America's First Children's Librarian Thought Goodnight Moon Was Crap

Illustration for article titled Americas First Childrens Librarian Thought iGoodnight Moon /iWas Crap
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The children’s section of the library, with its tiny tables, story hours, and kid-height shelves of books intended to appeal to still-developing brains are one of the things that America actually gets right. And we mostly owe these tranquil spaces dedicated to developing minds to the vision of one woman—Anne Carroll Moore, who created one of nation’s first children’s sections at the New York Public Library in 1906 and ran it for 35 years. But unfortunately for many greatest and silent generation kids, Moore was also a bit of a despot who didn’t care that much for many children’s books, including Goodnight Moon, Stuart Little, and Charlotte’s Web.

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According to the Washington Post, Moore had a hand in Goodnight Moon’s dismal original run. When its author Margaret Wise Brown brought some of her rhyme-heavy children’s prose for Moore’s approval, it was greeted with a less than warm reception:

“‘Do you want to know what I think of these books?’ Moore asked Brown and her companion, Bill Scott, when they came with a stack of books. ‘Truck, Mr. Scott! They are truck!’”

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And that disapproval would keep Goodnight Moon out of the New York Public Library until 1972, as even after her retirement, Moore attended every meeting and her opinions held for over a decade after her death in 1961.

On one hand, kids have shitty literary tastes and all too often want to hear the same dumb picture book story again and again, so shoving them in the direction of something a bit more interesting, perhaps a Grimm fairy tale in which someone hacks off her own legs or a villain is baked to death in an oven, is occasionally necessary. On the other, Stuart Little is a small polite mouse who wears pants and overcomes adversity to become a substitute teacher--an excellent lesson for children in always keeping their expectations low. So the moral of this tale is to just sit kids at tiny tables and let them read whatever the hell they want.

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DISCUSSION

It is unfortunate. It’s this attitude that has carried forward and is in no small part responsible for the number of adults I’ve encountered who “Don’t like to read.”

The truth is, they probably did like to read at one point, but some educator or librarian told them what they were reading was wrong, and they should instead read something else. That something else became the only option to the point where they figured reading just wasn’t for them.

My wife was an elementary school librarian and she was adamant that at those ages, the important thing was to read something. Books, picture books, comic books, magazines, video game guides, whatever. Once that love is developed, it carries over into the other things that might be necessary if not enjoyable.