11 Fascinating Facts About Goodnight Moon

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Goodnight Moon is a deceptively simple children’s book that falls somewhere between a going-to-sleep narrative and a lullaby—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.

11 Memorable Facts About Cats the Musical

Mike Clarke/Getty Images
Mike Clarke/Getty Images

“It was better than Cats!” Decades after Andrew Lloyd Webber's famed musical opened on Broadway on October 7, 1982, this tongue-in-cheek idiom remains a part of our lexicon (thanks to Saturday Night Live). Although the feline extravaganza divided the critics, it won over audiences of all ages and became an industry juggernaut—one that single-handedly generated more than $3 billion for New York City's economy—and that was before it made a return to the Great White Way in 2016. In honor of Andrew Lloyd Webber's birthday on March 22, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

1. The work that Cats the musical is based on was originally going to include dogs.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, published in 1939, is a collection of feline-themed poems written by the great T. S. Eliot. A whimsical, lighthearted effort, the volume has been delighting cat fanciers for generations—and it could have become just as big of a hit with dog lovers, too. At first, Eliot envisioned the book as an assemblage of canine- and tabby-related poems. However, he came to believe that “dogs don’t seem to lend themselves to verse quite so well, collectively, as cats.” (Spoken like a true ailurophile.) According to his publisher, Eliot decided that “it would be improper to wrap [felines] up with dogs” and barely even mentioned them in the finished product.

For his part, Andrew Lloyd Webber has described his attitude towards cats as “quite neutral.” Still, the composer felt that Eliot’s rhymes could form the basis of a daring, West End-worthy soundtrack. It seemed like an irresistible challenge. “I wanted to set that exciting verse to music,” he explained. “When I [had] written with lyricists in the past … the lyrics have been written to the music. So I was intrigued to see whether I could write a complete piece the other way ‘round.”

2. "Memory" was inspired by a poem that T.S. Eliot never finished.

In 1980, Webber approached T.S. Eliot’s widow, Valerie, to ask for her blessing on the project. She not only said “yes,” but provided the songwriter with some helpful notes and letters that her husband had written about Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats—including a half-finished, eight-line poem called “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat.” Feeling that it was too melancholy for children, Eliot decided to omit the piece from Practical Cats. But the dramatic power of the poem made it irresistible for Webber and Trevor Nunn, the show’s original director. By combining lines from “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat” with those of another Eliot poem, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” they laid the foundation for what became the powerful ballad “Memory.” A smash hit within a smash hit, this showstopper has been covered by such icons as Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow.

3. Dame Judi Dench left the cast of Cats when her Achilles tendon snapped.

One of Britain’s most esteemed actresses, Dench was brought in to play Grizabella for Cats’s original run on the West End. Then, about three weeks into rehearsals, she was going through a scene with co-star Wayne Sleep (Mr. Mistoffelees) when disaster struck. “She went, ‘You kicked me!’” Sleep recalls in the above video. “And I said, ‘I didn’t, actually, are you alright?’” She wasn’t. Somehow, Dench had managed to tear her Achilles tendon. As a last-minute replacement, Elaine Paige of Evita fame was brought aboard. In an eerie coincidence, Paige had heard a recorded version of “Memory” on a local radio station less than 24 hours before she was asked to play Grizabella. Also, an actual black cat had crossed her path that day. Spooky.

4. To finance the show, Andrew Lloyd Webber ended up mortgaging his house.

Although Andrew Lloyd Webber had previously won great acclaim as one of the creative minds behind Jesus Christ Superstar and other hit shows, Cats had a hard time finding investors. According to choreographer Gillian Lynne, “[it] was very, very difficult to finance because everyone said ‘A show about cats? You must be raving mad.’” In fact, the musical fell so far short of its fundraising goals that Webber ended up taking out a second mortgage on his home to help get Cats the musical off the ground.

5. When Cats the musical came to Broadway, its venue got a huge makeover.

Cats made its West End debut on May 11, 1981. Seventeen months later, a Broadway production of the musical launched what was to become an 18-year run at the Winter Garden Theatre. But before the show could open, some major adjustments had to be made to the venue. Cats came with an enormous, sprawling set which was far too large for the theatre’s available performing space. To make some more room, the stage had to be expanded. Consequently, several rows of orchestra seats were removed, along with the Winter Garden’s proscenium arch. And that was just the beginning. For Grizabella’s climactic ascent into the Heaviside Layer on a giant, levitating tire, the crew installed a hydraulic lift in the orchestra pit and carved a massive hole through the auditorium ceiling. Finally, the theater’s walls were painted black to set the proper mood. After Cats closed in 2000, the original look of the Winter Garden was painstakingly restored—at a cost of $8 million.

6. Cats the musical set longevity records on both sides of the Atlantic.

The original London production took its final bow on May 11, 2002, exactly 21 years after the show had opened—which, at the time, made Cats the longest-running musical in the West End’s history. (It would lose that title to Les Miserables in 2006.) Across the pond, the show was performed at the Winter Garden for the 6138th time on June 19, 1997, putting Cats ahead of A Chorus Line as the longest-running show on Broadway. To celebrate, a massive outdoor celebration was held between 50th and 51st streets, complete with a laser light show and an exclusive after-party for Cats alums.

7. One theatergoer sued the show for $6 million.

Like Hair, Cats involves a lot of performer-audience interaction. See it live, and you might just spot a leotard-clad actor licking himself near your seat before the curtain goes up. In some productions, the character Rum Tum Tugger even rushes out into the crowd and finds an unsuspecting patron to dance with. At a Broadway performance on January 30, 1996, Tugger was played by stage veteran David Hibbard. That night, he singled out one Evelyn Amato as his would-be dance partner. Mildly put, she did not appreciate his antics. Alleging that Hibbard had gyrated his pelvis in her face, Amato sued the musical and its creative team for $6 million.

8. Thanks to Cats the musical, T.S. Eliot received a posthumous Tony.

Because most of the songs in Cats are almost verbatim recitations of Eliot’s poems, he’s regarded as its primary lyricist—even though he died in 1965, long before the show was conceived. Still, Eliot’s contributions earned him a 1983 Tony for Best Book of a Musical. A visibly moved Valerie Eliot took the stage to accept this prize on her late spouse’s behalf. “Tonight’s honor would have given my husband particular pleasure because he loved the theatre,” she told the crowd. Eliot also shared the Best Original Score Tony with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

9. The original Broadway production used more than 3000 pounds of yak hair.

Major productions of Cats use meticulously crafted yak hair wigs, which currently cost around $2300 apiece and can take 40 hours or more to produce. Adding to the expense is the fact that costumers can’t just recycle an old wig after some performer gets recast. “Each wig is made specifically for the actor,” explains wigmaker Hannah McGregor in the above video. Since people tend to have differently shaped heads, precise measurements are taken of every cast member’s skull before he or she is fitted with a new head of hair. “[Their wigs] have to fit them perfectly,” McGregor adds, “because of the amount of jumping and skipping they do as cats.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, over its 18-year run, the first Broadway production used 3247 pounds of yak hair. (In comparison, the heaviest actual yaks only weigh around 2200 pounds.)

10. A recent revival included hip hop.

In December 2014, Cats returned to the West End with an all-new cast and music. “The Rum Tum Tugger,” a popular Act I song, was reimagined as a hip hop number. “I’ve come to the conclusion, having read [Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats] again, that maybe Eliot was the inventor of rap,” Webber told the press.

11. Another revival featured an internet-famous feline for one night only.

On September 30, Grumpy Cat made her Broadway debut in Cats, briefly taking the stage with the cast. Despite being named Honorary Jellicle Cat, she hated every minute of it.

11 Words That Started Out As Spelling Mistakes

A woman sneezing, which in Middle English would have been called a fneze instead.
A woman sneezing, which in Middle English would have been called a fneze instead.
iStock.com/Dirima

The word irregardless might not be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying that if you were to use it in a sentence, you’d be perfectly understood—and that’s more than enough evidence for it to have been accepted into many dictionaries (albeit flagged as non-standard or informal), including Oxford Dictionaries, Merriam-Webster, and even the hallowed Oxford English Dictionary, which has so far been able to trace it back as far as 1912. So despite it having its origins in an error, and irregardless of what you might think of it, there’s no denying irregardless is indeed a word—and it’s by no means alone.

1. Expediate

Meaning “to hasten” or “to complete something promptly,” the verb expediate is thought to have been invented by accident in the early 1600s when the adjective form of expedite, meaning “ready for action” or “alert,” was misspelled in an essay by the English politician Sir Edwin Sandys (it was later corrected).

2. Culprit

There are several different accounts of the origin of culprit, but all of them seem to agree that the word was born out of a mistake. Back when French was still the language of the law in England in the Middle Ages (a hangover from the days of the Norman Conquest), the phrase Culpable, prest d’averrer nostre bille—literally “guilty, ready to prove our case”—was apparently the stock reply given by the Clerk of the Crown whenever a defendant gave a plea of not guilty. In the court records, this fairly long-winded phrase was often abbreviated just to cul. prit., and, as the Oxford English Dictionary explains, “by a fortuitous or ignorant running together of the two,” the word culprit was born.

3. Despatch

Despatch is a chiefly British English variant of dispatch, often used only in formal contexts like the name of the political despatch box in the House of Commons. The e spelling apparently began as a phonetic variation of the original I spelling, but after Samuel Johnson included it in his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, its use was legitimized and thrived in the 19th century. Because Johnson himself preferred the I spelling in his own writings, however, it's supposed that he included the e spelling by mistake and inadvertently popularized the error.

4. Nickname

Nicknames were originally called eke names, with the verb eke used here in the sense of “to make longer” or “to provide an addition.” Sometime in the 13th century, however, “an eke-name” was mistakenly interpreted as “a neke-name,” and the N permanently jumped across from the indefinite article an to the verb eke. The same error—known linguistically as “rebracketing” or “junctural metanalysis”—is responsible for nadders, numpires, and naprons all losing their initial Ns in the Middle English period.

5. Ammunition

Ammunition derives from a faulty division of the French la munition, which was incorrectly misheard as l'amonition by French soldiers in the Middle Ages, and it was this mistaken form that was borrowed into English in the 1600s.

6. Scandinavia

Scandinavia was originally called Scadinavia, without the first N, and is thought to take its name from an island, perhaps now part of the Swedish mainland, called Scadia. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the extra N was added in error by the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, and has remained in place ever since.

7. Syllabus

If all had gone to plan in the history of the word syllabus, those two Ls should really be Ts: Syllabus was coined as a Latin misreading of an Ancient Greek word, sittybos, meaning “a table of contents.”

8. Sneeze

Oddly, sneeze was spelled with an F and not an S, fneze, in Middle English, which gives weight to the theory that it was probably originally coined onomatopoeically. At least one explanation of why the letter changed suggests that this F inadvertently became an S sometime in the 15th century due to continual misreadings of the long lowercase f as the old-fashioned long S character, ſ.

9. Ptarmigan

The ptarmigan is a bird of the grouse family, found in mountainous and high-latitude environments. Its bizarre name with its initial silent P is something of a mystery, as the original Scots word from which it derives, tarmachan, shows no evidence of it and there’s little reason why one should ever have to have been added to it—except, of course, if it were a mistake. The P spelling first emerged in the late 1600s, and is thought to have been a mistaken or misguided attempt to ally the name to the Greek word for a wing, pteron, and eventually this unusual P spelling replaced the original one.

10. Sherry

Sherry takes its name from the southern Spanish port of Xeres (now Jerez de la Frontera in Cádiz) and was originally known as vino de Xeres, or “wine of Xeres.” This name then morphed into sherris when sherry first began to be talked about in English in the early 17th century, but because of that final S, it didn’t take long for that to be misinterpreted as a plural. Ultimately, a mistaken singular form, sherry, emerged entirely by mistake in the early 1600s.

11. Pea

Another word that developed from a plural-that-actually-wasn’t is pea. One pea was known as a pease in Middle English, but because of that final “s” sound, pease was quickly misinterpreted as a plural, giving rise to a misguided singular form, pea, in the 17th century. The actual plural of pease in Middle English, incidentally, was pesen.

This list first ran in 2016.

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