast with the moon and stars which appear to get brighter and brighter) deeply satisfying. I loved that as a child, especially the final spread - ‘Goodnight noises everywhere’ - where the sky and the moon look so magical. The same goes for the fire and the glow of light from inside the doll's house. (Maybe that's why I imagined the little mouse lived there - even though you can see him up on the windowsill as the little rabbit sleeps.)
I think my only criticism of Goodnight Moon is its cover, which I find quite bizarre.
What were they thinking? I would have illustrated the little rabbit or the old lady and given prominence to the moon and stars. I would definitely have hidden that little mouse somewhere! (There’s also something else that puzzles me - what is it with the bowl of mush?!)
Goodnight Moon has become something of a Warnes family tradition. The original childhood copy is still at my parents' home. The one we have is a board book edition, a present from my parents to newborn Noah (they did the same for my nephew, Isaac). The cover blurb is spot on, describing it as a 'classic bedtime story which has lulled generations of children to sleep ... the perfect first book ...'
Unless read by Christopher Walken…
Good to Read
Tried and tested soporific books to lull your kids to sleep
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, ill. by Clement Hurd (Harper and Brothers 1947)
Down by the River - Very Special Friends by Jane Chapman (Little Tiger Press 2012)
A Bit Lost by Chris Haughton (Walker Books)
Days Like This by Simon James (Walker Books 2000)