Making "Goodnight Moon" safe for children

When did childhood become so dangerous?

By Lori Leibovich
Published December 6, 2005 2:16PM (EST)

In Sunday's New York Times, Karen Karbo penned a hilarious Op-Ed riffing on HarperCollins' recent decision to digitally alter the photograph of Clement Hurd, the illustrator of the children's classic "Goodnight Moon," to remove a cigarette from his hand. (The piece has been the Times' most e-mailed story for two days.) Karbo writes: "Excellent start, HarperCollins, but why stop there? The text of Goodnight Moon is laden with messages that are potentially harmful to our youngest readers."

Karbo goes on to list all of the items in the spooky, iconic book that should also be altered -- if not outright removed.

"Huge gilt picture frames have no place in the nursery, especially those that are not properly secured. Should these three little bears sitting on chairs crash down during the night, Bunny risks suffering massive head trauma. Suggested change: digitally replace with piece of lightweight non-toxic fiber art."

"The blue stripes are adorable, but the reader has no way of knowing whether Bunny's pj's meet current flammability standards. Suggested change: digitally alter to include visible 'flame resistant' label, in accordance with recommendations made by the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Digitally removing pj's is not an option."

"A fire blazing in the fireplace while Bunny sleeps? Suggested change: Get rid of it. At the very least, digitally add a fire extinguisher to the wall. And hello? Where are the smoke detectors?"

And my favorite: "Who exactly is this rabbit? Bunny says, 'A quiet old lady whispering hush?' But what do we know of her really? Suggested change: Digitally alter quiet old lady's apron with a message emblazoned across the front that says she was hired from a reputable agency, is a citizen and has passed a criminal background check."

Reading Karbo's piece I was reminded of One Step Ahead, one of the dozens of catalogs for kids that miraculously began appearing in my mailbox 10 seconds after I gave birth. The company's goal to provide "thoughtfully selected products to help with baby ... every step of the way" seems innocent enough, until you page through the catalog -- especially the "safety" section -- and realize that what they're really doing is stoking parental paranoia. With foreboding display copy like "danger lurks behind every door" the company hawks dozens of safety devices for doors, windows, drawers, stoves, beds, televisions, refrigerators, toilets and cabinets.

Remember when taking a bath was one of childhood's simplest pleasures? One Step Ahead would have you think that your bathroom is one gaping deathtrap. With the company's "non-slip safety ducks" -- appliqués that prevent slipping and turn pink if the temperature gets too hot -- junior will never be scalded. With its special hair-washing visor, he'll never -- thank God -- get shampoo in his eyes. There's even a foamy fish that slips over the tub faucet so that if Junior -- blinded by his visor -- should bump into it, he won't get an owie.

When did childhood become so dangerous? What's with all these gadgets and products designed to "protect" kids from, um, life? Personally, I'm thankful that my son's copy of "Goodnight Moon" has a picture of Mr. Hurd and his cigarette. Because you know what? There are cigarettes in the real world. And faucets, too.

Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

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