Author Margaret Wise Brown needed few words to fill Goodnight Moon, the classic 1947 children’s title that acts as a hymnal to the night skies through the eyes of a somnolent rabbit. It’s endured through generations, selling millions of copies and regularly making lists of the most popular library titles.
But from 1947 through 1972, the New York Public Library—one of the most revered stockpiles of books in the United States—didn’t carry Goodnight Moon. Its charms were lost on Anne Carroll Moore, the children’s librarian of the famed institution. And so she simply refused to stock it.
Although it seems quaint to believe one librarian’s preferences would be all that important, Moore was actually seen as something of a tastemaker in the literary world. Because of the NYPL’s stature, other libraries took cues from books they recommended—or books they didn’t. Authors and editors even looked to Moore for advice on works-in-progress. If she liked something, she was effusive. If she didn’t, it might not make the NYPL’s vaunted shelves.
Moore didn’t care for Goodnight Moon because it ran counter to her tastes in children’s literature. At the time, the conceit of a kid’s book was to take on a fantastical fairy tale quality, like the work of Beatrix Potter. But Margaret Wise Brown was a student of the new school, which leaned more toward what some dubbed “the here and now” movement. These were stories about characters doing regular things—like gazing at the moon or stars—in a contemporary setting.
Moore was having none of it. Even though she was retired when Goodnight Moon was released, she still held considerable sway over the NYPL and its children’s book department. Her influence made certain the library didn’t order the title. It’s possible Moore’s bias even hurt sales of the book, which was slow to take off. It wasn’t until the rise of chains like Waldenbooks and B. Dalton that parents began coming across Goodnight Moon. Without Moore as an intermediary, the book found its audience.
The NYPL finally began stocking the book in 1972, which marked its 25th anniversary. Because it was a latecomer, Goodnight Moon failed to make the library’s 2020 list of the most-checked-out books in its 125-year history.