Show me the pictures

A review of new children's picture books.

By Andrea Gollin

Published July 25, 1997 8:36AM (EDT)

in the big white room there's a telephone and a blue desk and a beige
keyboard and an empty computer screen and a large pile of new
children's picture books and a small pile of classic children's picture
books, including one about a great green room with a red balloon and a
picture of the cow jumping over the moon. And children have been read to
sleep by that classic, Goodnight Moon, millions of times during the
past 50 years, ever since Margaret Wise Brown wrote it and Clement Hurd
illustrated it.

My parents never read "Goodnight Moon" to me and until yesterday, when,
at the urging of my therapist and with the help of my support group, I
telephoned to confront them about this, neither of them had heard of
the book. "Goodnight Spoon"? my mother asked. "Why would you tell a
spoon goodnight?" "Honey, just tell her we DID read it to her. She
doesn't remember," I heard my father whispering in the background. "I DO
remember," I said sorrowfully. "I wanted you to read 'Goodnight Moon' to
me and you DIDN'T. And now it's TOO LATE."

When I reported this conversation to my support group today, they made a
collective decision to end each session with a reading of "Goodnight Moon,"
which has touched me deeply. Perhaps, finally, I will heal my wounded and
deprived inner child. At last, I will be able to fall asleep at night with
a sense of peace and completion. I will join my generation, and the one
before mine, and the one after mine, as we all recite those precious words,
"Goodnight stars Goodnight air Goodnight noises everywhere."

Well, I feel better now.

If you haven't read "Goodnight Moon" to your children, it's not too late.
There are now some 26 permutations of the book to choose from. HarperCollins has
published several variations to commemorate the book's 50th
anniversary this year. There's the pop-up version, the board-book-with-plush-animal version, the coming-in-September version with slippers
and the special edition with a retrospective on the book's popularity and
information on Wise Brown and Hurd. In case there are those among you, dear
readers, who are sensing a marketing opportunity (after all, anything so
popular can support a spoof), it's already been done. Sean Kelly's "Boom
Bay Moon," published in 1993 by Dell and now out of print, bid goodnight
to, among other things, a dehumidifier and a Swiss au pair wearing a

Speculating as to the source of "Goodnight Moon's" perennial appeal is
nearly heresy, but I'll do it anyway. Kids derive comfort from the
repetition, the rhythm and the ritual of the words. In addition, the
word choice is simple enough that kids can follow along way before they
learn to read. The real inspiration for "Goodnight Moon," though, hints at
something darker: In his Margaret Wise Brown biography, "Awakened by the
Moon," Leonard S. Marcus writes that the author fought off depression by
lying in bed in the morning, "surveying the room around her to the last
detail. One by one she noted every particular of the room and the scene out
her window that gave her pleasure. Then -- grasping for straws or counting
her blessings -- she wrote them all down in a list."

While the repetition is soothing for children, it can take a toll on even the most tolerant of parents. For those who are either a) sick of "Goodnight Moon" and want to
throw it out the window, or b) sick of "Goodnight Moon" and already
have thrown it out the window, there are a slew of great new picture
books. Below are a few that jumped out of the pile:

Sing a Song of Circus by Ward Schumaker is narrated by two
balloons, one yellow and one orange, as they float through the book's
action-packed pages. In addition to serving as tour guides to the
circus, the balloons are willing victims of inflated imaginations, as
they speculate on various ways to step into the acts. "We could really
help the strong man!" they conjecture, and the illustration shows a
smiling balloon on either side of the barbell. The large print and the
simple, short sentences make this an excellent choice for preschoolers
and for children just learning to read. ($13; for ages 3 to 8, from
Harcourt Brace)

Just Another Ordinary Day by Rod Clement is a hilarious tribute
to the powers of imagination. The story follows Amanda, who is presumably
just another ordinary girl, through the course of her ordinary day, which
is greatly enhanced by her extraordinary imagination. The jokes are all in
Clement's illustrations -- the text is the straight man here. For
example, we're told that "she was never very hungry in the mornings. All
she could eat was one boiled egg and two pieces of toast." Meanwhile,
the illustration depicts an egg that's about 12 times the size of her
head. Every page is like this. Amanda gets a ride to school with Mrs.
Ellsworth, the oldest person on the block. She's -- you guessed it -- a
dinosaur (in a dress and bonnet and pearls), and her license plate reads
"T-REX." I could go on explaining the jokes on every page, but I have a
feeling that your children will do this at length. I won't even write
about the new girl at school who "told them stories about her home in a
land far away," except to say that she has three eyeballs, and each one
is at the end of a long green stalk. ($14.95; for ages 3 to 8, from

A lot of children's books try to invoke magic, and a significant number
of them don't succeed, whether through clumsiness or heavy-handedness
or just the mere emphasis on how MAGICAL it all is. That's happily not
the case in Wolfram Hanel's The Gold at the End of the Rainbow,
illustrated by Loek Koopmans and translated by Anthea Bell, where the
magic is so quick and so understated that when you finish the book you
may need to re-read it to see whether what you think happened is
actually the case.

At the beginning of the tale, Brendan and his grandfather are eating
potatoes, and Grandpa bemoans their lack of food. "If only we had a pig --
and a few chickens," he says. Then he sighs, "We might as well wish for the
gold at the end of the rainbow." Brendan's antennae shoot up immediately,
as he demands to learn all about the pot of gold that's on the island at the
end of the rainbow, guarded by a leprechaun. The next rainbow prompts
Brendan to insist that they make the trip to the end of the rainbow, and
his grandfather goes along with it, contending all the while that it's just
a fairy tale. Well, they almost find the gold, and they do find the
leprechaun, but they let him go, concluding that it wouldn't have been
right to take the gold, anyway. As in all satisfying children's stories,
their goodness is rewarded. ($15.95; for ages 5 to 9, from North-South Books)

Speaking of leprechauns and their ilk, those perennial favorites have
an entire book devoted just to them. Little Folk: Stories from Around
the World
by Paul Robert Walker, illustrated by James Bernardin, is a
collection of eight folk tales collected from different cultures.
Walker, who is also the author of "Giants!" has done a masterful job in
both selecting and retelling the tales. He also did extensive research
and includes a section of information about each tale's culture and
story-telling traditions. Some of these tales, such as "Rumpelstiltskin,"
will be familiar. Others, like the Zulu tale "People of the Rock," will most
likely be new to both parents and children. This 80-page book is a few
steps more advanced than standard picture books -- it's text-heavy, with
only two illustrations per tale, making it a good choice for children who
are moving away from picture books and into chapter books. ($17; for ages 8
to 12, from Harcourt

Andrea Gollin

Andrea Gollin is a freelance writer living in Miami. Her children's summer book special continues next Thursday.

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