- Mr. Dog
Every night Vic's children want to hear him read Goodnight Moon. He's not sure where the book came from. Maybe it was a baby shower gift, maybe his in-laws sent it, but it's definitely the current favorite of four-year-old Leah and little Marie: Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.
The girls' enthusiasm isn't shared by their mother. Teri finds the book tedious. "When they ask for it, I tell them to pick a different one," she says. "Enough is enough."
At a backyard cookout, Vic mentions Goodnight Moon to some other parents. Every one of them nods in recognition and says something like, "Isn't it great?" or "It might be the best kids' book ever." But when they're done exclaiming, Teri says, "I liked it at first but not any more. The day they outgrow it can't come soon enough."
"Be careful what you wish for," replies their friend Melissa, whose children are eight and ten. "Mine just want to play games on my tablet. Bedtime reading is a thing of the past."
One day Vic looks at the copyright page and is surprised to find Goodnight Moon was published in 1947. He doesn't remember encountering the book during his own childhood. Or even books like it. Maybe that's because his parents weren't big readers. They subscribed to the daily newspaper, but books belonged in school.
In Vic's opinion it's the language of Goodnight Moon that makes it so beloved. The illustrations are bright and childlike but that's not what kids find engaging. In fact, Leah and Marie no longer care if he even shows them the pictures. He asks them what they like about the book [End Page 394] and, although they're not a religious family, Leah says, "It's kind of like a prayer."
It occurs to him that the author, Margaret Wise Brown, might have written more books, so the next time he takes the girls to the public library, he investigates. Sure enough, there are several others (alongside multiple well-worn copies of Goodnight Moon). One is called The Important Book, another The Runaway Bunny, and a third one is Mr. Dog. He finds himself unexpectedly intrigued. Everyone agrees Goodnight Moon is excellent but he's never heard anyone express a more general appreciation for "the works of Margaret Wise Brown." Perhaps she was the kind of writer who produced a single masterpiece and nothing afterward quite measured up. He checks out all three so they can judge for themselves. They'll read them before bed tonight.
The Runaway Bunny is forgettable. A baby bunny runs away and the mother bunny chases after him, presumably demonstrating the mother's steadfast love. But the plot is predictable from page one and there's no phrase that even comes close to matching "goodnight air." Marie's eyes glaze over and Leah starts talking to her orange elephant before he's halfway through.
The Important Book is more interesting. On each page is a picture of an object, followed by its attributes: "A spoon is like a little shovel, you hold it in your hand, you can put it in your mouth …" However, the description ends with a subtle twist: "But the important thing about a spoon is that you eat with it." It's as if the author is saying, "Ignore the form, it's the function that counts."
Leah and Marie are interested but also bewildered.
"Daddy, I don't understand," Leah says. "What's it about?"
He's not sure what to say. Each page is a small philosophical puzzle. It's not surprising that it's less popular than Goodnight Moon, but it has its own charm.
However, the one that really grabs him is Mr. Dog. It's about a boy and a scruffy dog who meet and become great friends. Eventually they move in together. The dog is exceptional. According to Brown, "he [End Page 395] belonged to himself." Not only that, but he likes strawberries and his name is Crispin's Crispian, of all things. This one the girls...