QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Songs) is an adored childhood classic, but its real origins are lost to history. In Goodnight June, Sarah Jio offers a suspenseful and heartfelt take on how the “great green room” might have come to be.
June Andersen is professionally successful, but her personal life is marred by unhappiness. Unexpectedly, she is called to settle her great-aunt Ruby’s estate and determine the fate of Bluebird Books, the children’s bookstore Ruby founded in the 1940s. Amidst the store’s papers, June stumbles upon letters between her great-aunt and the late Margaret Wise Brown—and steps into the pages of American literature.
ABOUT SARAH JIO
Sarah Jio lives in Seattle with her three young children and a geriatric golden retriever.
A CONVERSATION WITH SARAH JIO
1. Ruby and Brownie’s letters to one another make it clear that writing Goodnight Moon was a collaborative process. How collaborative is writing for you, personally? Do you have a few trusted readers you’ll take your ideas to, or do you prefer to keep your writing to yourself until you’re finished?
I’m a very social, outgoing person, but when it comes to writing, for me, it’s a very solitary endeavor. The novel idea process is incredibly special to me, and when I begin plotting a new book, and when the characters begin whispering, I keep them close, and I (selfishly!) don’t introduce them to anyone else. Of course, before I begin writing a novel, I get the feedback and approval from my agents and editor, but as I proceed in my draft, I keep the story very private. I’m always tempted to tell my friends, my mother, or the barista at the café, but I ultimately do not. I live alone with my stories almost until they are completed. My first readers are always my editor and agents, and no one else.
2. Goodnight June places a real emphasis on the importance of reading, especially for children. Are your three boys big readers? What do you do to try and cultivate their interest?
My boys love books, just as I did as a child—and I love it. It’s been incredibly satisfying as a mother to see them catch the love and joy of reading. I began reading them books as one-week-old infants, and visits to bookstores and libraries are weekly activities for us. And while books are special to them (they adore The Magic Treehouse series), they ultimately love stories, and I love to tell them. Bedtime always includes reading (and, yes, I may have read Goodnight Moon to them one thousand times over the years), and story-telling. We’ll most often read a book together, and then as I’m tucking them into their beds, I’ll cave to requests for a story. My father used to tell my siblings and I stories before bed—grand, imaginative, exciting stories—and I’ve followed in his footsteps with the tradition. My boys’ favorite story right now involves an alternate reality, accessible through a door in the fence, where candy grows on trees.
3. Sisterhood is a major theme of this novel, and you dedicated the book to your own sister. What inspired you to focus on these relationships?
My sister and I are very close in age, and as a result, went about life at the same pace. I have always been grateful for her companionship and friendship in my life, and when I first thought of this story idea, I began to think of the intricate dynamics of sister relationships. I also have a lovely sister-in-law who I adore, and parts of her own life story found their way into some of the ideas in the book. For the record, brothers are special too, and I am blessed to have two.
4. What are you working on now?
I am just completing my seventh novel with Penguin (Plume) called The Look of Love. It’s an incredibly special novel to me and I can’t wait to share it with the world on November 25, 2014! It’s a story about a woman born with a rare gift—the ability to see love.
- In the opening lines of the novel, June is imagining her “happy place” — Bluebird Books. Despite the fact that the mere memory of the bookstore comforts June, when she learns she has inherited the store, she plans to sell. Why does it take her so long to change her mind?
- Why is June so good at her job at Chase and Hanson? Her professional mindset hinders her personal life, but does that bother her initially?
- Ruby asks in her letter to June, “What is childhood without stories?” What do you think? Why is imagination such an important part of childhood?
- In her letters to “Brownie,” Ruby says of Anthony that “even in our brief encounters at the store, I feel as if I know him, really know him.” Have you ever experienced anything similar, either with a friend or a significant other?
- Discuss Ruby and Brownie’s friendship. They bond over their difficult relationships with their sisters, but are they not like sisters to one another? Does their friendship in some way fill the space left behind by their sisters? Or are sisters irreplaceable? How so?
- Gavin and June hit it off right away. How does Gavin help June become the person she wants to be? Do you think the people we love always bring out the best in us?
- June, Ruby, and Brownie falter and doubt themselves from time to time, but more often than not, a friend is waiting in the wings to help them get back on their feet. Do any characters manage to succeed without help from others? What do you think the author means to say about the importance of this kind of collaboration and support?
- What was your first impression of May Magnuson? Victoria tells June that May is looking for something she believes is in the bookstore. What does June make of this?
- How is June’s personal development juxtaposed against her efforts to track down her cousin, J. P. Crain? By the time she discovers the truth about him, has she let go of her past and fully embraced who she really is?
- This quote from Margaret Wise Brown illustrates one of the central themes of the novel: “Everything that anyone would ever look for is usually where they find it.” Do you agree?
- Why is June finally able to forgive Amy? At the beginning of the story, June tells her mother that people don’t change. But is that true? How has June changed?
- What is June’s relationship with her mother like? Does she forgive her mother for the way she was treated as a young child? Does learning the truth about her own birth change her perspective on how she was raised?
- Were you surprised to learn that Arthur was ultimately the one who saved Bluebird Books? He tells June that she reminded him that he was once a little boy who liked to read. How has the power of the written word shaped the lives of some of the other characters? Does the book make a compelling case for the importance of bookstores in our lives?