Friday, June 19, 2009

Picture books, the two year old's view

If there was a time when I loved picture books, I was so young that I don't remember it -- so it's been fascinating to see their effect on the two and a half-year-old I babysit for now.

I would have thought that if ever a book needed no explanation or analysis, that book was GOOD NIGHT MOON. Maybe that just proves that I don't really get picture books. When we read it, he commented on "Good-night, nobody." He thought it meant that there was no one there, so I turned the pages back to show him all the people in the room, and he was more puzzled.

I said I thought the boy/rabbit was making a joke, and he laughed in that fake way some kids do when they know YOU think it's funny, but they don't really get it. I tried again to explain.

Later, when he woke up from his nap, he smiled at me in a way that showed he was VERY pleased with himself and said,
"Good-night, nobody."
He said it a few more times, I laughed, and he again commented that there had been no one there. So I explained again -- and he wanted to get the book and read it again. He also said,
"Let's talk about it." (This MUST be a phrase his mother uses!)

So we read it again: I could see that he was really impatient to get to that page. When we did, I again turned back the pages to show all the people who were in the room. I read the page itself, then went on (pointing to all the people).

"He was just making a little joke," he said -- but I don't know if he really knew what that meant; that was the exact phrase I'd used, after all. But he was REALLY TRYING to understand (one thing I like a lot about him) and maybe did. If he didn't, I can be sure he'll bring it up again.

The point of this post, though, is what reading with him showed me about GOOD NIGHT MOON. The last child I read it with delighted in finding the little mouse; Jake didn't even notice him (he's more of a word person, like me). He loved the sounds of the words, especially the rhymes....the only picture he commented on was one that showed the moon and the balloon. He liked the fact that they were both circles.

When I (or anyone) tries to talk about a book this simple, and this brilliant, I always sound like an idiot.....because the book's beauty is its simplicity; it says so much in so few words (and readers respond on so many levels and in so many ways). But I'm going to try and talk about this anyway, because I want to understand it more consciously myself.

In case you don't remember, the page on which the little rabbit says "good-night, nobody" is blank -- all the other pages show the objects being addressed or named or the room. That blankness and that joke not only add a little mystery (and it WAS a mystery to Jake) and humor (to an older child). It makes the permanence of the other objects and the order and repetition more noticeable -- and more reassuring (though Jakes's question made me wonder how clear it was to him that it was the same room in all the pictures).

There's an age, a specific point in development, at which babies grasp the permanence of objects -- it's early, before one, I think. Especially when you're as close to the concept being new as a two year old is, the idea that a comb and a brush and a bowl of mush remain what they are -- that they're still going to be the same thing, even if you go away or go to sleep or look away from them, IS a reassuring one. It's reassuring that the world is such a stable, orderly place.

I think it's almost impossible to read that book without feeling calm at the end - not just because of what I've mentioned here, but lots of other things there isn't room for....and the beauty of the book and its simplicity is that no matter how much I said, I'd still be missing things. There is so much there -- the soothing green, the way the room gets darker.....good-night, readers!


Lynn said...

I enjoyed this post. My son didn't like Goodnight Moon the first read, but then it became a favorite. He likes IDing every item as I name it. BUT, we've recently hit a snag. On some of the pages, the balloon completely disappears from the illustration, even though it isn't covered up or anything... it should be there and just isn't. This has started annoying our son, so now he just flips through the pages quickly to get to the balloon and then shows me how it's not on those pages. (I would have just agreed with your reader's assessment that nobody is there, on that page).

Libby Koponen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Libby Koponen said...

That reaction is fascinating, thank you for sharing it! I can totally picture your son flipping through quickly to show you the balloon. I could sense the same impatience to get to that page in Jake.

Could you ask your son if the balloon could have floated higher, so high that it's now out of sight? Balloons do bob around.

I mention this only because very young children are new to me and I'd be interested in your response -- and his if you do ask that question. The child I babysit for REALLY DOESN'T LIKE IT when things don't have rational explanations!

Also, the book is so carefully put together that I am pretty sure there is a rational reason for that balloon not being there...and that the fact that children wonder about it is just one more interesting aspect this simple story. It is totally fascinating to me that every child reacts somewhat differently to GOOD NIGHT MOON. I'd love to hear more reactions!

Thank you for sharing your son's.


Anonymous said...

Hmm. I need to go find my copy and read it! The kid you're babysitting sounds like an interesting one!