As It Happens

Why Goodnight Moon didn't make New York Public Library's list of most checked-out books

The New York Public Library turns 125 this year and compiled a list of its 10 most checked-out books ever to celebrate. Many are children's books, but one title is conspicuously absent: Goodnight Moon.

For decades, former librarian Anne Carroll Moore refused to carry the book in the library's system

New York Public Library released a list of their top 10 most checked-out books and some readers are questioning why Goodnight Moon didn't make the cut. (HarperCollins Publishers)
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To mark its 125th anniversary, the New York Public Library this week unveiled its 10 most checked-out books of all time. But somewhat mysteriously, the ever-popular children's book Goodnight Moon didn't make the cut.

In fact, six of the 10 books are for young readers — The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Cat in the Hat and Where the Wild Things Are all made the list. But no Goodnight Moon. And Betsy Bird thinks she knows why.

Bird is a collections manager at the Evanston Public Library in Illinois. She previously worked at the New York Public Library as a youth materials specialist and says a former children's librarian named Anne Carroll Moore refused to carry the book in the library's system.

The iconic book was written by Margaret Wise Brown and published in 1947. But it wasn't on the New York Public Library's shelves until 1972.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Bird to learn more about Moore and why she may have disliked Goodnight Moon so much. Here is part of their conversation.

What did Anne Carroll Moore have to do with the unpopularity of Goodnight Moon — at least [its] unpopularity at the New York Public Library?

She wasn't a huge fan of the style of book that Margaret Wise Brown sort of excelled in. Margaret Wise Brown was from the Bank Street College of Education. She believed very much in getting down on a child's level and making books in that way.

And so, we don't know specifically what Anne Carroll Moore disliked about that book. What we do know is that it was one of the books she chose not to buy for the library system.

Anne Carroll Moore was a librarian who helped bring children's collections to the New York Public Library. (New York Public Library)

But it was hugely popular, at least it has been over the years. Did she ever say anything about why she didn't want it at the New York Public Library?

As far as I know, she never said anything specifically about why. But if you look at the kinds of books that she loved, it definitely did not fit the mould.

She was a huge fan of Beatrix Potter. She liked a very classic style of children's literature, and when you look at Goodnight Moon, it's very glaring.

You've got these bright greens and these bright reds and these bright yellows. There's no story to it. It's very rhythmic. It's very soothing. But it's very strange. You've got a grandmother who appears and then suddenly disappears. "Goodnight nobody" is one of the lines. It's a very peculiar little book. 

What kind of a librarian was she?

She was a great librarian. In terms of what she did for library services for kids, she was the very first person at New York Public Library to found children's services. She wanted to get kids into the library as much as humanly possible.

We had a great amounts of immigrants coming into New York at that time. She wanted to get books in their languages so they would all find something in the library. She very much tried to reach out to all different kinds of kids and get them in her branches as much as possible.

And on the flip side of that, she wanted to decide what books were best for them.

Obviously, Anne Carroll Moore wasn't limiting what children could read. She wanted it to be channeled into something she thought would be useful to them. Right?

Absolutely. She was by no means the first woman to talk about children's services. But she was one of the more prominent ones.

But before these women sort of came up with this idea of having kids in the library, you know, children are filthy. They've got cold dust all over their fingertips. They're not going to be nice to the books. They're loud. They're noisy. They're running all around. Who would want a child in this pristine, beautiful edifice we have created to talk about literature?

So, yeah, for a long time, children and libraries were kept as separate as humanly possible. And it was only eventually that people were saying, no, it is actually a good thing.

Going back to Goodnight Moon, was it just the New York Public Library that didn't carry the book, or did it go beyond that?

It probably went beyond that. Remember, when Anne Carroll Moore was working, she was hugely influential.

Many other libraries around the country were looking at her selections and they would buy the same things that she would buy. If she didn't buy something, they didn't buy it.

Bird says Goodnight Moon wasn't on the shelves of the New York Public Library for decades because former librarian Anne Carroll Moore didn't think it 'fit the mould.' (Kathy Willens/The Associated Press)

At what point did it start being being available at the New York Public Library?

It took an inordinately long time, in part because Anne Carroll Moore retired — but then she would merrily walk down the street and attend all the meetings. So her successors had her sitting there. If they bought something she didn't particularly like, she was going to tell them in no uncertain terms. So I suspect it kept off the shelves for quite some time.

She sounds like the quintessential librarian — the image of the proper librarian.

That is exactly what she was — bun in the hair and all.

Going "shush!"

Going "shush!"

How are things different now? How do you choose the children's books now?

The attitudes have changed entirely. The one thing that I'll say is the same is that Anne Carroll Moore wanted the best books for kids, and that's what librarians still want too.

Librarians are ready to read through just a slew of junk. There are so many children's books coming out and they're willing to select the ones that they think kids are going to really like. By the same token, if a kid comes in asking for something that isn't the highest quality literature in the world, but they love it, we're gonna buy it for them.

So the attitude has sort of shifted to the point where we both want to give them the best possible books and, at the same time, we just want them reading. So we're going to give them whatever we can to hook them.

And then, once they're hooked, that's when we hit them with the goods.


Written by John McGill and Samantha Lui. Interview produced by Samantha Lui. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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