This image is an illustration from Goodnight Moon, an American children’s book written by Margaret Wise Brown in 1947, featuring a dozen black and white, and another dozen coloured drawn scenes. At first sight it is somewhat ominous and strange due to the odd shading and expressionless faces.
The artist, Clement Hurd, sets a special tone by strongly contrasting the lighting: the exposed surfaces are left pure white and the shadows cast by the objects are literally outlined. This shading is very literal too, following basic colour theory; an area with a high density of dots is perceived as a dark area. Consequently, the bed light appears like a beacon in the night, shining in particular directions. Also, texture is lost, but not completely invisible; one can identify the bed sheet as soft cloth because of the curves in the checkered pattern and make sense of the carpet’s woven structure, but the floor, wall and bedside appear to be similar in material.
Knowing that the book was printed halfway the 20th century with much less advanced machines than we can access today, this ‘pointillist’ shading makes sense. Big areas of black ink would turn into dark blots with no gradient or shades to distinguish figures or objects. The varying density of dots was Hurd’s only option to shape a scene of different objects and depths without colour. He approached the coloured pages of the book with fully filled areas of blue, green, red, or black.
The depicted scene is easy to understand. We can see a bunny (the protagonist of the book) lying in a big bed, with a bedside holding the light on one side and a drawer with a telephone on the other. The curtains on the opposing wall are opened so we can see the dark night sky with the moon (the antagonist of the book). Thanks to the bedside light, we can see the items (bowl of food, hair comb and brush) that have been simply pictured without decoration or extra shading. All of this points to the fact this story is a fable, where animals are attributed with human behavourial features, which is not uncommon in children’s books. Readers can empathise with the bunny and learn along about saying goodnight to their day, gradually falling asleep.