Friday, June 12, 2009

Goodnight nobody

The lovely Kirsty Murray has given Luka a copy of Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurt. In 2007 this book celebrated 60 years of saying 'goodnight' to stuff.

Somehow I've never read it before, though I seem to have encountered it a lot on American tv shows. I'm sure there was a Sesame Street segment where Oscar the Grouch reads a bedtime story to Smiley called Scram Moon (How great is Oscar. I've been watching those 1960s/70s Sesame Street Old School dvds, and when Johnny Cash guest stars Oscar calls him 'Johnny Trash').

There's also that Simpsons episode where Christopher Walken does a creepy storytime reading of it to a group of children ("Please, children, scootch closer. Don't make me tell you again about the scootching.")

Goodnight Moon is a gentle, memorable rhyming story where a bunny is going to bed, and says goodnight to various items in the room:

'Goodnight room
Goodnight moon
Goodnight cow jumping over the moon
Goodnight light
And the red balloon'

There are brightly coloured double-spread pictures of the whole room (mainly in green, orange, blue & yellow) interspersed with black and white illustrations of each item as it is identified and said 'goodnight' to. Items in the roomscape disappear and reappear, and the room gradually dims as the book goes along.


It's got a weirdy moment.

Paul read the book first, and came over to me saying 'This is bizarre. There's a blank page that just says "Goodnight nobody."'

And there is, it's got no illustration, just the words 'Goodnight nobody'. Then it goes back to saying goodnight to the bowl of mush and more everyday things.

Goodnight nobody? What does that mean? Margaret Wise Brown has said that picture books should have the power to 'jog the child with the unexpected and comfort them with the familiar'. She's certainly doing that with Goodnight Moon. We say 'goodnight' to the everyday objects; the doll house, the little mouse, and then suddenly are confronted with a blank page to say 'goodnight' to...nobody.

I thought about it for a bit, and wondered if this page is intended to be a kind of strange reassurance in the going-to-bed ritual for the child reader . When you go to sleep, you're on your own in your room, and so perhaps saying goodnight to 'nobody' helps make the dark empty room less scary. It allows you to make nobody into somebody.

I was pretty happy with this theory, but when I look at the roomscape of the book after the 'Goodnight nobody' page, it doesn't quite fit. The bunny isn't alone in his room at that point. The 'little old lady who was whispering "Hush"' is still there. She's gone at the end, but not at the 'Goodnight nobody' point.

So now I really don't know! It's strange, and trés cool, but I can't quite puzzle it out. I bet someone's written a PhD on it somewhere, though.

Either way, Luka thinks it's ace. He whacks the coloured pages vigorously, and does his happy legs. So we can't read it too close to bedtime; it's too thrilling.

Maybe he's worked out what 'Goodnight nobody' is all about, and it's so world-shaking he can't fall asleep?


Penni said...

I guess the fear of night is in a part the fear of disappearing, of ceasing to exist (a fear of regressing to the time before language and self and identity, of being swallowed by the Hungry Mother Night). Depicting and naming this is an act of Poetic Silliness which reinforces the boundaries of the self (I am not Mother, also I am not Nobody).


I am interested in moons in picture books. I've got this whole thing about Can't You Sleep Little Bear and boobs too.

And the moon and the cat (good mother and bad mother) in Papa Please Get the Moon for Me.

Anna said...

So, perhaps there doesn't have to be nobody in the room to say goodnight to Nobody?

My sentences are getting stuck in double nobodies.

Penni said...

Perhaps Nobody is always in the room with us. 'The other day upon the stair I saw a man who wasn't there...' (etc)

Hey, were you (and Luka) at Punch and Judy?

Anna said...

"He wasn't there again today, oh how I wish he'd go away."

I'd forgotten that little rhyme!

Not sure what Punch & Judy was (apart from my mother's surname and first name - no really she's Judith Punch), so I guess we weren't there!

Penni said...

At Kirsty Murray's place. Well, what with you not being there, perhaps you were the Nobody in the room that day.

Anna said...

I was the name if not in presence.

Colleen Boyle said...

I love that book! But I actually think her other one 'My World' is weirder. The illustration of the rabbit family sitting down to eat an enormous fish is kinda disturbing. But I love it. She places such a lovely amount of silence around everything.

I actually don't get sick of reading those books.

Anna said...

I'm trying to put off book-fatigue by avoiding books like "Giggle with Elmo". It can only last until he can choose his own books.