Goodnight Moon was written by Margaret Wise Brown with illustrations by Clement Hurd and published in 1947. Although today considered a classic of children’s literature that is more likely than not to be found in a home with a pre-school child as part of the family, the path to king of the bestseller list was slow. In the first few years following publication, sales figures remained relatively unimpressive. Figures increased steadily but modestly through the 1950’s and 1960’s. The 1970’s and 1980’s appear to be the transformative period; by 1990 overall worldwide sales had exploded into the millions and the book has become a staple of the bookshelves of American homes ever since.
The simplicity of the language, the repetition of words and the vividly colorful illustrations also serve to make Goodnight Moon an example of what can quickly become a new parent’s worst nightmare: the kind of book that engenders multiple requests to “read it again” every night. The fact that the book really seemed to take off during the 1970’s can be testified to by its becoming ingrained as a part of American pop culture: there have been multiple parodies (including Goodnight Keith Moon), an adaptation into a board game and a stage musical, references to the book on television shows ranging from Animaniacs to This is Us and, of course, the legendary final appearance (for a time) of Opus the Penguin in the famously familiar bedroom pictured in the book.
The legacy of Goodnight Moon has been somewhat marred by the controversy surrounding the person actually reaping the benefits of all the royalties earned by those millions of sales. Margaret Wise Brown had willed that royalties following her death be shared with the son of her neighbor, Albert Clarke. Clarke had been just a child when Brown actually wrote the book and when Brown died in 1952, the book was still selling sluggishly enough that the young man was hardly going to be tempted by the high life. A Wall Street Journal article in 2000 detailed how once Goodnight Moon’s sales kicked off into the stratosphere, the wealth it brought Clarke was equaled only by the troubles that wealth brought him. Somewhat ironically, the revenue generated by one of the sweetest children’s book of all time served to fuel a life of drug addiction, crime, failed marriage and an aborted attempt at kidnapping one of his own children.