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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

The Night the Lights Went Out (and On)

We had a series of power outages yesterday, the last coming just as we were putting the boys to bed. Losing power is frustrating — you never get an honest answer from the power company about what is wrong and when it will be fixed, so you basically wait — hoping, fearing, wondering, and then eventually power comes back. But there is always some sense of historical adventure in the experience, especially at night. You get just a taste of life in another time.  I have a bit of personal children’s book history with blackouts — Don Freeman (best known these days for the Corduroy books) wrote an illustrated The Night the Lights Went Out in 1958 (more on him, as set down by his son Roy, the book is dedicated to Thatcher Hurd, son of Clement, but it was importantly based on our family’s experience (though I cannot recall exactly which blackout or where). So to me blackouts and books — and trips to the past were always linked.

Last night once the kids were in bed I went outside and had the curious experience of noticing that there was more ambient light outside than inside. The house, lit only by candles, was darker than our yard. Now perhaps some of that nightglow may have come from other parts of town that still had power. But it was a reminder that nighttime could be quite bright back when there was no light pollution, when stars and the moon really did blaze and shine. I had just a brief sense of what it was like to be in a rhythm where you got up before dawn, worked very hard, such that when night fell you went home only to eat and sleep. Home was a shelter, but light and life were outside. I loved my brief time travel. Went back inside, and went to sleep. Power came on at midnight, and we’ll see what today brings.


  1. Thanks for this post. I’d always thought THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT OUT was about a blackout the Hurd family experienced and reported it incorrectly in my blog a couple years ago:

    Now I will have to correct that error.

    I’m sure you’re aware of the “slip up” that Mr. Freeman planted on page 47. He claimed to have done it intentionally, but I wonder…. There is an original Don Freeman drawing and inscription referencing the incident here:

    Thanks for another fascinating blog entry!


  2. Marc Aronson says:


    Your post gave me pause and I went to look at my family copy — on the front endpapers Don drew a cat being drawn by him, and wrote ” At last the bound copy of this story for Marc from your pal Don.

    PS I hope your Honey Stripes likes her part in this book! With an extra special hope that you like your part too.”

    Honey Stripes was my cat at the time. I am not sure who “you” is in that context, me or my parents. I’ll have to read it over to right now — could be an experience of the Hurd’s melded with one of ours.

  3. When our lights go out, I think the same thing, of reading by candlelight long ago. I look at the light outside as excessive and wasteful. Last fall, while flying over Long Island in the darkness of night I looked down to see a circuit board of lights. If they shut off every other one, there would be plenty of light from the others to still keep the place overly lit and save some energy too.