By JOANNE KAUFMAN
Published: June 16, 2008
New York Times Online
The manuscript — unsolicited and addressed simply to “Editor in Chief, Little, Brown” — arrived at its destination in a clear envelope, “which was very clever,” said Geoff Shandler, the Little, Brown editor in chief who received the package. “Without opening it, I could see some of the cover image they had designed.”
Such was Mr. Shandler’s introduction to “Goodnight Bush,” an unauthorized parody of the 1947 children’s bedtime classic “Goodnight Moon,” written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd. (to see the cover and text samples, click here)
For generations, weary parents have intoned: “Goodnight room. Goodnight moon. Goodnight cow jumping over the moon. Goodnight light, and the red balloon.” And who can forget the bowl of mush and the quiet old lady who endlessly whispers “hush”?
The cover of “Goodnight Bush” looks almost exactly like “Goodnight Moon — green and orange, with an image of a window and fireplace — and uses a similar rhyme scheme. But there the thematic similarities end.
The authors, Erich Origen and Gan Golan, set their story in “a situation room.” There is no bunny snuggling into bed, but rather George W. Bush, grinning and wearing a “Mission Accomplished” flight suit. Instead of three little bears sitting on chairs, there are “war profiteers giving three cheers.”
Subsequent pages tell of “A grand old party to war in a rush/And a quiet Dick Cheney whispering hush.” The vice president is illustrated seated in a rocking chair — with a shotgun in his lap and bunny slippers on his feet.
“I thought it was brilliant,” said Mr. Shandler, whose company also published the parody “Yiddish With Dick and Jane.” That book, from 2004, prompted the owner of the rights to the classic “Dick and Jane” primers to sue in 2005, alleging copyright and trademark infringement.
The publisher of “Goodnight Bush” is counting on the fair use doctrine, which allows limited amounts of copyrighted material to be used without permission. “Parody as fair use is a developing area of the law,” said Pamela Golinski, an entertainment lawyer in New York, “and as a result, whether a given parody merits the shield of the fair use doctrine is a complex question.”
A spokeswoman for HarperCollins, publisher of “Goodnight Moon,” said the company would have no comment on “Goodnight Bush.”
While the authors’ considerations were largely political, the publisher worried more about sales potential. At 48 pages, “Goodnight Bush” is the sort of short read that publishers fear will be quickly digested in stores and thus will not make it to the cash register.
“But this had so many brilliant gags,” Mr. Shandler said. “You could spend so much time looking page by page.”
For example, the mouse that flits about the pages of “Goodnight Moon” has been replaced by a tiny scurrying Osama bin Laden. At the beginning of the book, a pristine Constitution hangs on a wall; by book’s end, it is full of crayoned redactions.
An afterword to “Goodnight Bush” notes that the first lady, Laura Bush, placed “Goodnight Moon” first on her list of children’s books and that the president’s brother, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, called it one of his childhood favorites.