‘Who can presume to account for the love inspired by a work of art?’ asks Ellen Handler Spitz in her seminal essay on bedtime stories, ‘Children’s Dream Books’ * .
Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd’s classic, Goodnight Moon , one of the best loved bedtime stories ever, is credited by The New York Times in an article celebrating the life of Clement Hurd, for enabling ‘hundreds of freshly scrubbed small children in pyjamas’ to fall asleep peacefully. Spitz goes on to quote an anecdote about the book reported by Clement Hurd himself:
‘At bedtime one evening, a little boy of eighteen months has heard Goodnight Moon five times and after the final rendition was contemplating the book as it lay before him, its last pages revealed. These pages are the ones in which the “great green room” has grown dark and quiet and the little bunny has closed his eyes. The words read: “Goodnight noises everywhere.” The small boy in question stared at the open book before him and then deliberately placed one of his feet on the left-hand page and struggled to get his other foot on to the right-hand page; thereupon he burst into tears. His mother, watching this behaviour, took only a second to realise what he was doing: he was trying with all his might to transport his whole small body into the cosy, loving world of Goodnight Moon .’
Goodnight Moon thus appears to serve as a transitional object for the child slowing down the movement from daytime to darkness, from activity to rest as little bunny, in turn, says goodnight to his familiar objects that will still be there in the morning. In this issue’s Hal’s Reading Diary in which Hal demonstrates his innate capacity to soak up repeated sounds, Roger Mills wonders ‘if the real power of rhymes is that their sounds and rhythms set up feelings of calm and security, the repetition setting up a sense of something reliable and always there.’ In Goodnight Moon the soothing alliteration of the text with its internal rhymes combines with the pictorial images to shore up, as Spitz puts it, ‘the child’s sense of intactness just at the moment when that intactness seems to be slipping away’.
* In Where the Wild Things Are in Infancy and Parenting , ed. Joan Raphael-Leff, published by the Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies, University of Essex.