The Great Green Room

Photo by Andrés Gómez on Unsplash

If you haven’t read Elizabeth Egan’s lovely essay about Goodnight Moon from last month in the New York Times, do that before you continue reading here. “The Enduring Wisdom of ‘Goodnight Moon’” celebrates the 75th anniversary of this classic children’s book by Margaret Wise Brown so eloquently and perfectly that I can’t do it justice by summarizing it. The essay manages to be deeply moving and funny at the same time.

My husband liked the essay, too. With no criticism of Egan implied, he commented that she didn’t mention the sound of the book, how fun it is to read aloud because of its rhythm and rhyme. His comment reminded me of what I learned back when I was reading books to our own kids—that some books are a lot more fun to read aloud than others.

(A quick shout-out here to Clement Hurd’s perfect Goodnight Moon illustrations, but I’m writing about sound here.)

I never tired of rereading The Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum to my kids, and I gained a new appreciation for my favorite book, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, from our many nighttime readings of it, curled up on a warm bed. Because these books are so well written, because their authors probably read their sentences out loud to make sure they sounded right, the words flow smoothly. Reading them aloud is easy and pleasurable.

Kids should read or listen to any books they enjoy, so I’m casting no shade on my kids or the Berenstain Bears or the tattered Scrooge McDuck book I read countless times. Kids love particular books for mysterious reasons, and they often want to hear them repeatedly. I bear no grudges toward Thomas J. Dygard, whose little novel The Rookie Arrives I forced my way through because my son liked it. (In the top of the second inning, the Orioles brought down the roof on the Royals’ big right-hander, Rollie Barnes. Rollie couldn’t get the ball past the Orioles’ hitters. And so on.)

But if you must read something dozens, or perhaps hundreds of times, beautiful sounds can ease your way. You can’t really improve on “Goodnight comb and goodnight brush. Goodnight nobody. Goodnight mush. And goodnight to the old lady whispering ‘hush.’ Goodnight stars. Goodnight air. Goodnight noises everywhere.”

I spent a fair amount of time last weekend reading Goodnight Moon to my toddler grandchildren, while their parents were out of town. Before nap time and again at bedtime, they cuddled with me, one on my lap, one sitting to my side, rapt, quietly pointing out the kittens with whispered “meows” and gesturing to the cow, because they know how to say the word cow. At nineteen months they’re rarely still and rarely quiet, but they sat mesmerized by Goodnight Moon, over and over and over again.

Thanks to Jewel for drawing the Egan essay to my attention.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this book or any other.

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5 Responses to The Great Green Room

  1. Kathy says:

    Not as good, for sure!

  2. Kathy says:

    Thank you, KT!

  3. Katie Fedor says:

    So beautiful, Katharine!

  4. Roger Talbott says:

    So true. I can still repeat: “Hand, hand, fingers, thumb. One thumb. One thumb, beating on a drum.” I must have read that to our boys hundreds of times.
    Your essay reminded me, believe it or not, of Milman Perry’s studies of illiterate Yugoslavian bards who could remember thousands of lines of epic poetry (as did Homer, he theorized) because of the sound of words, the rhythm of the sentences, and the repetition of phrases. After the book burners make Fahrenheit 451 into a reality, “Goodnight Moon” will be among the books that will survive through memory.

  5. Jewel Moulthrop says:

    Your post is as good as Egan’s essay, perhaps even better because I know your twin grandchildren and can easily picture them curled up next to you and in your lap listening. Feeling warm and fuzzy. (Thanks for the shout-out.)

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