A few lifetimes ago, I went to art school. While there studying animation, I heard a rumor that bored artists at Disney got tired of sketching the same images over and over, and to keep themselves amused, would often draw phallouses and other secret images hidden in Cinderella’s dress and what have you.

Here I am, decades later, a mom. Every night, my husband and I have been reading our son the same books over and over. After doing this for 8 plus months, not only have I pretty much memorized them, but I’m starting to notice some very interesting—could they be–secret messages? sprinkled throughout the pages of our classic children’s books. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, maybe it was that my senses were turned up to 1000 after giving birth, or maybe that Margaret Wise Brown is indeed a prankster.

Let’s take another look at some of the classics and you decide.

Goodnight Moon

Classic Children's Books

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Sources: My own sleep-deprived analyses.

“…and there were three little bears sitting in chairs…”

Good Night Moon

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In Margaret Wise Brown’s classic, Goodnight Moon’s great green room, we come upon a whole bevy of things that “were”, including 3 sweet bears who at first, second, even 15th glance, appear to be having a teddy bear picnic of sorts. But upon a closer look after say, 270 or so readings, like a stereogram, we begin to see a different picture unfold. Two of the bears are obviously a couple, possibly in their mid-thirties. They sit facing the other bear, a social worker of some kind who came highly recommended, and she is not cheap, but she’s worth it. Apparently, the bears are having some marital troubles, possibly relating to intimacy issues that can sometimes arise with parenting, and are in couples therapy.

“…And a bowl full of mush…”

Good Night Moon

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At first, I thought it odd that someone left a bowl of the unappetizingly described “mush”, sitting on the nightstand. What gives? Don’t they have a dog to feed it to? Why didn’t it get eaten? Was it super gross? Too much pepper? Maybe it was poorly marketed? I can’t imagine any kid being told to “eat his mush” could possibly feel invigorated to scarf it down. Did the maid leave it there to taunt the sleeping child? I nearly gave up. But then I realized—the bowl full of mush was not mush at all, but ancient grains, the hip new old superfood that is packed with fortified vitamins. Of course the bowl sat, untouched.

“…And a quiet old lady, whispering, “Hush”…”

Good Night Moon Classic Children's Books

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This one haunts my dreams at night, because, for starters, what’s her problem anyway? Why is the old grump shushing this sweet little creature that’s probably scared of the dark? Was he crying? Whistling? And why is she hanging out in the rocker in the dark? What’s her story, anyway? And then it hit me. She wasn’t whispering hush. She was actually singing the 80s hit, “Voices Carry” by Til Tuesday.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Very Hungry Caterpiller Classic Children's Books

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Sources: Some detective work and intense research at the NYPL’s many various study specific locations.

I was able to uncover some very interesting data relating to the back stories of the foods the Very Hungry Caterpillar ate through. I can’t be 100% positive, of course, because I’m not God or anything, but from what I was able to gather:

The Pickle

The Very Hungry Caterpiller

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Lois Davis from Philly came to visit her grandson and his wife and while in town, wanted to know where she could get a good bagel. They suggested Kossar’s Bialy on Grand Street. On Lois’s way there, she discovered The Pickle Guys pickle store. So of course she got one pint of pickled tomato, one pint of picked carrot, one pint of dill pickles. On her way back to her grandson’s house, she was so hungry she decided to have a quick nosh on one of the dill pickles. At that very moment, she saw Herb Finkleman and didn’t want him to see her noshing on a pickle so she stuck it into her purse. 4 days later, while driving her car, she noticed something afoul and remembered the pickle. She tossed it out the window at a red light, where the caterpillar happened to be grazing.

The Ice Cream Cone

The Very Hungry Caterpiller

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I know, who throws away a perfectly good ice cream cone, right? Sounded far fetched to me, too. It turns out, it wasn’t thrown away at all. Our story begins with one 10 year old Simon Beagleman who aced his spelling test, and I mean, aced it. He spent a whole week studying for the thing because his dad promised him an ice cream cone of any flavor from Reading Terminal Market upon getting an A on his test, and his dad was not a reward for good behavior kind of guy and really never even let the kids near sweets. Simon’s mom thought he was a little strict in that regard, but she drank wine (to the tune of a bottle a night) and his dad was strict, you know? We all have our demons.

That day, just after receiving an A for a job well done, Simon experienced something new at recess—bullying. But this was back in the day before bullying was a popular hashtag. Jason Willet and Todd Stratton – two creeps in the 6th grade, overheard Simon talking about how his dad said he was going to get him an ice cream cone, and began a chant consisting of, “Fatty fatty beagleman,” ad nausem. This was also back when bullying was really corny and didn’t involve guns or anything. Later that day, when Simon’s dad took him to the ice cream store, wouldn’t you know it, Jason and Todd were there, too. Simon was so embarrassed to be seen with the ice cream cone, he threw it on the ground before the jerks had a chance to reignite their chant. But troublemakers they were, they started the chant again anyway, in front of Simon’s dad and all. The story has a happy ending, though. Jason works at a gas station in Germantown today and Todd hasn’t been seen since 1984. It’s rumored that he’s a fugitive of the law living off the grid in rural New Hampshire. See where bullying gets you?

Those were the only backstories of the caterpillar’s food scores that I feel comfortable sharing. The others are more heresay than anything.

Pat The Bunny

Sources: Careful internet Google searches and many a chat in various mom forums.

Again, this isn’t fact but through my fastidious fingerwork, I was able to deduct the following:

1. Paul and Judy were not their real names. They were changed to protect the innocent.

Pat the Bunny

Image: YouTube / Books Read Aloud For Children

2. “Judy” was petrified of bunnies and refused to touch it. They had to use a stand in, Meredith, who looked just like Judy but was no relation and was 3 years older than Judy.

3. “Paul” was super allergic to flowers. For this part, he just pretended to smell the flowers but didn’t actually smell them at all. They tried to pay him less but he had a good contract lawyer and was paid in full.

Pat the Bunny Classic Children's Books

Image: YouTube / Books Read Aloud For Children

4. The dad with the scratchy face? Not a real dad – a paid actor. Steve Brellis. He went on to do some bit work here and there and eventually opened an Ace Hardware store in northwestern PA.

And so there you have it. I didn’t say the back stories were enthralling or anything. But the next time you pick up a copy of Where The Wild Things Are really think about what you’re reading.

classic children's books

Giphy / Where the WIld Things Are

Are, you might feel slightly superior knowing that Max’s dinner wasn’t warm at all, but had congealed and was in fact room temperature at best. What secret back stories did I miss? I’ve set up an anonymous hotline (888-BOOKTIP) because I know some of you out there know the truth but might just be too afraid to share it.

(Image: iStock / evgenyatamanenko)