Partial Magic in Pat the Bunny

An image depicting a comforting scene of a child’s bedroom saying, “Goodnight moon.”

A hidden fear lurks beneath the surface of some of the most cherished stories for young children–those intended for the illiterate. This writing is a tardy effort to face the fear of infinite regression that shows up in these stories and, possibly, to warn those who read these stories aloud to their kids while being too fatigued to notice what is truly occurring.

In Margaret Wise Brown’s Little Fur Family (1946, illustrated by Garth Williams), an animal child of an unclear type spends a day in a wooded area. This story of a journey in the forest is quite benign.

However, at one point, the Little Fur Child runs into another hirsute being, much smaller in size.

If the reader were to follow this lesser Fur Child, would they find a third, even tinier one? Maybe there would be a fourth, fifth, and so on… It is possible that the speck on the edge of the page is not dirt, but the 17th or even 717th version of the small creature.

Illustration has no bounds; if one desired, they could portray the interior of an atom. Perhaps the 10756th little Fur Child is dancing invisibly on the tip of the reader’s finger as they read this sentence.

From left to right, images of Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny can be seen from Goodnight Moon. The first part of the scene from The Runaway Bunny is depicted in Goodnight Moon.

The text of Goodnight Moon was originally published in 1947 by Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., and the copyright was renewed in 1975 by Roberta Brown Rauch.

The illustrations were also renewed in 1975 by Edith T. Hurd, Clement Hurd, John Thacher Hurd, and George Hellyer, who were trustees of the Edith and Clement Hurd 1982 Trust.

The illustrations for The Runaway Bunny were originally published in 1972 by Edith T. Hurd, Clement Hurd, John Thacher Hurd, and George Hellyer. These images were used with permission from HarperCollins Publishers.

In the middle of Margaret Wise Brown’s beloved Goodnight Moon (1947), something interesting occurs. The illustrations done by Clement Hurd include a cow jumping over the moon (center) and three bears (right).

On the left-hand wall of the peculiar room is an unlabeled painting of a rabbit fishing with a carrot – the bait being a smaller rabbit. At this point, the story has become almost like a palindrome, saying goodnight to all the objects in the room that have just been accounted for.

An enchanting scene, yet why is it present here, unidentified, in this world where everything is labeled and labeled once more? Brown/Hurd indeed offers a clandestine identification: barely detectable, on the shelf behind the oscillating rabbit, is an awkwardly opened volume of The Runaway Bunny (1942)–a work by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd.

The person providing the voice-over for the semi-comatose parent-reader may have overlooked these specifics in the beginning. However, the attentive reader will have detected that the third image is from The Runaway Bunny.

Is this an intentional joke or is Brown and Hurd attempting something more? The reference to this story is subversive, as though it were a scene from a bad dream that was included in the prose-and-pictures pacifier.

In the rabbit tale, the connection between mother and child is portrayed as both loving and inescapable. As if in this more tranquil story, the creators could not help but to provide a glimpse of the psychological drama that follows.

Sandra Boynton’s Pajama Time! (2000) is a book whose purpose is to help someone drift off to sleep, similar to the famous Goodnight Moon. Six pages in, it is possible to see “partial magic,” as Borges would describe it.

The text says that “Some are red and some are blue,” referring to the bedclothes. The bear sitting and reading the book is in red pajamas and the back cover is also featured, with other Boynton books represented in small sizes.

Lastly, a bunny in blue pajamas can be seen perched on a chair back, its long ears flapping as if in a breeze.

Dorothy Kunhardt’s classic Pat the Bunny (1940) gives readers a tactile experience, similar to that of Little Fur Family, with its patch of belly fur. The eponymous rabbit’s fur is soft to the touch, and Daddy’s beard is a prickly surprise.

Additionally, a mirror is included to allow readers to see themselves, if a bit fuzzily. This is the main purpose of the book.

In the image from left to right, the second part of a scene from The Runaway Bunny as shown in Goodnight Moon is depicted. It illustrates the little fur child meeting the small furry creature.

Additionally, Pajama Time! from the Little Fur Family illustrations is visible with copyright renewed in 1974 by Garth Williams and used by permission from HarperCollins Publishers.

Moreover, the image of Pajama Time! is courtesy of Workman Publishing Company and copyright in 2000, 2003, and 2011 by Sandra Boynton. Paul and Judy, who are quite uninteresting, are introduced to us, leading us to believe that this is a didactic work.

However, the introduction of everyday items like the mirror, sandpaper, and flap of fabric suggest that texture is of more importance than text. Kunhardt, even more experimental than B. S. Johnson wants to have it both ways, and it can be argued that she succeeds in doing so. Hidden within Pat the Bunny is another book, Judy’s Book, which is about an inch tall.

It is attached to the larger page, with its own cover which can be opened to reveal its four tiny pages. This story, which is about a cat, is even less interesting than that of Pat the Bunny.

When we read Goodnight Moon and see a reduced version of an image from The Runaway Bunny, it can make us feel uneasy.

And why does Pat the Bunny‘s second volume make us want to cry out? After analyzing the history of stories-within-stories, plays-within-plays, and maps-within-maps, Borges concluded that if fictional characters can read a book, it opens up the possibility that we are the characters being read by someone else.

This can lead to a kind of metaphysical confusion.

Concerning the partial magic of children’s literature, we can feel a sense of vertigo when we spot smaller books within larger ones, as it implies that even before reading starts, reality is influencing our children’s lives.

It raises the worry that our kids, who are so pure, won’t be able to flee from the web of connections and the doubts about reality that plague the educated adult.

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