Monday, November 03, 2008

Goodnight Moon

... and Opus. And hopefully, Bush (no third term!).

But, first, about Goodnight Moon.

Back when I worked at a bookstore, after I had adapted as much as I could to working in a mall and existing under a daily blazing bath of fluorescent lights, I started paying attention to what people bought outside of the current bestsellers. Then, during down time, I would peruse them.

TLD:One of the great finds I made this way was the best cookbook EVER. I noticed who bought the most cookbooks, and then asked those ladies (it was always just women) which was the best all-around cookbook I could own (particularly as a young bachelor). Every single one marched over to the same rack without hesitation and plopped this one in my mitts: The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook. Here's the version I have, which you can get for cents and shipping (wow, because back in the day it was $35 with my employee discount) and the new one. If you need to know how to cook anything from a basic hamburger all the way up to an umpteen course meal, including lobster, this book shows you how. My wife considers me an accomplished cook (and she was raised by gourmands), and everything I know about cooking comes from this book, or some tip from Alton Brown (though I would never go to the screwing-while-standing-up-in-a-hammock gyrations he goes through to make just one dish).

The vast majority of high volume sales kid's lit is deservedly so. The author and illustrator have hit the elusive sweet spot/magic formula that makes a children's book amazing, which is the equivalent in terms of talent or luck of making a good movie comedy (as actors often say that acting is a drama is easy, and comedy is the hardest thing to do). For example, nearly anything by Robert Munsch is awesome. If you don't have kids and you need to buy a gift for a little one, you can't go wrong with Munsch. (If you have kids and haven't heard of Munsch, come back into the light and forsake the underside of the rock for a while.)

One of the most popular children's books was/is Goodnight Moon, and since I'm not a snob, and since children's books are perfect for reading during the lag at work, I read all those I wasn't familiar with, including "moon."

Goodnight Moon was just horrible (to me)! Insipid. Weird, even.

The manager of the store had kids, so I asked her about it. She raved. It truly was one of the best, according to her.

And here, dear readers, is one of the demarcations between those with children and those without. Some things you just don't get until you have one of the little dears. It's just impenetrable. I've always been queasy with this analogy, but it's like trying to imagine what actual sex is like before you've had it. Even further, it's like being prepubescent and not having a realization that sex even exists.

So, when my first arrived, sure enough, one of the gifts was Goodnight Moon.

I sayeth to mine wife, "Verily, this book doth suck." She respondeth, "Hast though readst it?" "Alas, I have," I replyeth. "Hast though read it to yonder child?" she doth inquire. "Non," sayeth I. "Well, give it a try. You'll see," she said, abandoning warmed-over King James verbiage.

Still not convinced, I read a "better" book first, hoping that would be consolation enough when we attempted the dreaded "moon." Then we dove in.

Here it is: the secret of Goodnight Moon is reading the book out loud to a tot.

The revelation was what I'd imagine the revelation would be like for someone who'd seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show cold, at home on DVD, thinking it was a serious film classic, then seeing it with an audience, with the toilet paper, squirt guns, cards, etc. It's all about context.

The rhythms and cadence of the book is nothing short of perfect when read out loud. It also has a unique view into/understanding of the mind of a child who's old enough to start following stories. Most bizarre of all, it's hypnotic and acts as a powerful sedative. You can feel your child relax, and by the time you read "goodnight noises everywhere" (which you should whisper, and I've noticed most parents do), it's all over but the goodnight kiss.

I'm tempted to make the claim that it's high poetry, with the qualification that it's high poetry for that age group, given it's so powerful and yet simple.

It looms large in your life as a parent. So much so that when you (or at least I) read the ending to the Opus comic, part one here, part two here, I actually welled up.

Update: Nearly forgot to mention that though Berkeley Breathed is retiring Opus (again, but he says for the last time), he is going to keep writing children's books. All the ones he's written so far are wonderful, including his latest, Pete & Pickles.

Then, of course, there's the new parody of Bush baby, whom we fire tomorrow (my glee is barely containable). The laughs are larger when you see how perfectly it follows all the detail (of which there is an amazing amount, you realize after a few readings) of the original Goodnight Moon.

Tellingly, the author, Margaret Wise Brown, never really came up with another wonder like Goodnight Moon. She even produced a book so bad, my family still mocks it: The Important Book. Here's an excerpt: "The important thing about snow is that it is white. It is cold, and light, it falls softly out of the sky, it is bright, [blah blah]. But the important thing about snow is that it is white." Reading this book out loud doesn't save it. It's as clunky as rubber galoshes on a hot sandy beach. To this day, when we encounter something irrelevant about something, we say, "The important thing about shopping carts is that they have wheels. They're germy, they rattle [blah blah]. But the important thing..." and so on.

To be fair, Ms. Brown is not a one hit wonder, because The Runaway Bunny, isn't bad. It's not a gem, like Goodnight Moon, though.

And goodnight to the old lady whispering "hush".


Sya said...

What, what? No On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee? Okay, admittedly, it's one for the nerd shelf, but if I could only have one "cooking" book, that would be it.

As a small kid, Goodnight Moon didn't particularly blow me away. Or maybe I was (am?) just oblivious to good literature. I preferred books by the like of Richard Scarry and William Steig.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...


Did you see the last season of The Wire, and catch the scene with the police detective gently parodying "Goodnight Moon" as she rocks her little boy? A good scene from a good season.

Yahmdallah said...

Sya, as a kid, I don't think "Moon" would've rocked me. My favorite was "Frederick" by Leo Lionni.

But, as a parent, I see the effect it has on my kid, and somehow it's very sweet. Maybe it does more for the grownup than it does the child. Who knows.

Never heard of "On Food and Cooking", so I'll have to hunt it down.

OpineHS, haven't seen "The Wire" - I think because it's a cable show and we just get basic. Also, from what I hear, it's bleak. Is it worth it?

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

It is bleak, but it's good; definitely worth watching. I like bleak better than horrific; I couldn't handle Dexter, with all the naked mutilated woman theme throughout.

We don't have cable either--in a few months, I'm told even our rabbit ears will stop working, and Eudoxus doesn't seem inclined to buy one of those little boxes--but we saw The Wire via NetFlix. There's a lot of Homicide influence and crossover, so if you liked that, you'll like The Wire.

BTW after one of your blog posts referred to a "milf," and then it came up again on SNL, I finally asked Eudoxus what it meant. He blushed when he told me, which was very cute. You can take the atheist out of the Church of Christ, but you can't take the Church of Christ out of the atheist.

Yahmdallah said...

That's funny!