Our son usually demands that five or six books to be read to him before bed, and I’m happy to oblige him. He comes up to me, hands me a book, smiles and giggles, and then turns around and parks himself in my lap. It’s just about as sweet as daddytime gets. Most of the time we work our way through the usual board-book canon: Sandra Boynton, Dr. Seuss, a staple by Al Perkins. A newish (and excellent) book called Gossie, which is apparently a hit with the under-3 set. And the mid-century classic Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd. I don’t remember whether I was enamored of that one as a toddler, but I know my kid brother was. And after a few weeks of regular readings, I have discovered something new about it.
It’s really bad.
Not bad in a dangerous way: It’s not racist or sexist or cruel in the ways that older children’s books can be. It’s merely shapeless and pointless and, after the second or third reading, stunningly dull. Brown’s much-praised voice is stodgy and stiff. Nothing happens. There’s no story; nothing opens up to provide that sense of delight you get toward the end of, say, The Cat in the Hat. The rhythm is, to be charitable, irregular. The text refers to objects in the illustrations that are barely visible because of the faux-primitive skewed perspective. (Even the line-editing is poor. Like that line about “a little toyhouse.” What’s a “toyhouse”? Is it a dollhouse? A toy that is shaped like a house? A place where you store toys?) I know it’s meant to help get children to sleep, but I don’t think it’s meant to do it via boring them until they nod off. I cannot believe we all pretend to like this book. (For what it’s worth, my kid seems bored by it, too.)
Even the author’s heir didn’t do so well.