The New Journal Magazine at Yal
By Jonny Dach
"Good morning, Mouse."
Early on a wintry Friday, I am mumbling into a payphone receiver, part of an exhibit on the first floor of the Connecticut Children's Museum. One floor up, a black rotary phone sits perched on a bunny's bedside table, ready to receive my call. The ring is too quiet, however, to wake the bunny-or the quiet old lady whispering "hush"-from their imaginary slumbers. With its windows looking out onto the snowy corner of Wall and Orange Streets, the great, green room from Margaret Wise Brown's beloved children's bedtime classic, Goodnight Moon, is replicated in full scale. The view of the sidewalk is obscured by sheets of blue plastic with cutaway stars and the moon, a simulation of what the book's characters would see from their drowsy, rocking recline. The green walls are home to the two gray stuffed animal rabbits, two little kittens, a pair of mittens, a marble fireplace, green-and-yellow striped curtains, and all the other objects familiar to generations of small children.
The telephone rings are, alas, too quiet to attract the attention of the cluster of children I know are sitting on the room's plush, red carpet. Instead of the children's piping voices, I am greeted with a recording that announces that everyone, from the pair of rabbits to the small white mouse present in each of the book's illustrations, is unable to come to the phone. The recording invites me to leave a message-an opportunity which I decline. Later, on my way out of the museum, I try calling again, only to be quickly hung up on by a three year-old girl.
The museum that she and I spend our morning enjoying was born, according to Director Sandra Malmquist, in "a series of Inspiration Meetings, held from February through July 2000." At these sessions, a diverse group of community members-parents, builders, teachers, legislators, artists, and naturalists-met to craft a theme for each of the building's eight rooms. The museum is based on Harvard psychologist Howard Garner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences-each of the rooms is dedicated to one of the eight intelligences Garner articulated: Musical, Logical-Mathematical, Spatial, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Bodily- Kinesthetic, Linguistic, and Naturalist.
The great, green room is the Linguistic room, and exists thanks to a perceptive New Havener who noticed the uncanny resemblance between the room's existing fireplace and the one drawn almost sixty years ago by Clement Hurd, the book's illustrator. After this discovery, Malmquist said, "It became immediately clear that re-creating the great, green room from Goodnight Moon would be an entirely magical process resulting in a totally magical product."
Several months, a conversation, and a letter to Goodnight Moon's publisher HarperCollins later, the great, green room opened its bedroom door to the public.
The room caters to a large portion of that public. Spanish, French, Korean, Japanese, and Hebrew editions of Goodnight Moon are shelved alongside the original, while the large pieces of plastic and metal type that line the magnetic walls with words from the book are underscored by Braille lettering. Malmquist describes the "inclusion of children with disabilities" as "a cornerstone of our work and our museum." Many of the children's books have also been Brailled, and an American Sign Language alphabet puzzle sits next to a Perkins Braille typewriter on the bunny's desk.
In its twin goals of bringing to life a fictitious environment and fostering the linguistic intelligence of its visitors, the transformation of the great, green room from two dimensions into three has been an immense success. Creating Readers, a literacy program run out of the museum, builds on children's enchantment by distributing copies of picture books to its visitors, drawn from the community-at-large. Over the last five years, the museum has given away more than 25,000 works in English, Spanish, and Braille.
Barraged by screaming toddlers, I muse on a story of the book's republication. While older editions' back covers sport a photo of the illustrator, Hurd, flicking a cigarette, current HarperCollins editor Kate Jackson obtained permission from his son to digitally remove the cig. But the younger Hurd was ultimately unhappy with the final product, saying that the altered photograph of his father's extended, empty hand "looks slightly absurd to me."
In the same way, the museum's revised edition lacks some necessary element. Something, I think, resting my hand on the bunny's bedside table, is missing. A certain particular essence… a certain keystone. Here, beside the comb and the brush, I pick up the red plastic bowl full of mush. But, for obvious practical reasons, the bowl is empty. So too, at night, after the children have gone, is the room.