Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sometimes a bunny is just a bunny

Recently, there's been a discussion of Margaret Wise Brown's book Goodnight Moon on one of the children's literature listservs I read. Nothing unusual... after all, it's a classic book and is bound to be talked about from time to time.

But, this discussion has started to get into issues involving incest, gender, sexuality and the domination of the older female bunny... and at this point, I've got to wonder: is it okay for Goodnight Moon to just be about a bunny that says good night to the objects in their room? Does it have to be about anything more than that? Is it about anything more than that?

My guess is no, it probably isn't. I appreciate book analysis as much as the next person, but sometimes I think we tend to over-analyze, especially in the field of children's books. And I think when that happens, some of the sweet innocence of a book can get lost.

For example, after I read the Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, I was struck by the fact that he referred to one of the ghouls as the 33rd President of the United States. It was very specific, and I wondered what he meant by it. So, I went online and found many brilliant theories that it was a reference to Truman's (the 33rd President) ghoulish decision to drop the atomic bomb.

Made sense. But then, I asked Neil Gaiman about it and he said that wasn't the case at all. The real reason was that he wanted to use a president from that era and he decided that FDR was just too cool to turn into a ghoul. He thought about Eisenhower, but in the end, thought the number 33 sounded better than the number 34, and number 33 turned out to be Truman. There's nothing more to it than that.

Moral: sometimes things are really that simple. And sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Is it okay to let a bunny just be a bunny?

What book do you think has been over-analyzed?


  1. Well put! My children have enjoyed Goodnight moon for it's rhythm and simple art style. At least in my experience, the logic of saying goodnight to a list of objects matches the logic of a four year old mind trying to settle down and make order of the world.

    Too look for much deeper meaning is to go searching for that pesky monster in the closet--like I have told all of my kids, there is nothing there.

  2. And I forgot to answer Susan's question...

    I have not done much reading but I'm going to mention Where the Wild Things Are, just because there is a movie.

  3. Dave- I completely agree. And yes, Where the Wild Things Are is one of those books that have been over-analyzed to death.

  4. Here, Here, Susan!

    It hasn't been analyzed to death, but one of my favorite series, the Redwall books, has been casually dismissed by some as not "complex" enough. Brian Jacques' good guys are good guys and his baddies are baddies, and that's about it. People say that is too simplistic, and ignore the adventurous and swashbuckling tale he tries to tell.

    There are people who can enjoy the view of a frog basking on a log by a still pond, and then there are those who are never content until the frog is pinned to a lab tray...

  5. My BFF and I have an ongoing conversation about exactly this, and the way books are taught in English classes in high school.

    Gail Carriger--an author--posted this on her blog a couple of weeks ago.

    Sure, it's possible there may be an underlying hidden message to the colour the protagonist's room is painted, but more than likely, it just happens that the author decided that peach walls sounded like fun. I'm sure this depends on the type of fiction you're reading, also, but it irritates me that so many school students are taught to loathe reading, and some truly amazing books, because they're taught to over analyse, rather than just read and enjoy, and understand.

    Any text prescribed as part of national English curriculum: that's my vote for over-analysed :D