The Story and IllustrationsGoodnight Moon is a rhyming bedtime story about a little rabbit "in the great green room" lying in bed in his striped pajamas getting ready to go to sleep. The story is basically a description of everything in the room, followed by a series of "goodnight" rhymes to everything in the room as dusk turns to dark and the moon brightens the sky.
The room includes "...two little kittens / And a pair of mittens / And a little toyhouse / And a young mouse." Throughout the story, an old rabbit (the boy's grandmother?) quietly knits and rocks in the bedroom rocking chair while whispering "hush."
The format of Goodnight Moon is both unusual and effective. While every double-page spread features 1 to 4 lines of the rhyming story, the spreads, except for the first, alternate between a double-page spread in strong colors, with an emphasis on red and green with yellow accents, and a double-page spread in gray tones.
The color spreads feature each of two-facing pages completely covered with a detailed illustration of the bedroom in strong, flat colors, with the text embedded in the illustration. This is followed by a double-page spread featuring one smaller illustration in gray tones on each page with a line of text under it.
Why does this work? I think it's because the text, the artwork and the design of the book quietly move the listener from feeling awake and alert to feeling ready to go to sleep. The entire story is based in the bedroom. The color illustrations feature so much detail that children enjoy going over them again and again.
From the pictures on the wall, including one of the cow jumping over the moon, the mouse who moves around but can always be found in every double-page spread, the big red balloon, a copy of Brown's The Runaway Bunny in the bookcase, the frisky kittens in some of the illustrations and much more, there's so much to see and talk about. However, as the light dims, the emphasis moves from what's in the room to preparing for sleep by saying "goodnight" to the room's contents, as well as the moon and stars.
Author Margaret Wise BrownMargaret Wise Brown was born in 1910 and died in 1952, She graduated from Hollins College and Bank Street College of Education. Brown wrote so many children's books that, in addition to her own name, she used several pen names so the children's books market would not be saturated with books by Margaret Wise Brown.
I was surprised to learn that one of my favorite books from childhood, Little Lost Lamb, was written by Brown, using the pen name "Golden MacDonald." Margaret Wise Brown is most remembered for her books Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny, both of which Clement Hurd illustrated.
Illustrator Clement HurdClement Hurd lived from 1908 until 1988. He was a Yale graduate who developed his style of painting in the 1930s while studying with Fernand Léger and other artists in Paris. Hurd became known for his flat style of painting using strong colors. In addition to collaborating with Margaret Wise Brown, Hurd illustrated books by his wife Edith Thatcher Hurd, including Johnny Lion's Book and Wilson's World. He also illustrated children's books for other authors, close to 100 children's books in all.
More Recommended Bedtime Books and Classic Children's Picture BooksAlthough it is very different from Goodnight Moon, I have found that young children also enjoy Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak for which Sendak won the 1964 Randolph Caldecott Medal. Another classic I recommend is Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. Kiss Good Night, written by Amy Hest and illustrated by Anita Jeram, is a more recent picture book that I recommend as a good gentle bedtime story.
My RecommendationLong before they are ready for the illustrations, babies will enjoy the quiet rhymes of Margaret Wise Brown. As they get older, young children will delight in the illustrations and enjoy finding and talking about the objects in them, just as they enjoy the rhyming story.
For many children, the same story every night, at least for a while, is a comforting ritual. As they hear the story again and again, they will begin to help you tell the story. At some point, they will probably offer to "read" it to you, which is always fun. Despite this, Goodnight Moon, with its quiet story and fading light will continue to be a book that helps children relax and become ready to go to sleep. I recommend the book for babies to kindergarteners. (HarperCollins, revised edition, 2005. ISBN: 9780060775858)