Friday, September 11, 2020

The Queer Love Story Behind "Goodnight Moon" - Or, How I Learned To Love A Children's Classic

So recently I had this revelation from the SCBWI 2020 Summer Spectacular Online conference about Goodnight Moon, this perennial favorite board book/picture book that we were gifted multiple copies of when our daughter was born, that I never really understood.

I mean, there's not much plot. Not to diss author Margaret Wise Brown, or Illustrator Clement Hurd, but it's really just a bunny settling into bed, saying "Good Night" to the things in their big green room. Like the comb, and brush, and bowl of mush by their bedside.

On August 2, 2020, in that online SCBWI conference, when talking about the heart-message of a book being either explicit or implicit, editor and author Jill Santopolo explained that for Goodnight Moon, the heart message is "everything is as it should be, and it's safe to go to sleep."

And suddenly the popularity of the book made more sense to me. That's the storyline. Implicitly there.

Then just last week, Lambda Literary published this article by Lizzy Lemieux, ‘Goodnight Moon’ and the Queer Love Story of the Great Green Room.

Turns out, Margaret Wise Brown had a real green room:

“Brown’s New York City apartment, gifted to her by her lover, actress, and poet Blanche Oelrichs, who was known by her nom de plume, Michael Strange. While Brown was writing her magnum opus of children’s literature, she painted her own gifted bedroom green and yellow and covered her poster bed in red velvet.”

It's information from Amy Gary's 2017 biography In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown, and it's fascinating. The article includes this bit:

“The relationship was never truly a secret. During her divorce from John Barrymore, an exposé even dubbed Michael the ‘Sappho of Long Island’, forcing her to go temporarily ‘incognito’ for fear of social ostracization. External and internal homophobia coloured the couples relationship. In letters, Michael ‘insisted’ they use coded language. As Gary writes, ‘At times, they attached emotions they had for each other to their dogs or had imaginary characters speak for them in their letters. Michael’s was Rabbit and Margaret’s, Bunny.’”

Look at the brush!

Oh - My - WOW!

Suddenly, there's a whole other reason to love this story of Bunny (Margaret's stand-in), lovingly seeing all the things in their great green room (gifted to her by the woman who loved her), and knowing that everything is as it should be, and it's safe to go to sleep.

And in that one-two revelation, I love a children's classic.

As Lizzy put it so perfectly in the final line to her article,

“Goodnight stars. Goodnight air. Goodnight women loving women everywhere.”

I loved learning this bit of Queer and Kid Lit history!

The light in me recognizes and acknowledges the light in you,


A.C.E. Bauer said...

Love this!

KarolinaS said...

Very cool. I had no idea!

proseandkahn said...

Mind. Blown.

Thanks for sharing.