Wilmington’s literary community keeps gaining accolades (two National Book Awards nominees in 2015) and attention in the press. With multiple established publishers in the state (Algonquin, Blair Publishers) and new smaller presses gaining traction (Eno, Bull City), it is timely to shine a light on discussions around literature, publishing and the importance of communicating a truthful story in our present world.
Welcome to Carpe Librum, encore’s biweekly book column, wherein I will dissect a current title or an older book—because literature does not exist in a vacuum but emerges to participate in a larger, cultural conversation. I will feature many North Carolina writers; however, the hope is to place the discussion in a larger context and therefore examine works around the world.
Good Night North Carolina
by Adam Gamble
Illustrated by Anne Rosen
Good Night Books, 2009, pgs. 20
I recently found myself in a conversation about how to define a “classic.” The person I was talking with suggested books by dead authors, or of high literary merit, but didn’t really offer a definition of what “literary merit” would be.
For me, a “classic” in terms of literature—be it novels, nonfiction, poetry, theatre or film—is something that resonates so deeply, to replicate or pay homage to it is instantly recognizable to audiences across generations. How many renditions of “A Christmas Carol” have you seen or read? To some extent they become a shorthand for conversation or a shortcut between artist and audience.
Though the adult classics are held in very high esteem, I actually think children’s classics have more lasting impact on more readers. “Alice in Wonderland,” for example, is recognizable to people of every living generation and across the globe. Say “Mr. MacGregor’s Garden” to almost anyone and an image of Beatrix Potter’s “Peter Rabbit” jumps to mind.
Though written for very little children, Margaret Wise Brown’s “Goodnight Moon” is one of the best-selling children’s books of all time, having sold over 48 million copies since publication in 1947. It is beautifully illustrated by Clement Hurd and details a little bunny saying goodnight to his loved ones, including inanimate objects he cares for. It has been parodied, as many classics are, including Gan Golan and Eric Origen’s “Goodnight Bush,” which uses the structure of “Goodnight Moon” to bid farewell to the Bush presidency and civil liberties.
Recently, I discovered “Good Night North Carolina” by Adam Gamble, with illustrations by Anne Rosen. A 22-page board book, it starts in the Outer Banks and travels to the mountains of North Carolina, to introduce small children to the sights, sounds and history of North Carolina. Gamble works with multiple illustrators on his “Good Night” series, which includes the states, multiple countries, science concepts, and more.
“Goodnight Moon” is clearly the inspiration for these books, though on the “Good Night Books” website, Gamble also cites Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” as an additional inspiration. It does come through in the sense of looking at the professions and artifacts part of the North Carolina experience.
The illustrations are very bright and saturated in color, and make one almost want to drink them in.
Rosen includes great details—like the model of the USS NC Battleship on the shelf of the child’s room—at the end of the book. It is designed to be an accessible large overview book for toddlers, so it starts with the wild horses on the Outer Banks and includes visiting the Great Smokey Mountains Railroad. There are, of course, obligatory nods to barbeque and bluegrass, but some of the more interesting inclusions are the NC Museum of Natural Sciences and a polar bear at the North Carolina Zoological Park. The Wright Brothers’ first flight is commemorated, as well as Roanoke Island and early explorers of North Carolina.
My only two qualms with the book: It is Outer Banks heavy and a nice touch may be to include a map with all the locations for adults to perhaps plan a trip for themselves or with the little ones. The book really does make readers want to go see all the fun things tucked within its covers. As a souvenir from a trip, it is really wonderful. Like a lot of children’s books, it almost is more enjoyable for adults. As a way of trying to show the breadth of North Carolina—“from the mountains to the coast,” as UNC Public Television likes to say—it is a great introduction for inquiring young minds. In a very simple and sweet way, it is also a lovely celebration of North Carolina and our history.
Margaret Wise Brown died at the age of 42 in 1952, but the impact of her work continues to speak to something identifiable in her audience. Creating childhood memories of reading aloud is a gift beyond value. Inspiring adults to create homage to your work is indescribable—and sometimes fraught with disappointment. I wonder what Brown would think of the parodies and homages to her simple yet lovely children’s book if she were alive today to see this? I hope she would be pleased, but perhaps not.
In the meantime I am enchanted with “Good Night North Carolina,” and I do hope both she and Mr. Whitman would be, too.