Monday, July 23, 2012

Peggy Rathmann's Interlocking Fictions

As many parents will attest, caring for a young child is rewarding, but even the warmest, sweetest bedtime hours can drag. A great, all-consuming picture book can be worth its weight in Weetabix.

Peggy Rathmann has written and illustrated not just one great picture book but many. Even better, they’re interrelated, with subtle interlocking aspects an astute reader will hunt for. Good Night, Gorilla; Officer Buckle and Gloria; 10 Minutes till Bedtime; and The Day the Babies Crawled Away (not all her books, but the ones we owned) are so beloved in our house, I’ve kept them, even if our son (now 13 years old) has long since crawled away.

The books were fun even without their clever intertextuality. But it was a real bonus.

“Oh my gosh,” you might say proudly, pointing to a stuffed animal on one page of 10 Minutes to Bedtime, “isn’t that the gorilla from Good Night, Gorilla?” On a later page of that same book, you’d be congratulating yourself for noticing small stuffed versions of Officer Buckle and Gloria perched atop that same bedtime boy’s computer monitor.

You were a reading pirate; you’d found the buried treasure. Arrrrr!

Reading The Day the Babies Crawled Away, you’d thrill at another sighting: Officer Buckle and Gloria, silhouetted on a hillside. On the next page, you’d spot portly Officer Buckle buying cotton candy (as you’d imagine he might).

I’d love to create a subtly interwoven fictional network like Rathmann’s someday, but not tonight. It’s 10 minutes till bedtime, and the hamsters are heading toward my front door, megaphones at the ready.


Elisabeth Dahl's first book, GENIE WISHES, an MG contemporary novel with line drawings, is due out from Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams Books, in April 2013. She has just completed her second book, a novel for adults. (And yes--there is at least one minor point of overlap between the two.) You can find Elisabeth at her website and on Twitter (@ElisabethDahl). She is represented by Marissa Walsh of FinePrint Literary Management.


  1. I love Goodnight, Gorilla and Officle Buckle and Gloria. I'd never realized they were written by the same person. Guess I don't pay attention to the authors names as much with the kids books. I should.

    1. I bet you're not alone. Her subject matter and drawing styles are so wide-ranging!

  2. also, there's a Babar doll in the cage of the elephant in Goodnight Gorilla (as my 2 year old constantly points out, now that he knows).

    1. That's right! I'd forgotten that wonderful detail.