“…Children’s books are the place for powerful emotions, powerful language, powerful art,” (Vardell, 2014, p. 2).
Goodnight Moon is one of the most well-known classic picture storybooks of all time, and its universal popularity hinges on its unique, yet familiar, setting and the illustrations of that setting. Set solely in a little rabbit’s bedroom as night descends and sleep looms, the objects in that room are described both in the narrative, as the little rabbit and the child reader say “good night,” as well as the illustrations, which allow children to actively participate and find the objects on most of the pages, but also reveal surprises along the way, like the old lady saying “hush.” Setting is so crucial in this story not only because it works as the entire plot, but also because its theme of bedtime is one very familiar to children and their experiences with nighttime. Unlike adults, children are put to bed sometimes before they are sleepy, hence being as restless as the little rabbit and making sure to say good night to all the little objects in – and eventually outside – of the room. The illustrations, as well, are so brightly colored with unique shades of green, orange, yellow and blue that, as I can personally attest, they remain within the memory years after last reading the book.
Although similar to Goodnight Moon in that they are both classic and popular pictures books, The Little Engine That Could is more complex with its plot and theme. Additionally, its illustrations aren’t made up of subtle details but rather works as a second narrative that backs up the printed words with an image of the action being carried out. With the illustrations on the first top half of the pages and the text on the bottom half, this picture book is perfect for reading to kids as they listen to the narrative while following the story with their eyes, as well as for kids alone with a book; they can still grasp the story even if they don’t know how to read yet because of the illustrations and how they are placed within the structure of the book. Of course, the plot of the story is simple and tied intrinsically to the theme that even a little train, if kind and confident in oneself, can do something as “big” and as hard as pulling a heavy, broken-down train up a mountain to help others in need. Although the textbook generally warns against heavy-handed morals in children’s books, The Little Engine That Could contains a lesson that has made it memorable since 1930, and therefore, seems the exception to that rule.
Brown, Margaret Wise. (1947). Goodnight moon. Ill. Clement Hurd. Harper & Row Publishers, Inc.
Piper, Watty. (1986). The little engine that could. Ill. George and Doris Hauman. NY: Platt & Munk.
Vardell, S. (2014). Children’s literature in action. A librarian’s guide (2nd ed.). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.