But there is also one very famous children’s book conspicuously missing from the list: “Goodnight Moon.” You remember: the great green room, with the telephone and balloon and the painting of the cow jumping over the moon, and the soothing words to which millions of children have been tucked safely into bed: “Goodnight stars, Goodnight air, Goodnight noises everywhere.”
So conspicuous was its absence from the most-read list that the library felt a need to explain why, giving the 1947 book by Margaret Wise Brown an honorable mention. It was almost an apology, as there was, in fact, something to apologize for.
While children and their parents have loved the bedtime story for decades, Anne Carroll Moore “hated” it. Moore not only ran the children’s section at the library for 35 years, she actually invented it. And her influence on the entire industry was so widely felt that, even though she technically retired from the library in 1941, her opinion still kept the book off the shelves for decades.
“By all measures, this book should be a top checkout (in fact, it might be the top checkout) if not for an odd piece of history: extremely influential New York Public Library children’s librarian Anne Carroll Moore hated Goodnight Moon when it first came out,” the library said in an addendum to its list. “As a result, the Library didn’t carry it until 1972. That lost time bumped the book off the top 10 list for now. But give it time.”
The unusual snippet of cultural history, which was first reported by Slate, draws attention to a largely forgotten figure responsible for introducing an entire generation of children to libraries in the early 20th century, yet who grew up at a time when most libraries didn’t even allow children inside.
Moore’s distaste for several beloved children’s books published in her time, including E.B. White’s “Stuart Little” and “Charlotte’s Web,” may make her seem like villain in the eyes of readers or parents today, said Jan Pinborough, author of “Miss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children.” But the notable dissents Moore is known for now, Pinborough said, belie her more important life’s work: nearly single-handedly engineering children’s services at the library as we understand them today.
“We take children’s libraries so for granted now,” Pinborough told The Washington Post. “But she created these innovations, these beautiful welcoming spaces for children. She took down the silence signs. She designed child-sized tables. … And she ordered books in many languages so that all of the children, including many immigrant children, could actually check out books and bring them home. … She made all these great contributions, but I feel like today she’s looked at as villainous because of her efforts to quash a few certain books.”
Moore, born in Maine in 1871, moved to New York in 1895 and very shortly thereafter “more or less invented the children’s library,” as New Yorker writer Jill Lepore, a Harvard history professor, reported in a 2008 story about the librarian’s relationship with White. She opened her first at the Pratt Institute in 1896 and her next at the New York Public Library in 1906, as its first director of the new children’s department. Less than a decade after stocking the shelves with kid-friendly storybooks, in 1913, those books accounted for one-third of all checkouts at New York library branches, Lepore reported.
Before long, libraries around the country copied Moore’s children’s services and looked to her for recommendations on which books to collect.
Once she started offering reviews, Moore’s stamp of disapproval — or her refusal to add a book to her library’s collection — was enough to ruin a book, said Betsy Bird, collections development manager at the Evanston, Ill., Public Library.
“When she didn’t like a book, she would say, ‘This is truck,’ ” Bird, who was previously a youth materials specialist at the New York Public Library, told The Post. “People would make this pilgrimage to her in the library to show her their book, and if she didn’t like it she would tell people right to their face.”
That is exactly what happened to Margaret Wise Brown the first time she went to meet Moore with a publishing colleague in 1938, according to a biography of Brown by Leonard S. Marcus. The two disagreed stylistically. Moore was a lover of fairy tales and fables. Brown, a believer in rhyme, in speaking to children in their own language. They never quite saw eye to eye, Marcus noted.
“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!”
So it would be no surprise, then, that when Brown’s most famous work, “Goodnight Moon,” was published, the unusually powerful New York librarian “didn’t really care for it,” Bird said.
“Goodnight Moon” went on sale for $1.75 in the fall of 1947 and then — for the next several years — was almost forgotten.
The reviews that year were fine but not great. The Christian Science Monitor said it “creates an atmosphere of peace and calm” for children, while the New Yorker was unmoved: “Goodnight Moon” was “hypnotic bedtime litany,” the critic wrote, according to Marcus’s biography, “Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon.”
But at the New York Public Library, the internal opinion was particularly harsh: It had been “dismissed as an unbearably sentimental piece of work,” according to Marcus. Moore was by then retired from the library but her influence did not go away in the slightest: She still attended every meeting, as Lepore reported.
And so for years, presumably following the advice of its most famous in-house critic, the library refused to add the book to its collection.
Only 6,000 copies of “Goodnight Moon” were sold in the fall of 1947, according to Marcus, and sales had tanked by its second year in circulation.
Bird said that the book’s explosion in popularity in later years is still somewhat of a mystery. Marcus theorized that “Goodnight Moon” traveled to more and more parents by word of mouth amid the post-World War II baby boom starting in 1953, when suddenly sales started inching back up. “There may be no specific explanation for what ensued — 4,000 copies sold in 1955, 8,000 in 1960, nearly 20,000 in 1970, and onward and upward — other than that parents who knew Goodnight Moon and found it memorable recommended it to their friends,” he wrote.
Neither Moore nor Brown, however, would live to see it. Brown died in 1952 at age 42, while Moore died in 1961 at 89. Her influence had waned toward the end of her life after she disagreed with critics writ large about the merits of White’s two classics, “Stuart Little” and “Charlotte’s Web” — the latter of which is No. 6 on the New York Public Library’s list of most-checked-out books.
But Lepore told The Post via email that she would hope the formidable New York librarian’s unpopular opinions don’t go on to spoil her remarkable influence on kids.
“That Moore, she was a pistol,” Lepore said. ”… But, given that people have forgotten, ignored and dismissed everything Anne Carroll Moore did for public libraries and for children, it’d be pretty tragic injustice if she gets remembered only to be attacked for having hated ‘Goodnight Moon’ and banned ‘Stuart Little’. ”