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Wikimedia Commons

11 Fascinating Facts About Goodnight Moon

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Goodnight Moon, a deceptively simple children’s book that falls somewhere between a going-to-sleep narrative and a lullaby, will turn 68 later this year—and yet it remains one of the most universal cultural references even all these decades later. Here are a few things you might not have known about Margaret Wise Brown's sparse classic. 

1. Goodnight Moon's style reflects real childhood semantics.

Brown was born in 1910 to moderately wealthy but distant and bickering parents. She and her siblings (an older sister, Roberta, and a younger brother, Benjamin) spent their childhood at various boarding schools, and despite her father's concern that education would be wasted on the girls, all three went to college. Brown attended Hollins College in Virginia, where she enjoyed the social life and athletics but struggled to find herself academically. She graduated in 1932 and moved back to New York to live with her parents, dividing her time between various sports and day jobs.

Three years later, when she was 25 and still searching for a career, Brown enrolled in Bank Street’s Cooperative School for Student Teachers. It would prove to be a life-altering experience. Founded by visionary educator Lucy Sprague Mitchell, the school's teachers, psychologists, and researchers worked in an actual nursery school to study early childhood development. The adults at Bank Street were encouraged to take copious notes on the semantics and language styles used by young children. "They tell me stories and I write them down. Amazing,” Brown wrote to her college professor and mentor, Marguerite Hearsey.

One of Bank Street's early ground-breaking revelations in children's speech patterns was Mitchell's observation that "communication is not the earliest impulse that leads to the use of language." Instead, young kids were more interested in the "rhythm, sound quality and patterns of sound." Brown certainly understood this fact. Her work at the Bank Street Writers Laboratory showed a particular flair for rhythmic language that she would later use to hypnotic effect in Goodnight Moon. “Probably she has the most consistent and genuine interest in language of the group, perhaps of all our students. Her product, though slight, always shows sensitivity to form, sound and rhythm,” Mitchell wrote in one evaluation.

2. Goodnight Moon represented a new kind of children's literature: The "here-and-now."

In the 1930s, most children's literature was still firmly stuck in the 19th century, and consisted of moralizing fables or fairytales set in faraway lands and distant ages. Then, Bank Street and Lucy Mitchell started a new tradition: The so-called "here-and-now," which featured modern, urban settings and stories that would reflect a child’s actual existence. Young children, they believed, didn't need fantasy—daily routines were still new and exciting and in need of further exploration. Goodnight Moon deals explicitly with the "here and now" of a child's bedtime—all the physical items that make up a bedroom from telephones to socks with a focus on the single, simple act of saying "goodnight."

3. Brown was a successful writer long before Goodnight Moon.

After Mitchell enlisted Brown to assist her on later editions of the anthology/textbook, The Here and Now Story Book—which had been first published in 1923 but found greater success in later editions—she recommended that Brown serve as editor of a new publishing house, launched by William Scott in 1938, dedicated to experimental children’s literature. There, Brown wielded a vast amount of influence over the literary world (and an ability to publish even her most outlandish projects—like a book bound in real rabbit fur!). She also wrote dozens of books—so many that she used multiple pen names to avoid flooding the market with releases bearing her name—that helped popularize "here-and-now" storytelling and paved the way for Goodnight Moon in 1947.

4. Goodnight Moon was written quickly and edited slowly.

In 1942, Brown's publishing house put out A Child's Good Night Book, with a repetitive structure and sleepy sentiments that foreshadowed Goodnight Moon. Several years later, in 1946, LIFE writer Bruce Bliven Jr. visited Brown at her house in Maine (which she called "The Only House"), and described her writing process this way:

The first draft of a Brown book is usually written in wild, enthusiastic haste, in lost unintelligible soft pencil on whatever scraps of paper are available; the backs of grocery bills, shopping lists, old envelopes. “I finish the rough draft in 20 minutes,” Miss Brown says, “and then I spend two years polishing." She is currently polishing 23 books more or less simultaneously.

Among the books Brown was polishing when Bliven visited her was Goodnight Moon. Bliven even accompanied Brown to one of the final editorial meetings for the book with her Harper publisher and close friend, Ursula Nordstrom, where they mostly discussed how well the pictures fit the text.

5. The illustrations feature some last-minute edits.

Brown’s close friend and frequent collaborator, Clement Hurd—who also illustrated her classic Runaway Bunny—is responsible for the stark, saturated, and slightly absurdist illustrations in Goodnight Moon. When Brown first sent the manuscript to Hurd, she included very few instructions, but did enclose a copy of Goya's Boy in Red for inspiration. Without much direction, it took Hurd three attempts to get the outlandish size and flatness of the room just as Brown imagined it. And still, there were a number of last-minute alterations: A framed photo on the great green room's wall was altered to depict a scene from The Runaway Bunny; the Cow Jumping Over the Moon’s udder was made less anatomical to avoid offending librarians; and the child and the old lady are cast as bunnies simply because Hurd proved to be better at drawing bunnies than humans.

6. The New York Public Library Rejected Goodnight Moon.

Influential NYPL children's librarian Anne Carroll Moore was perhaps the highest profile opponent to Bank Street and Brown's here-and-now style. A champion of the fairytale, Moore often butted heads with Brown, and although she had retired by the time Goodnight Moon was published, her successor, Francis Sayers, stayed true to the party line and refused to put the book on shelves. An internal review at the library accused the book of being "an unbearably sentimental piece of work." The Library finally reversed its original decision and began stocking the book in 1973—26 years after it was first published.

7. Other reviews were kinder ...

"Rhythmic, drowsy phrases are set to pictures that complement them perfectly in this new go-to-sleep book for very little children…The sound of the words, the ideas they convey and the pictures combine to lull and reassure when bedtime and darkness come," read the brief New York Times review. The New Yorker called it a "hypnotic bedtime litany."

8. ... Especially over time.

Goodnight Moon sold more than 6000 copies in its first year on the shelves, but in the years that followed, sales averaged just 1500 copies annually. Then, in the early 1950s, the book enjoyed a sudden and dramatic resurgence, selling 4000 in 1955, 8000 in 1960, and 20,000 in 1970. By 2000, total sales topped out at more than 11 million. The book, Writer's Almanac said, became a "word-of-mouth best-seller." A glowing mention in "Child Behavior"—a syndicated parental-advice column that appeared in newspapers across the U.S. in 1953—also helped. It praised the book, saying, "It captures the two-year-old so completely that it seems almost unlawful that you can hypnotize a child off to sleep as easily as you can by reading this small classic."

9. Despite writing one of the most popular children's books of all time, Brown herself never had kids.

And, in fact, never married. In 1946, Brown told Bliven, “Well, I don’t especially like children, either. At least not as a group. I won’t let anybody get away with anything just because he is little.”

It's not an entirely surprising choice for a woman who never really settled down, and took long, solo trips around Europe. But it also may have been a cheerful and cunning deflection away from an unintended absence in her life. In a letter to the Hollins College Alumnae Quarterly in 1945, Brown mocked her more traditional classmates, saying defensively, “How many children have you? I have 50 books.”

10. The royalties were left to a young neighbor.

Just a few months before she died suddenly from an embolism following emergency surgery in Nice, France, the 42-year-old Brown—who at the time was engaged to a much younger man—drafted a will. In it, she left the royalties to Goodnight Moon (and 68 other titles) to a young boy named Albert Clarke. She had befriended his mother through a colleague at Bank Street and lived near the family on East 71st Street in Manhattan. (Clarke claims Brown is his biological mother, but there's no proof that supports his assertion.) Even before Clarke started receiving his inheritance—the first payment, made when he was 21, was $75,000—he had a few run-ins with the law. Ultimately, the constant windfall from Goodnight Moon's sales funded his bad and often illegal behavior—drug possession and attempts to kidnap his own children—setting him up for a life of crime and estrangement from the rest of his family.

11. Goodnight Moon's legacy endures.

In the years since it debuted, Goodnight Moon has never been out of the press long. In 1986, Baltimore's The Sun included it on a list of the best bedtime stories, and in 1997, the Chicago Tribune called it "one of the most enduring in children's literature." In 2009, a writer for The Oregonian published an op-ed, "Why I loathe Goodnight Moon"—because his kids wouldn't stop asking him to read it over and over. Two years later, a modern parody, Goodnight iPadwas published. And just last year, the New York Times's Opinion Pages published an ode to the book extolling not just how effectively it soothes sleep into restless children, but also the subtle and searing literary value—how it "subverts its own rules even as it follows them."

Additional Source: Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened By the Moon.

10 Fascinating Facts About The Scarlet Letter

These days, we tend to think about The Scarlet Letter in relation to high school students struggling with their English papers, but we didn’t always see the book that way. When Nathaniel Hawthorne published the novel on March 16, 1850, it was a juicy bestseller about an adulterous woman forced to wear a scarlet ‘A’ on her chest by a community steeped in religious hypocrisy. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the classic tome.


Hawthorne, who was born in Salem, Massachusetts, was aware of his messy Puritan heritage. His great-great-grandfather William Hathorne came to Salem in 1636. As the Massachusetts Bay delegate, he tried to rid the town of Quakers by having them whipped and dragged through the street half naked. His son, John Hathorne, was even worse. As a magistrate during the Salem witch trials of 1692, he examined more than one hundred accused witches, and found them all guilty. Hawthorne detested this legacy and distanced himself from his ancestors by adding the “W” to the spelling of his name.


Unable to support his family by publishing short stories, Hawthorne took a politically appointed post at the Salem Custom House in 1846. Three years later, he was fired because of a political shakeup. The loss of his job, as well as the death of his mother, depressed Hawthorne, but he was also furious at Salem. "I detest this town so much that I hate to go out into the streets, or to have people see me,” he said.

It was in this mood that he started The Scarlet Letter.


In 1846, Hawthorne's sister-in-law Elizabeth Peabody published the work of Hungarian linguist Charles Kraitsir. Two years later, it was discovered that Kraitsir’s wife had seduced several of his students at the University of Virginia. He left his wife and daughter in Philadelphia and fled to Peabody for help. Peabody responded by going to Philadelphia in an attempt to gain guardianship of the daughter. This didn’t go over so well with the wife. She followed Peabody back to Boston and confronted her husband. In response, Peabody and Kraitsir tried to get her committed to a lunatic asylum. The press got wind of the story and Kraitsir was skewered for looking weak and hiding behind Peabody’s skirts. Hawthorne watched as the scandal surrounding a woman’s affairs played out on the public stage, right as he was starting The Scarlet Letter.


Hawthorne must have known there was historical precedence for The Scarlet Letter. According to a 1658 law in Plymouth, people caught in adultery were whipped and forced “to weare two Capitall letters namely A D cut out in cloth and sowed on theire vpermost Garments on theire arme or backe.” If they ever took the letters off, they would be publicly whipped again. A similar law was enacted in Salem.

In the town of York (now in Maine) in 1651, near where Hawthorne’s family owned property, a woman named Mary Batchellor was whipped 40 lashes for adultery and forced to wear an ‘A’ on her clothes. She was married to Stephen Batchellor, a minister over 80 years old. Sound familiar?


In an 1871 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, editor James T. Fields wrote about being Hawthorne’s champion. Not only did he try to get Hawthorne reinstated in his Custom House post, Fields said he convinced Hawthorne to write The Scarlet Letter as a novel. One day, while trying to encourage the despondent writer ("'Who would risk publishing a book for me, the most unpopular writer in America?' 'I would,' said I"), Fields noticed Hawthorne’s bureau. He said he bet Hawthorne had already written something new and that it was in one of the drawers. Hawthorne, flabbergasted, pulled out a manuscript. “How in Heaven's name did you know this thing was there?” he said. He gave Fields the “germ” of The Scarlet Letter. Fields then persuaded Hawthorne to alter “the plan of that story” and write a full-sized book. The rest is history.

Or is it? Hawthorne’s wife Sophia said of Fields’s claims: “He has made the absurd boast that he was the sole cause of the Scarlet Letter being published!" She added that Edwin Percy Whipple was the one who encouraged Hawthorne.


Hester Prynne is a tall, dignified character who endures her outcast status with grace and strength. Although she has fallen to a low place as an adulteress with an illegitimate child, she becomes a successful seamstress and raises her daughter even though the authorities want to take the child away. As such, she’s a complex character who embodies what happens when a woman breaks societal rules. Hawthorne not only knew accomplished women such as Peabody and Margaret Fuller, he was writing The Scarlet Letter directly after the first women's rights convention in New York in 1848. He was one of the first American writers to depict “women’s rights, women’s work, women in relation to men, and social change,” according to biographer Brenda Wineapple.


As you probably know, Hawthorne hits you in the head with symbolism throughout The Scarlet Letter, starting with the characters’ names—Pearl for an unwanted child, Roger Chillingworth for a twisted, cold man, Arthur Dimmesdale for a man whose education cannot lead him to truth. From the wild woods to the rosebush by the jail to the embroidered ‘A’ itself, it’s easy to see why The Scarlet Letter is the book that launched a thousand literary essays.


In the 87,000-plus words that make up The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne used “ignominy” 16 times, “ignominious” seven times, and “ignominiously” once. He apparently had affection for the word, which means dishonor, infamy, disgrace, or shame. Either that, or he needed a thesaurus.


While the reviews were generally positive, others condemned The Scarlet Letter as smut. For example, this 1851 review by Reverend Arthur Cleveland Coxe: “Why has our author selected such a theme? … Is it, in short, because a running underside of filth has become as requisite to a romance, as death in the fifth act to a tragedy? Is the French era actually begun in our literature? … we honestly believe that "the Scarlet Letter" has already done not a little to degrade our literature, and to encourage social licentiousness.” This kind of rhetoric didn’t hurt sales. In fact, The Scarlet Letter’s initial print run of 2500 books sold out in 10 days.


The Scarlet Letter made Hawthorne a well-known writer, allowed him to purchase a home in Concord, and insured an audience for books like The House of Seven Gables. However, The Scarlet Letter didn’t make Hawthorne rich. Despite its success in the U.S. and abroad, royalties weren’t that great—overseas editions paid less than a penny per copy. Hawthorne only made $1500 from the book over the remaining 14 years of his life. He was never able to escape the money troubles that plagued him.

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Pop Culture
Is the True Identity of Voldemort's Pet Snake Hidden in the New Fantastic Beasts Trailer?
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

In the Harry Potter series, many of Voldemort's horcruxes were give rich backstories, like Tom Riddle's diary, Marvolo Gaunt's ring, and of course, Harry himself. But the most personal horcrux containing a fragment of Voldemort's soul is also the biggest mystery. Voldemort carries Nagini the snake with him wherever he goes, but we still don't know how the two met or where Nagini came from. Fans may not have to wait much longer to find out: One fan theory laid out by Vanity Fair suggests that Nagini is actually a cursed witch, and her true identity will be revealed in the next Fantastic Beasts movie.

On March 13, the trailer dropped for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the second installment in the Harry Potter prequel series written by J.K. Rowling. The clips include lots of goodies for fans—including a first look at Jude Law as young Dumbledore—but one potential bombshell requires closer examination.

Pay attention at the 1:07 mark in the video below and you'll see Claudia Kim, the actress playing a new, unnamed character in the film. While we don't know much about her yet, Pottermore tells us that she is a Maledictus or “someone who suffers from a ‘blood curse’ that turns them into a beast.” This revelation led some fans to suspect the beast she transforms into is Nagini, the snake destined to be Voldemort's companion.

That isn't the only clue backing up the theory. The second piece of evidence comes in the trailer at the 1:17 mark: There, you can see an advertisement for a "wizarding circus," featuring a poster of a woman resembling Kim constricted a by massive snake.

If Kim's character does turn out to be Nagini, the theory still doesn't explain how she eventually joins forces with Voldemort and becomes his horcrux. Fans will have to wait until the film's release on November 16, 2018 for answers. Fortunately, there are plenty of other Harry Potter fan theories to study up on in the meantime.

[h/t Vanity Fair]


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