Gift ideas for the sleepless set
An insider’s guide to the children’s book section

SideStory: How well do you know ‘Goodnight Moon?'


 

by Dan Garner

According to those in the local birthing profession, Mercy Medical’s birthing center sees around 60 babies born each month. Add to that number those babes born at home, in cars or in stables, and you get roughly 750 new souls added to the Four Corners’ population each year.

This means that nearly anyone currently living in La Plata County knows someone who had a baby within the last year, and that’s something to consider as the holiday season bears down upon us. So, what to get your youngest acquaintance – the one who has everything and wants to eat everything? Cozy winter clothing is nice, but babies grow up very quickly. Colorful plastic toys . . . how did they get that paint so vibrant, anyway? Yet another stuffed animal? As a new father, I recommend the gift that gives to the child and parent alike: a book! What more useful gift could there be?

Consider some of the applications. For the newborn set, a book can open the mind to the incredible unfolding tactile universe around them. For the parent, watching a 7-month-old tear apart a book can be a lesson in book conservation, and it gives a whole new meaning to deconstructivist literary criticism. For instance, it gives great pause to the sleep-deprived parent when “Judy’s Book” (Pat the Bunny, pg. 14) begins to warp from the strain of drool, loses its adhesion and goes flying across the room. The weak substance beneath “Judy’s Book” throws the rest of Pat the Bunny into question: is PTB really promoting literacy or is it merely a façade, flimsier than Paul’s unraveling kerchief?

There are relatively few early childhood books that can hold up to the budding literary critic, the toothing child and the bleary-eyed parent.

The board book, that Carhartt pant of the children’s book world, offers a sound base on which good narrative substance can be printed. Let’s face it, there’s something demoralizing about a book that falls apart. Board books can also be used as chew toys with their round corners and goober resistant inks. In fact, the ink on The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle holds up to months of saliva inundation (I shudder to think of the testing methods they come up with for that sort of thing). Caterpillar is a classic on which a child can cut first teeth, but the parent too, does well to ponder the subtext beneath this scenario: eating sweets and tarts back to back gives caterpillar a stomach ache. If Nietzsche had reviewed Caterpillar, he may have said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

Indeed, after the metaphorical stomach ache comes metamorphoses ... it just has to. When sleep deprived and nearly hallucinating, I try to remember this: every caterpillar morphs into a butterfly (hate to spoil the ending – sorry), and I think of how amazing it is to see my little one change every day.

Booksense.com’s November list of illustrated children’s books reveals an interesting booksellers’ phenomenon. Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd, is sitting strong at No. 7. Considering the classic was first printed in 1947, that’s 60 years of incredible sales ... and 60 years of waiting for Bunny to finally go to sleep. Goodnight Moon deserves serious consideration for any new parent (and it comes in board book format!). Brown and Hurd do not merely present the simple tale of a bunny defying the sleep industrial complex of family and society. They move beyond this every night occurrence to speak eloquently to the beauty inherent in a child’s exploration of an ever new world.

Goodnight Moon, much more than Pat the Bunny or The Very Hungry Caterpillar is an experience geared for two very different cognitive levels, much in the same way Hollywood seeks to make children and adults laugh at the same joke for very different reasons. Whether we read to entertain, to sooth the teething spirit or to search for meaning in the wee hours, only the finest books can give us what we need when we need it. Goodnight Moon celebrates the multiplicity of purpose and sense of wonder that reading imparts to us. And if it’s wonder that keeps us up past our bedtime rather than other more sinister forces about in the world, then we are very fortunate little bunnies indeed. That’s why, when you chose to give a book to your sleep-deprived, new or refried parent-friends, you give a gift of wonder. And wonder works on so many levels. •

 

 

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