Tuesday, May 23, 2006


From Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of poet Jane Kenyon, born in Ann Arbor, Michigan (1947). She wrote poetry about everyday life, collected in books such as The Boat of Quiet Hours (1986) and Let Evening Come (1990).

In the Grove: The Poet at Ten, By Jane Kenyon

She lay on her back in the timothy
and gazed past the doddering
auburn heads of sumac.

A cloud—huge, calm,
and dignified—covered the sun
but did not, could not, put it out.

The light surged back again.

Nothing could rouse her then
from that joy so violent
it was hard to distinguish from pain.

It's the birthday of Margaret Wise Brown, born in Brooklyn, New York (1910). She wanted to become a writer as a young woman, and she once took a creative writing class from Gertrude Stein. But she had a hard time coming up with story ideas, so she went into education. She got a job researching the way that children learn to use language and found that children love language with patterns of sound and rhythm. She also found that young children have a special attachment to words for objects they can see and touch, like shoes and socks and bowls and bathtubs.

She eventually began to write books for children based on her research and in 1938 she became the editor of a publishing house called William R. Scott & Company which specialized in new children's literature. The Great Depression had made children's books into luxury items, and most other publishing houses had phased out children's literature. Margaret Wise Brown helped make children's books profitable, because she invested in high-quality color illustrations, and she printed her books on strong paper with durable bindings, so that children could grab, squeeze and bite their books the way they did with all their toys.

But we know Margaret Wise Brown for one book she wrote, and that was Goodnight Moon (1947), which includes the lines "Goodnight room / Goodnight moon / Goodnight cow jumping over the moon ... Goodnight stars / Goodnight air / Goodnight noises everywhere."

The New York Public Library gave it a terrible review, and it didn't sell as well as some of Brown's other books in its first year. But parents were amazed at the book's almost hypnotic effect on children, its ability to calm them down before bed. Brown thought the book was successful because it helped children let go of the world around them piece by piece, just before turning out the light and falling asleep.

Parents recommended the book to each other, and it slowly became a word-of-mouth best-seller. It sold about 1,500 copies in 1953, 4,000 in 1955, 8,000 in 1960, 20,000 in 1970; and by 1990 the total number of copies sold had reached more than four million.


Blogger Michael Parker said...

Yes. We have Goodnight Moon. The kids love it. Thanks for this post. It's wonderful.

10:58 PM, May 23, 2006  
Blogger J.B. Rowell said...

It is hypnotic for little ones - when my daughter was a baby she would search and point to the little mouse that is on every page.

6:55 AM, May 24, 2006  

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