If you’re a parent of a small child, you’re likely already aware of the hypnotic soothing power of the classic children’s book Goodnight, Moon. You’ve read it so many times, you can do all the rhymes with your eyes closed. But, despite your multiple readings of the book, you’ve probably not noticed the one horrifying detail that keeps my 18-month-old daughter awake at night. On one pivotal page of Goodnight, Moon, the toy giraffe in the far upper-left corner is briefly headless because of the way the illustration is cropped. This is a big problem at my house. Let me explain.
But first, let me say this: There is not a misprint in my version of Goodnight, Moon. I have checked. Also, second, let me add that I know the giraffe has a head. I understand how paper works. But the cropping problem does make it seem like the giraffe is headless when you first see it (especially if you are 18 months old and my genetic heir). Having established those dual premises, let’s push forward.
The offending illustration is featured on a page enumerating kittens and mittens and in the wake of the lionization of the cow for the notable athletic accomplishment of jumping over the moon. There is also a little house on the page as well as a young mouse. Whether the latter lives in the former is unclear. On this page, the bottom half of the toy giraffe is depicted on top of a shelf. This is the first time readers see the entire room, including this shelf. Though the giraffe’s head is later depicted in some detail, we never get that far. Instead, my 18-month-old cries, freaks out, and points at the missing spot where the head should be. She looks at my wife and me with desperate, questioning eyes. She can say “giraffe” and she does so with a righteous anger that worries me. She seems to be accusing my wife and me of small-game hunting.
This detail bothers my toddler so much that we are considering abandoning use of Goodnight, Moon as a bedtime tool and exclusively replacing it with its biggest storybook rival, the Rolling Stones to the Beatles of Goodnight Moon: the indomitable nearly silent masterpiece Goodnight, Gorilla.
But I digress. Here’s my problem with the headless giraffe in Goodnight, Moon. It’s just not clear why illustrator Clement Hurd decided to crop the toy. Initially, my wife and I believed (as many incredulous parents have asserted) that we merely had a weird printing of the book. However, that’s not true, this cropped-out giraffe head is in all versions, and that’s because the room is subtly different in each rendering through the book. Part of this is because the light is lowering and the moon is switching places. But the cropping out of the toy giraffe’s head is just totally arbitrary. Worst of all, as I mentioned, this is the VERY FIRST appearance of the toy giraffe in the whole book, so, in the hothouse of my toddler’s brain, this means the toy giraffe lacks a head then, like some sort of Tim Burton nightmare, sprouts one later on.
Right now, the only way to stop my daughter from freaking out about the (needless!) headless toy giraffe in Goodnight, Moon is to play a little game of peek-a-boo with one of its headed selves on the subsequent pages. This, of course, sucks, because you’re breaking up the narrative flow of the book, which sort of kills the whole lullaby magic of the thing in the first place.
Much has been written about the impracticality of the room in Goodnight, Moon. Parents have mocked how dangerous the room appears to be: It’s full of choking hazards (including, horrifyingly, a balloon), rodents run free, and a fire roars. But these things ultimately don’t bother me. I love the weird old lady bunny whispering hush. I love how she disappears. I love how the passage “goodnight nobody” could imply a ghost lives in the room. All of this stuff is fine. But, the headless giraffe just seems careless.
Here’s a full reading of Goodnight, Moon, page-by-page, just so you know I’m not making this up:
To be fair, I never noticed this until my daughter began fixating on it, but now, I think it’s unforgivable. Not because it’s nonsensical, but because I can’t justify this directorial choice, even in my head. And if I can’t rationalize this, how will I be prepared for real problems? I know, in my daughter’s future, there’s an endless sea of headless giraffes waiting for us. And of the two of us, I think I’m the one more inclined to climb into a bed under a red balloon and just hide from it all.