Reader A.H. is not amused by my critique of New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert’s essay decrying such children’s bedtime classics as “Goodnight Moon,” (with its sleepy bunny rabbit) as “protectionist” parental fantasies of innocence foisted upon unwilling children who would rather read creepy descriptions of unaesthetic bodily functions and sarcastic putdowns of patriotism and other virtues (see my “The Secret Message of Goodnight Moon: Oppression of Children,” Nov. 29):
“[D]o you get it wrong deliberately, or because you only read the ‘intellectually elite'” New Yorker looking for immoral thoughts?

“If you paid attention you’d have noticed that [Kolbert] writes equally (if not more) approvingly of the ‘protectionist’ literature, that she points out the need to put children to bed as well as mentioning that they need to be cajoled into this, and that her theme is about the tension between opposing concepts (bedtime vs. staying up and playing) rather than being a purely anti-discipline diatribe. And this line – (she also informs us that Brown was a part-time lesbian who hated children–or maybe didn’t exactly hate them, but merely expected them to behave themselves in the presence of adults, an idea that is clearly anathema to Elizabeth Kolberrt) – is pure fabrication, for reasons too obvious for me to go into.

“I liked some of the other pieces on your blog (e.g. on single sex education), but this one is so inane that I don’t really trust any of it any more.”

Glad you’re on our side re single-sex education, A.H., but I beg to differ with you about Elizabeth Kolbert’s assessment of bedtime stories. It’s she, not I, who called “Goodnight Moon” “brutal” and described bedtime stories as an “instrument of [parental} control.” Here’s what Kolbert wrote about “Goodnight Moon”‘s author, Margaret Brown:

“Brown never married – her affairs were conducted with members of both sexes – and had no children. When she wasn’t making up tales about soft little bunnies, she liked to watch them get ripped to pieces; a fan of running to hounds, Brown was a charter member of an exclusive Long Island hunting club known as the Buckram Beagles. (Asked about this apparent conflict in an interview with Life, Brown replied, ‘Well, I don’t especially like children, either. At least not as a group. I won’t let anybody get away with anything just because he is little.'”

If that doesn’t add up to a part-time lesbian who hated kids, I don’t know what does. And I won’t even go into Kolbert’s city-slicker assumption that riding to hounds involves chasing bunnies, not foxes.

Finally, it was Kolbert, not I who used the terms “tension” and “bad faith” to bolster her point that children’s picture books may seem on their surface to be about imaginative freedom but are really about parents’ forcing their wills upon their children by getting them to go to sleep at night.