When librarians turn to the dark side…


I thought all librarians were perfect saints, champions of goodness and openness, and then I read that the New York Public Library had banned Goodnight Moon for decades, because of the fact that an influential librarian, Anne Carroll Moore, didn’t like it. She apparently thought children’s books ought to have a “once upon a time” feel to them, and she was the Authority in charge of deciding what children should like.

Anne Carroll Moore was not a fan of Margaret Wise Brown’s work. Brown, with her Bank Street training, was “looking at the mind of a child, operating at the level that a child understands,” says Bird. “She was trying to get down on their level, whereas Anne Carroll Moore placed herself above the children’s level, handing what she viewed as the best of the best down to them.”

Yet Goodnight Moon is a book I read repeatedly to my kids, to the point where we wore it out and had to buy multiple copies. Just this week, I saw my granddaughter carry a copy to my wife and demand that she read it. She’s 15 months old. I can’t even imagine why a librarian would block stocking such a sweet, innocent story. Moore was apparently progressive in other ways, but I just don’t get it.

Then I read this little aside about Margaret Wise Brown.

So no one was pressuring the NYPL to stock the book, least of all Brown, who died in 1952. (Recovering from surgery for an ovarian cyst in a hospital in France, she playfully kicked her leg up, cancan-style, to show a nurse how well she was feeling; the action dislodged an embolism from a vein in her leg, which traveled to her brain, killing her nearly instantly.)

Huh. Should I go out of my way to tell my granddaughter that story? Should I wait until she’s old enough to no longer be quite so attached to Goodnight Moon before she learns about reality? Am I now policing the content she is allowed to see? I could probably turn her into a little Goth girl if I made it a point to tell her how the authors of all her favorite children’s books died.

Comments

  1. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re @1:
    never noticed that myself. oversight. Let me share my ~theory~ why it was deliberate.
    Telephones talk back. Nothing she say goodnight to have that ability. It is important for kids to know that verbal responses are not the only important thing. That it is how the child feels about those things, and saying goodnight to them allows the child release, in order to sleep without concern for the items. The telephone is not inanimate nor unable to respond, also goodbye was said to the phone when used to end a call.
    thank you for letting me babble a bit

  2. woozy says

    And then there’s these:

    Moore was appointed the NYPL’s first “superintendent of work with children” in 1906, at a time when the very idea of children even being allowed into libraries was brand-new. (Children who couldn’t read yet would gain nothing from a library, the theory went, and older children might be corrupted by all the trashy adult books.) Moore oversaw the beautiful Central Children’s Room in the library’s flagship building on Fifth Avenue. As Leonard S. Marcus writes in his biography of Margaret Wise Brown, Moore became perhaps the leading figure in popular children’s books in the first half of the century, and many of her methods seem strikingly modern. She scheduled scores of story hours for children; she encouraged any children who could sign their names to check out a book; she trained librarians drawn from a diverse range of backgrounds and then sent them out into a city of immigrant children, preaching the gospel of reading.

    ……..

    As Bird notes in a fascinating blog post, the legacy of Anne Carroll Moore is one that many children’s librarians struggle with. “She is the quintessential bun-in-the-hair shushing librarian,” says Bird. “She’s such an easy villain.” Her discriminating book recommendations delivered from on high represent the exact opposite of the credo pledged by most children’s librarians today: that the library’s role is to provide the widest possible array of titles and allow children to find the books they love. Yet Moore did more than anyone else in the first half of the 20th century to encourage children of all races and incomes to read. To adopt a 21st century rallying cry, Bird notes, Anne Carroll Moore “was all about diverse books waaaaaay before anyone else was.”

    She also didn’t like Stuart Little.

  3. unclefrogy says

    wow I read the linked article as well and from the vantage point of 2020 the ban or none recommendation just seems very arbitrary.
    interesting. I am very fond of all kinds of stories and tales that you might class as fairytales like those collected if the series of colors , the pink fairy collection by Andrew Lang, as well as 1000 and 1 Arabian nights entertainment and one from India Vikram and the vampire, I may be a little obsessed by all of them and have not the time to read all of them from all of the peoples of the earth but would like to. so i do not see how one could select out of the best most appropriate?
    like what is the most appropriate part of reality?
    but this is 2020 not 1906
    uncle frogy

  4. steve1 says

    Anne Carroll Moore’s picks of which children books to have in the NYPL influenced many libraries across the country.
    I only discovered Goodnight moon as a parent. I read it many times to my children. My parents never had this book. I remember having lots of Dr, Seuss books around as a kid. I wonder if Anne Carroll Moore’s dislike for this book is the reason I never saw it as a child.

  5. Kevin Dugan says

    I could probably turn her into a little Goth girl if I made it a point to tell her how the authors of all her favorite children’s books died.
     
    Sounds like a good premise for an updated Gashlycrumb Tinies book. M is for Mary who got a clot in her brain…

  6. cvoinescu says

    the action dislodged an embolism from a vein in her leg, which traveled to her brain, killing her nearly instantly

    Wouldn’t a clot from a vein in the leg end up in an artery in the lung?

  7. Mrdead Inmypocket says

    Yet Goodnight Moon is a book I read repeatedly to my kids, to the point where we wore it out and had to buy multiple copies.

    Did you have to tell them about the scootching?

  8. psanity says

    Only if you’re lucky, is what they told my spouse, who’s had two pulmonary embolisms, well, actually two sets of them, a couple of years apart. (High risk of, due to chemo.) Apparently the clots have a choice; I did not inquire closely into this, as I had other things on my mind at the time.

    I lived in NYC as a small child in the early fifties, and was much enamored of the lions and visited them regularly at The High Temple of Books. It is possible I thought they would protect me from the librarians, who were still pretty scary in those days.

  9. says

    Actually, a blood clot in the leg would not go to the brain unless you had a heart defect. And a heart defect big enough to allow a clot that big to pass thru would make a fairly loud murmur.

  10. wzrd1 says

    Should I wait until she’s old enough to no longer be quite so attached to Goodnight Moon before she learns about reality?

    What did you do with your own children? Speak of that to your children/grandchildren’s parents, go from there.
    Just a suggestion, as our grandchildren are now old enough to babysit your grandchildren – barely.

  11. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    I thought all librarians were perfect saints, champions of goodness and openness

    As a librarian, I can sadly confirm that this is not the case.

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