This week someone on Childlit provided a link to Aimee Bender’s July 7th New York Times article, What Writers Can Learn from Goodnight Moon)
Like so many adults, Bender discovered the magic of this book as she read it aloud to her infant twins. “The babies listened in their sleepy baby way, and as the pages turned, I felt a growing excitement — a literary excitement. Not what I expected from this moment. But I was struck and stunned, as I have been before, by a classic sneaking up on me and, in an instant, earning yet again another fan.” She, like so many other adults, had experienced the genius behind the apparent simplicity.
Tonight, in the penultimate session of my four week ABC’s of Children’s Books class, our focus was tension and I initiated discussion by reading large chunks of Bender’s piece. I posited that surprise was very often key to tension and Goodnight Moon provides a subtle example of this principle. One class members described how her first reading let her know the book was made to be read aloud and she would do so many times. Another described feeling as if she’d been dropped into a meditative state.
It is often hard to describe why the best books for very young children succeed, the many that seem to soothe and surprise at the same time. The most inspiring writing lesson Margaret Wise Brown provided in Goodnight Moon was in trusting her instinct to avoid safer paths, and trusting her readers to intuitively recognize the enchantment that occurs when a writer does so.
Reflecting last night, we realized how often during our class, we’d been inspired by authors and illustrators who took creative risks, and how refreshing that is in a world that encourages predictable paths.