Goodnight moon, my sweet moon
It’s time to go bed-bye for the night
Soon the sun be rising, stars fade away
For morning is in coming our way
The man in the moon, smiles on young lovers
Romance in the air, a fresh autumn breeze
Stars glimmering in your eyes, warming me
Dazzled by the changing leaves, surround
Wondrous stars, follow us from behind
A single one falling, upon it our wish made
For into each other, our hearts set ablaze
A whirlwind of love, in store for us this night
Silvery tides shimmer, a calmness felt
Soon the sun will come over the horizon
Its time to put the moon and stars to sleep,
I bid to you a final goodnight, my sweet moon!
Goodnight Moon by 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
And a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush
And a quiet old lady who was whispering “hush”
Goodnight cow jumping over the moon
And the red balloon
And goodnight mittens
And goodnight socks
Goodnight little house
And goodnight mouse
And goodnight brush
And goodnight to the old lady whispering “hush”
Good night noises everywhere
Goodnight Moon is the story of a passive little rabbit, who allows himself to be put to bed without much of a battle, although at one point – in an uncharacteristic moment of action – the rabbit does turn to look at the wall behind him. And let’s remember that the quiet old lady finds it necessary to whisper “hush”, so the little rabbit might well be doing something to get on her nerves.
On first glance the rabbit’s bedroom appears to stay the same, but closer inspection reveals that over the course of the book the light fades, the hands on the clocks move from 7:00pm to 8:10pm, some mush gets eaten and the mouse is implicated, the red balloon comes and goes, the moon rises in the window, and the kittens and the mouse move from place to place. Most interestingly, at the start of the book the quiet old lady’s rocking chair is empty except for knitting, then she first appears in a black and white plate, then colour, then at the end of the book she is no longer present and sleeping kittens fill her place. But still, it’s not what you’d call an action blockbuster.
The best thing about the book is the mouse. Each full colour plate features a tiny white mouse who is seen in a different place each time, and he’s remarkably difficult to spot, especially because of the fading light of the nursery.
Another point to note is that the book has a strange hypnotic effect on the reader, and the very act of reading it feels like winding down for sleep. The diction and syntax do something to the brain which in turn has an effect on the body, with the reader’s breathing becoming a little slower and deeper, and tension in the body seeming to drain away. Even more odd is the effect the text has on the voice. The first page starts off quite jauntily and I launch into the story with a sort of plummy boom to my voice but gradually my voice becomes lower and quieter until the final page is recited in a whisper. Having conferred with other parents, I’m not alone in experiencing this bizarre voice-altering effect.
Apart from its incredible soporific effect, for which countless parents will remain forever grateful, what is the appeal of Goodnight Moon for children? Because some readers (*cough*) find the alternating colour and monochrome plates showing a young rabbit being put to bed . . . well . . . a bit creepy. The illustrations are very detailed but the colours and composition are (to my adult eyes) quite unsettling. Children, however, appear to love it. Naturally they identify with the little rabbit sitting in his bed within a seemingly huge room full of familiar objects, and many children will take comfort from the ritual of bidding these familiar items goodnight. It’s sweet.
It’s also a bit weird. Because something is certainly amiss in the world of Goodnight Moon. The baby rabbit is a lonesome protagonist. Positioned on his own on the far right hand side, he is cut off from the objects in his room and he seems very apart, distanced even from the old lady and his own toys. The baby rabbit doesn’t get out of his bed. The baby rabbit just sits there and the old lady sits there watching him. Even Waiting for Godot had more action. Is Goodnight Moon actually a classic work of existentialist literature?
There is also the matter of the somewhat startling lines:
Apart from the annoying fact that my toddler has started referring to my cooking as “mush”, what actually is mush? Who eats it? Do rabbits eat mush? Or is the mush representative of something? More on this later.
And what is one supposed to make of the eerie “goodnight nobody”? What does it mean? Is there a ghost present? Ah yes: death. Is Goodnight Moon symbolic of a child coming to terms with the concept of death? The night is falling and everything is wished goodnight. Are we talking the ultimate goodnight? Could the ghost – metaphoric or literal – be the “quiet old lady whispering hush” . . . ? Maybe that’s why rabbit and old lady are not really interacting? There are no bedtime cuddles, kisses or songs. Just one instance of “hush”. Deadness and/or ghostiness could explain 1) the lack of interaction between junior and senior rabbits, 2) the old lady’s quietness, 3) her absence at the start of the book and subsequent emergence through a black and white plate, and 4) the fact that the old lady is no longer present at the end of the book. This theory might also explains the “hush”; meant not as a reproof but as a word of comfort to soothe a crying child.
Or perhaps the old lady is indeed alive (or as alive as one can be in a 65-year-old illustration), but the rabbit is becoming aware of his own rabbitty mortality, understanding that one day he will outgrow all of the objects in his bedroom, see the demise of the mouse and the kittens – though a cat would generally live 3x longer than a rabbit, if we’re going to be pedantic about it – and has been hit with the realisation that one day he will watch his last moonrise, and that he will, eventually . . . turn to mush.
Or perhaps I’ve just read Goodnight Moon a few too many times.