Before children learn to read, first they must hear the words. It’s developmental, like learning to crawl before learning to walk. The auditory piece, including singing, hits both the brain and the soul in learning. In my preschool class, reading aloud is a top priority, so I constantly read picture books and also chapter books.
So, what is it about Goodnight Moon that is a staple every year? Yes, every single year. It’s a book for younger children, yet preschoolers are drawn to the rhyming, the objects in the book, and what happens next. Oh, this is without seeing the illustrations. I recite this book before chapter reading. Children hear the words. That’s it.
Is it the words? The routine of reciting it before chapter reading? Or is it the quality of the book? Did you know the New York Public Library’s children’s librarian hated Goodnight Moon? Really hated. The story resurfaced a few years ago:
In celebration of its 125th anniversary, the New York Public Library released its top 10 most-checked-out books of all time. Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day tops the list. Notably, although the NYPL’s list is dominated by children’s classics, Goodnight Moon does not appear. It gets an honorable mention, with the explanation that “extremely influential New York Public Library children’s librarian Anne Carroll Moore hated Goodnight Moon when it first came out,” so the library failed to acquire it as long as she was there.
Miss Moore’s taste was particular. She loved Beatrix Potter and The Velveteen Rabbit and was a steadfast believer in the role of magic and innocence in children’s storytelling. This put her in opposition to a progressive wave then sweeping children’s literature, inspired by the early childhood research of the Cooperative School for Student Teachers, located on Bank Street in Greenwich Village. The Bank Street School, as it became known, was also a preschool and the teacher training facility where Margaret Wise Brown enrolled in 1935. This progressive wave was exemplified by the Here and Now Story Book, created by Bank Street’s leading light Lucy Sprague Mitchell in 1921. A collection of simple tales set in a city, focusing on skyscrapers and streetcars, it was a rebuttal to Moore’s “once upon a time” taste in children’s lit.
Shame on Miss Moore. This story reminds me how I need to read everything to young children. Everything. Young minds need to be exposed to a plethora of reading. It also makes me enjoy Goodnight Moon all the more.
Every day before chapter reading I recite Goodnight Moon. The children love it for two reasons; they know that chapter reading is next, and they feel connected to the words in the book. I recite the story, all the words, and they have no pictures to see (just like chapter reading.) Over the course of the year, I have changed the words to incorporate the names of the children. “And Tommy’s red balloon, and a picture of Sarah jumping over the moon…”. This has been hugely successful. The children think it is so much fun, but I realize that there is a bigger connection with the language they are hearing. I have taken a story they love, recited with no pictures, and changed the text. That means changing your brain, and children do that so well.
It gets more complicated, or perhaps I should say more simple. Reciting Goodnight Moon then naturally flowed into singing. It was already a story with a rhyme, and it already had children’s names as part of the rhyme. So, I sang Goodnight Moon. It didn’t matter what the tune was. The important part was singing, as that brought ‘life’ into the words. I occasionally changed the ‘beat’ as well, clapping or tapping my foot.
Teachers naturally address visual learners. Whether it is a classroom chart or writing on the board, the majority of information for children is often visual. If we address the auditory learners through singing, rhyming, and chanting, we are crystallizing language. And, it is fun! So, I now sing poetry, stories and rhymes whenever I can. The children love it, and it works. Goodnight Moon is proof.
We are halfway through the school year. This week I asked the Helper of the Day if s/he wanted to stand with me and recite the book. That is a big deal! Harry was excited, and did a great job. All the children listened to him. The next day he wanted to recite Goodnight Moon to Gloria:
Never underestimate children. They have far more heart, gut, passion, and bravery than we realize. Give children opportunities. Let them shine. Read aloud. They’re our future. Harry certainly is.