A Book I Wish I Had Written: “Goodnight Moon”

The legendary book itself, printed on its iconic cardboard.

A piece that immediately came to mind when considering something I wish I had written was that kid’s book with the subtly-psychedelic red and green cover art, “Goodnight Moon.” I’ve literally seen that book in every elementary school, bookstore, and kid’s bedroom that I’ve been in, and yet (if you read it) it’s ridiculously simple. Anyone could’ve written it. I could’ve written it.

Goodnight Moon tshirt available for $28.

After doing some research, I wish even more that I had written “Goodnight Moon.” The book sold 6,000 copies in 1947, the first year it was published, and saw a resurgence in the 50s, where sales shot to tens of thousands of copies a year. Total sales reached $11 million in 2000. It was ranked number 4 on the list of “Top 100 Picture Books” by the School Library Journal. Today, royalty money accumulates as they’ve expanded the brand to include a product line of shirts, canvas totes, and beanies for ironic hipsters as well. There’s even a Goodnight Moon mobile app, which you can download NOW on iTunes for $4.99.

And along with “Goodnight Moon” came an outburst of positive reception, from scholarly book critics to that sticky kid you hate babysitting. A New York Times reviewer praised the book by saying, “The sound of the words, the ideas they convey and the pictures combine to lull and reassure when bedtime and darkness come.” Really? Really.

Despite the book’s undying success, its author, Margaret Wise Brown, reportedly wrote the whole first draft in 20 minutes, on napkins and the backs of receipts. This will come as no surprise if you actually read the book, which includes a number of deeply poetic phrases such as “Goodnight moon and goodnight you.” Brilliant. The iconic cover art, featuring none other than the interior of a room at nighttime, was actually illustrated by Clement Hurd, so Brown was solely responsible for the book’s 131 words. I could’ve totally done that.

Okay, sure, I know writing a children’s book is probably a lot more difficult than it seems, and that I’m not giving the author enough credit. Which is true. It took her two years to revise the piece, and about a decade for it to actually gain traction and grow in popularity among customers. And sure, it could definitely be a source of inspiration for other writers. In my own project, I can reflect its overall simplicity, and I can strive to reflect its wide audience reach, as it attracts kids, adults, and everyone in-between.

But every time I see this book, I can’t help but wish I had written it. It’s so simple, it’s so retro, it’s so dang profitable. Checks will come in for that book for decades, until it hits that point when it’s so old that it finally loses copyright. If only I had come up with the revolutionary idea to write a children’s book wishing kids goodnight, and dropped the legendary line, “Goodnight stars, goodnight air. Goodnight noises everywhere.”

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