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Goodnight Clock

March 7, 2014

Most of you know Goodnight Moon, where a little bunny goes to bed. There are a number of subtle details in the Clement Hurd’s artwork that you only pick up on after reading the book several. hundred. times.

(FYI multiple updates on this post, check the bottom)

There’s the mouse, and the moon rising in the window, and the art on the walls referencing other Margaret Wise Brown books. And then there’s the clock. It’s something I gradually noticed over the past few years, and last night I decided, hey, GIF…

Turns out the little bunny bedtime ritual takes an hour and ten minutes, starting at 7 and lights out at 8:10, which seems about right.

goodnight moon clock

Protip: If your friends are having kids, getting them Goodnight Moon (and/or a set of Sandra Boyton books) is always a good bet. If you *don’t* like them, or are in search of a retaliatory gift, get them the Melissa and Doug “Band in the Box” (which has nearly the same color scheme as the book now that I think about it…)

band in box

Incidentally a set of unpublished manuscripts by Margaret Wise Brown were just published! NPR interviewed Amy Gary who found them:

GARY: I was a young publisher and was looking for things that I could reprint of Margaret’s. And I was looking through all of these old books at her sister’s home. And her sister said oh yes, there’s this wonderful manuscript she was working on, but I’ve got it in the trunk and her barn. She was living in Vermont at the time. I thought, oh my goodness…


GARY: …I wonder if any of these papers are actually still left.

WERTHEIMER: Eaten by mice.

GARY: Yes. That was my first thought. So she opened it up one day for me and literally, the trunk is filled, end to end, with onionskin papers. They did smell, very moldy and old, but they were in perfect condition.

A dozen poems and songs are being published, along with a CD:

One of the lullabies is “The Noon Balloon.” At the end of her life, Margaret decided that she really wanted to focus on children’s songs and radio and television. It was a new way for her to reach children. “The Noon Balloon” was actually supposed to be a radio show. It would play in the middle of the day for a parent to let a child listen to songs and adventures.

After Margaret died of an embolism at the age of 42, her sister tried to get the manuscripts published for years with no luck. Amy Gary discovered these manuscripts back in 1991.

The author’s sister, Roberta Brown Rauch, tried to sell some of the stories in 1957; when no publishers showed any interest, she kept paper-clipped bundles of the more than 500 typewritten pages in a cedar trunk, where they remained until Amy Gary, publisher of Montevallo, Ala.-based WaterMark Inc., rediscovered them earlier this year.

(Any ideas why it took 23 years for these to be published?)

I however am not particularly interested in reading “Have a Carrot: Oedipal Theory and Symbolism in Margaret Wise Brown’s Runaway Bunny Trilogy” — Oh man that has got to be a dark read.

On a happier note, check out the book on the little bunny’s bedside table:



Several people on Twitter have harassed informed me that I should have calculated the passage of time according to the movement of the moon through the bunny’s window:

IANAA, but the moon is about half a degree wide as seen from the surface of the earth, and “rises” at 15 degrees per hour, or 2.5 degrees per 10 minute interval (i.e. per color page in the book). That’s 5 moon widths per page, or 35 moon widths for the story. (Do let me know if I got this horrifically wrong.)

Here’s a GIF of the moon through the six pages it is visible:

goodnight moonrise

The moon isn’t visible on every color page, and I didn’t get a time hack on each frame, and I did not bring my copy of Goodnight Moon with me today, but @geofflepper came to the rescue (yay Twitter!)

Breaking it down by time, we sadly see that the moon travels approximately half a moon-width (or a quarter degree) per 10 minute interval, not the expected five moon-widths:

goodnight moonrise background

What are Clement and Margaret hiding from us? Also, OMG THE MOON GETS BIGGER.

goodnight moonrise no background

Maybe the bunny and the old lady are actually in a space elevator, getting closer to the moon as he gets into bed? Or as suggested by @transitmaps, the bunny can bend space and time? I do not have a good answer to this conundrum, but that is what the comments are for.


I decided to see how large the moon would have to be if it actually were travelling at the rate we expect, 2.5 degrees (or about five moon widths) per page. (I left the 8PM moon in there for comparison’s sake.)

goodnight moonrise smaller with large moon

Well, that’s not a very interesting children’s book. It would have to be renamed “Goodnight Window” I suppose.

But how close would the Moon have to be for it to appear as big as it does in the book? Geometry to the rescue! My math skills are rusty, but thanks to Wikipedia I remember that you can calculate the angular (apparent) diameter of an object if you know its distance and actual diameter,



angular diameter

Let’s say that the moon is 5º, or 0.0872 radians. Solving backwards from

0.0872 = 2 arctan (3,474 km / 2D)

we see that my (probably incorrect) calculations indicate that the Goodnight Moon would be orbiting at about 39,000 km, or 10 times closer to the Earth! For reference, that’s inside the orbit of geosychronous satellites at 42,164 km! (Yes, I should account for the angular diameter from the surface, not the center, but hey.)

Of course, if the Moon were 10x closer, it would be orbiting faster, and OMG the tides would be insane. (Sorry that I don’t have a number but can’t find a tidal calculator, though I believe the tidal power is a cube of the distance, so that can’t be good.)

The bigger question: is Goodnight Moon within the Roche Limit? That’s the point where the Earth would cause such extreme tides on either end of the Moon that it would break apart and Earth would have a ring, which would be cool except for the lunar debris bombarding Earth and even higher tides, both in the ocean and the crust of the Earth itself (and increased earthquakes and volcanic activity) as the Moon drew closer.

The Roche Limit for the Earth-Moon system is 9496 km, or in technical terms, pretty damn close to the Earth. My back of the envelope calculations indicate that the moon would be nearly 21º, or over 40x the moon’s actual angular diameter. Or as the little bunny would see it:

goodnight roche

Goodnight tides
Goodnight air
Goodnight life everywhere.

Of course, this all presumes that the little bunny and the mysterious hushing lady and the cats that don’t catch mice are actually on the surface of the Earth, and not in orbit, but I leave that as an exercise for the reader.


I have come to a rather startling conclusion, and it is either really good for the bunny, or really bad. As we previously mentioned, the moon actually gets bigger through the progression of Goodnight Moon. Here we see the relative increase in size from 7:10 to 8:10:

710 vs 810 moon size align center

or more dramatically:710 vs 810 moon size align left

Working from our previous assumption that the Goodnight Moon is 10 times closer than our moon, the magic of arctan tells us that with the increase in its apparent size from 4 to 5 degrees in the space of in an hour, the moon has moved rather closer to the bunny’s room, from 49,000 km to 39,000 km.

Hey, no big deal, the Moon is just moving towards us at 10,000 km per hour, or five-sixth of the Earth’s diameter in an hour, BRB.

So if the Moon is moving towards the Earth, the little bunny has about three hours sleep before the moon is torn apart by the Roche limit, and four hours before another extinction event. But on the other hand, perhaps the bunny is in a spaceship with an awesome window and is moving *towards* the Moon. (10,000 kph is almost the same speed that the Apollo 11 astronauts were travelling at that distance on their way to the Sea of Tranquility.) That’s the story I prefer. And it’s certainly less intense than an alternative take on the bunny’s room that a Metafilter reader pointed out.

Also, WHOA:


50 Comments leave one →
  1. March 7, 2014 4:16 pm

    Also, the mouse is on every color page. I discovered that when I was about four and then had to hunt for it EVERY TIME.

    • Margaret Pritchard Houston permalink
      March 7, 2014 4:18 pm

      (Is that what you meant by “there’s the mouse” in the first paragraph?)

    • March 7, 2014 4:18 pm

      Ha — Taquita Justice noticed that before I did!!!

    • March 7, 2014 4:18 pm


  2. Thomas Terashima permalink
    March 7, 2014 4:19 pm

    Perhaps a slow zoom-in/dolly-back move?

  3. March 7, 2014 4:49 pm

    I love love love this timeless classic. (Pun intended.) All my breeder friends get a starter pack of books with this included. I do not believe in the concept of Too Many Books, so it’s pretty much the only gift I give. The folks at Bird and Beckett stock what I need and practically have an automated set up when I say friends of mine are expecting. I have no doubt that any one of these kids will be making GIFs soon and then I will officially be the out of date auntie!

  4. Stacy Farr permalink
    March 9, 2014 4:57 pm

    this blog is without fail the most entertaining and well-researched blog I look at. it hits every single one of my interests and humors.

  5. March 13, 2014 11:01 pm

    Great post. Two things: 1) Why do the socks vanish? Very alarming. 2) I love that the story in this book is moved along a mostly static space by shifting the reader’s focus to discover in layers, rather than every other story, which pushes actions forward to keep us engaged. The ability to unravel the story on your own is what I want my daughter to be able to take away from the hundreds of times I am reading it to her.

  6. jonontopic permalink
    March 14, 2014 11:05 am

    This is just about the most brilliant post that I’ve read all week and one of the best analysis’ of a children’s book that I’ve read recently. Now the next step for you would to break down Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” and deciding if it is a children’s book for adults or an adults book for children.

  7. March 14, 2014 11:15 am

    This is so fantastic!

  8. March 14, 2014 12:59 pm

    Reblogged this on rebloggobbler.

  9. March 14, 2014 6:55 pm

    Very interesting — shedding new light on my granddaughter’s only book she will sit and listen to all the way through my reading!

  10. March 14, 2014 10:33 pm

    Very interesting and reality bending……… Thought of Dr. Who multiple times while reading this.

  11. March 15, 2014 5:45 am

    I read this post overnight while at work. The first thing I did this morning was go into my little boy’s room and grab his book. Funny, that it was right next to Pajama Party by Sandra Boynton.
    I have read this book countless times to my 20 month old, but have never looked at it as closely as I did today. I am amazed at your comprehensive power of observation concerning this book. You did not miss anything. I certainly have no scientific mind and can’t imagine trying to analyze a book to that extent.
    As I read this book over and over, studying the position of the moon and stars and the passage of time noted by the clock, I began wondering about one of the paintings on the wall. What exactly is the deal with the rabbit trout fishing for another rabbit in the black and white painting?
    Thanks for an interesting read on my lunch break.

    • friscolex permalink
      March 15, 2014 7:41 am

      I think the fishing bunny is a scene from Runaway Bunny, a book I love almost as much as this one…

    • March 15, 2014 7:49 am

      I noticed Runaway Bunny and My World on the back cover of the book. I am definitely going to have to find those. Thanks.

  12. March 15, 2014 9:48 am

    This is wonderful. It’s awesome to discover new things and different angles of things I loved from childhood. Bless you and the other brilliant people for “seeing” these things! :P

  13. March 15, 2014 4:05 pm

    Reblogged this on Fashion.

  14. March 15, 2014 9:00 pm

    Reblogged this on meg's sandbox and commented:
    Some deep thoughts on Goodnight Moon. I now need to go look at Goodnight Richard Rabbit, another favorite of mine.

  15. Vikon99 permalink
    March 16, 2014 11:45 am

    I suspect that there may be a flux in the fabric of timespace since the logs are not consumed by the fire in the fireplace over time. Since the flames are red and not blue I do not think that the fireplace is a “gas log” variety so I think we can safely discount that. Perhaps a form of gravitational lensing is distorting the position and apparent size of the moon?

  16. March 16, 2014 11:51 am

    this is amazing, I read that book a million times as a child. Thank you for putting in all the hard work to find this!

  17. March 16, 2014 3:38 pm

    My daughter’s favorite read was Tiger’s Bedtime…especially the c-c-cold part… My mother was an elementary school librarian and she would have known every single book which was discussed today.. Sadly, she’s gone.

  18. Linda Newman permalink
    March 16, 2014 4:34 pm

    If the moon were closer than geosynchronous orbit, it would orbit the Earth in less than one day. That would probably affect how fast it would appear to move… It would also mean that it would eventually crash into the Earth, but that would take a long time (probably of order a billion years, at a guess).

    • Vicki permalink
      March 16, 2014 8:06 pm

      It might be rather less than that; Phobos may have only 50 million years (according to That’s a geologist’s sort of “only,” of course.

  19. March 16, 2014 7:48 pm

    Cool. Now do the time of day in the painting of the Pantheon by Giovanni Paolo Panini. 8-)

  20. March 16, 2014 8:52 pm

    I submit three alternate hypotheses:
    1.) They are not on Earth, but instead live on a planet that has a moon whose orbit has a very high eccentricity. That would cause it’s apparent size in the sky to change dramatically as it moved.
    2.) The window is warped, such that it magnified both the moon as it is high in the sky and the rate at which the moon rises in the sky.
    3.) The clock needs to be wound, and is thus inaccurately slow. This doesn’t solve the “bigger moon” problem, but it does solve the issue with the rate at which is rises in the sky.

    Occam would likely favor some combination of 2. and 3.

    • March 17, 2014 12:08 am

      Hey, good point on the eccentric orbit. Though the tides would still be a bitch.

  21. March 17, 2014 12:01 am

    Great article! do you mind sharing my newest blog? that would be great! thank you so much and keep up the good work, heres the link to my blog

  22. Seamus McKiernan permalink
    March 17, 2014 8:06 am

    I’m a HuffPost editor and wanted to email you about this piece. Let me know!

  23. March 17, 2014 10:52 pm

    This is indeed an engrossing book. Created by a Bay Area illustrator. I had the pleasure of hearing the illustrator’s son read the text aloud, a few years ago.

    But If you are buying baby presents don’t go with outlanders like Sandra Boynton.

    There are dozens of Bay area authors and illustrators who need the exposure and sales: Thacher Hurd for one, and Ashley Wolff, Jane Wattenberg, Lisa Brown, Julie Downing, Christy Hale, Katherine Tillotson, Elisa Kleven, Maria von Lieshout, Bob Barner, Marissa Moss, LeYuen Pham, Teri Sloat, Lisa Schulman, Jim LaMarche, Angela Dominguez and many more. We are making cool, beautiful books for Bay Area children. Look us up.

  24. March 18, 2014 3:20 am

    Reblogged this on missymiranda's WORD'S.

  25. March 18, 2014 1:01 pm

    Reblogged this on TeamSpraggins and commented:
    This was Mary-Isabella’s first book

  26. Maggie Bee permalink
    March 19, 2014 7:25 pm

    Read this every nite to my (now adult) son. He loved it —– and finding the mouse anew every read. This will make me dig it out of boxed books and re-read it for myself (as I once studied particle physics — before the child absconded with my brain) —- I will put the bunny to bed again with new eyes. And yes —- find Runaway Bunny —- it is endearing and he loved it as well. Magical writer! Thanks for all the insight here.

  27. March 20, 2014 10:48 am

    This is just the most delicious post about Goodnight Moon I’ve ever read. And I represent the estate of the author so should know!

    Now, would somebody please tackle this question: why there are so many many parodies of GNM out there? From Goodnight Bush to Goodnight iPad to the upcoming Goodnight Nanny-cam, Goodnight Goon to even Goodnight Keith Moon – about 2 a year.

  28. JMREH permalink
    March 20, 2014 11:04 am

    It is a children’s book for goodness sake. Just read the book as intended! Don’t dissect. Too much time on the author’s hands.

  29. authorwin622 permalink
    March 30, 2014 12:29 pm

    Reblogged this on Women of wisdom A personal journey.

  30. Larissa Walrond permalink
    April 2, 2014 11:27 am

    I really enjoyed this post! I was never read this book as a child but I believe ive read it to a few kids I know. Looking forward to seeing it again !

  31. April 16, 2014 6:20 pm

    Reblogged this on The Abstract Detail.

  32. April 16, 2014 6:50 pm

    This is marvelous! I loved that book as a kid. I too prefer the spaceship, but the idea of a ‘sequel’ book called Goodbye Moon would be kind of hilarious. Any takers?

  33. May 3, 2014 8:15 am

    Reblogged this on Rose Colored Photography.

  34. August 20, 2014 8:47 am

    The first object mentioned in the great green room is the telephone. The telephone is also the only object in the room that does not make a repeat appearance — there is no “goodnight telephone” page. A telephone would have been a reasonably common thing to have in an American home in 1947, I suppose — but in a small child’s bedroom? (If that actually is a bedroom — it looks more like a ballroom. Perhaps there are so many bunnies that the bunny family ran out of bedrooms in their bunny mansion and this particular little bunny has to sleep in the great green banquet hall/telephoning chamber.)


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