Immediately, this notorious cover page brought back memories of the countless occasions that I took this book to my mother and asked “Will you read me a bedtime story?” This was undoubtedly my favorite bedtime book as a child and I imagine the same is true for many others. However, I have to admit that reading it from an adult’s viewpoint generated a different experience- one filled with wonder and mystery. Not in the childlike sense, but rather more in the sense of “What was going on in Margaret Brown’s mind?”
This book has sold over 48 million copies worldwide and is nowadays considered a classic picture book for children. However, many might be surprised to learn that this book was not an immediate hit in the market. In fact, it took many years to rise in popularity, as it was published in 1947 and was not even admitted into the New York Public Library’s collection until twenty years later. The librarian responsible for this choice stated that she did not approve of the book’s ‘here and now’ take on a bedtime routine, which opposed the traditional route of fantasy and fairytales.
However, the ‘here and now’ approach of the book adheres with the book’s apparent purpose of putting children to sleep. The main character, the bunny, wishes everything in sight “Goodnight”, starting with figures within picture frames, moving outward to items in the room, and then moving outward to items outside, saying “Goodnight stars” and “Goodnight air”. This progression mimics the one of a child’s thoughts as they drift away into sleep and it finishes with perhaps a child’s last thought before they slip away: “Goodnight noises everywhere”.
Furthermore, the steady rhythm of the text is also present to help lull little ones to sleep, as the pacing even slows when the bunny begins wishing everything “Goodnight”. However, the order in which the bunny wishes items “goodnight” caught me off guard, as I was expecting a symmetrical parting in the same order that the items were introduced. However, Brown utilizes her artistic license in that she dodges this order and doesn’t even include the same collection of items in the goodnight section. Also her choice of items to include in the room seems odd: a bowl of mush next to a comb and a brush, a young mouse, and who actually is the quiet old lady in the corner whispering ‘hush’? As strange as these seem, perhaps the most mysterious decision that she made was the unillustrated page that says “Goodnight nobody.” While no one may know the true meaning behind this page and her other unpredictable choices, one does have to admit that they will make rereads more interesting and enjoyable (and, let’s face it, rereads are going to happen).
As an adult reader, another rather puzzling aspect of the book was its illustrations. While I’m sure the buzzing array of bright reds, greens, and yellow are interesting to a child’s eye, to an adult it’s less than aesthetically pleasing and almost dizzying. Additionally, such vivid colors and patterns are less expected than soft, peaceful pastels in a book that is intended to calm children to sleep. Nonetheless, the illustrations serve their purpose and do so well. They offer great detail that supports the items listed in the text almost to the point that it resembles an “I Spy” game where children look for hidden objects in the pictures. They also demonstrate time progressing by the colors in the full spread pages growing dimmer and dimmer, signifying that it’s getting closer to bedtime.
This classic is printed in board books, paperbacks, and hardbacks, which is understandable as this book could be read to children in a wide span of ages. As it happened with me when I was a young child, I could see this book quickly becoming a bedtime tradition. I could also see parents continuing to read this book to their children long after it was developmentally appropriate, because of the sentimental value it grows to hold over time. At any age, this book is sure to help children ease into sleep (with crossed fingers) and keep their parents awake wondering about Brown’s enigmatic choices that seem so unexplainable, but yet have come together seamlessly to create a timeless classic.