Book Reviewed: Thank You and Good Night – Patrick McDonnell, Little Brown and Company, 2015
Thank You and Good Night is one of those children’s books that has something for adults hidden in the story, kind of like the parodies on Sesame Street. However, instead of funny allusions to pop culture which kids will miss while still enjoying Elmo and Big Bird, Patrick McDonnell has built something more poignant and substantial into this sweet story for young kids.
The characters are Maggie, a little girl, and three toy animals having a sleepover at her house. They are Clement the bunny, Jean the elephant, and Alan Alexander the bear. As you are reading, it will begin to dawn on you that Maggie is a child version of an iconic author, and her three friends are three other creators of children’s classics transformed into the animals who star in their books. Or maybe the animals are just named for their creators in a kind of homage. Your child might miss why a Muppet on Sesame Street is satirizing a 1960s t.v. show or rock band, but you might get more recognition from her when you point out that Clement is dressed in blue striped pajamas, just like the bunny in Good Night Moon, who was drawn by a man named Clement Hurd.
McDonnell is a Caldecott Honor winner for Me…Jane, a picture book biography of primatologist Jane Goodall. He is also an animal rights activist and a popular and critically acclaimed cartoonist, notably for the syndicated strip, MUTTS. The animals in Thank You and Good Night are not only excited about the sleep over, but about each thrilling activity: a funny face contest, a game of hide-and-seek, and a relaxing yoga session.
Then they wind down and transition to sleep with Maggie’s bedtime story that is about…them, and a poem of gratitude about their world. The book is beautiful, with thick pages and pen, pencil, and watercolor pictures produced, according to the notes, on handmade paper. In fact, the design of the book seems lavish for so ordinary a story; the attention paid to the materials elevates events that are not ordinary for a child, but special each time they take place. McDonnell’s accomplishment is to write an endearing and accessible story for children about the reassurance of friendship and bedtime, while framing it in an allusion to some of the greatest creators of children’s stories. He does this rather modestly, without irony or sleight of hand. This is a book you can enjoy with a child while also feeling thankful that McDonnell has reminded readers about the origins of the stories we love.