Brown, Margaret Wise
BROWN, Margaret Wise
Born 23 May 1910, Brooklyn, New York; died 13 November 1952, Nice, France
Also wrote under: Timothy Hay, Golden MacDonald, JuniperSage (the last being used by Brown and Edith Thacher Hurd on collaborative works)
Daughter of Robert B. and Maude Johnson Brown
The middle child of a prosperous manufacturer, Margaret Wise Brown spent most of her formative years in solitary play on the beaches and in the woods at Whitestone Landing, Long Island, New York. There she developed an enduring love for animals and the outdoors, which she later faithfully recreated in almost 100 books written for young children. After attending New York schools until 1923, she spent the next two years at the Chateau Brilliantmont School in Lausanne, Switzerland, and graduated from Dana Hall in Wellesley, Massachusetts, in 1928. In 1932, Brown earned her B.A. in English Literature from Hollins College in Virginia.
Interested in a career as a professional writer, Brown enrolled at Columbia University for postgraduate work, but did not find her niche until she became a student teacher in an innovative program sponsored by the Bureau for Educational Experiment (the Bank Street School) in 1935. Lucy Sprague Mitchell, who headed the group, initiated a technique for telling children's stories from the child's point of view, which gave Brown an opportunity to observe young children's fresh reactions to their world. She related to the preschoolers in an almost symbiotic fashion, so she often said some of her stories were " their stories transcribed onto paper." Although she did continue to write adult poetry (never published) for the rest of her life, it is as the "Laureate of the Nursery" that she earned fame, fortune, and a permanent place in American literature.
Brown felt strongly that although her books were written for adults to read to small children, their illustrations should be so inextricably bound to the texts that a preschooler could "retell" the story to himself just by looking at the pictures. Some 38 different artists worked closely with her, and although she was very demanding of them, she frequently altered her text to accommodate their illustrations as well. The results in many instances were stunning.
From 1937 to 1952, Brown wrote four to eight books a year, did a children's page for Good Housekeeping, contributed to some school primers, and maintained her association with young children as the basis for continuing a viable contact with the child within herself. Engaged to be married, Brown died quite suddenly at age forty-two, due to complications following an appendectomy.
It is not a simple matter to single out particular books by Brown as "classics," but consensus would have it that in addition to the Noisy Book Series, a few titles deserve special mention. The Dead Bird (1938) is noteworthy as a forerunner of realistic treatments of subjects only recently considered suitable for children's books. At a very fundamental level, this story treats death, grief, and a return to normal living after a suitable time lapse.
The Little Island (1946) is particularly interesting since the little kitten who visits the island learns from a fish that the Little Island is "a part of the world and a world of its own." This philosophical idea, expressed by such writers as Shakespeare and John Donne, is here set down in very concrete terms completely within a small child's frame of reference.
Perhaps the all-time favorite, however, is Goodnight Moon (1947, reprinted dozens of times, the latest in 1994), meant to be read as a bedtime story. Done in simplest rhyme, and featuring alternate pages of black-and-white and colored illustrations, there is a very tiny mouse to be found by the youngster in each colored picture. As the mouse is never in the same spot twice, children actively participate in the reading experience be locating the mouse.
Many of Brown's books sold millions of copies and remain deservedly popular today. A number have been translated into foreign languages; but what is more significant than her prolificness or popularity, is that a number of her stories have rightfully been termed classics. In addition to Runaway Bunny, many of her tales have been reissued throughout the decades and into the late 1990s. Compilations also abound, with numerous collections like 1992's Three Best-Loved Tales and John Speirs' Margaret Wise Brown Treasury: Fourteen Classic Stories and Poems (1994). Brown's first publisher, William Scott, perhaps best summed up the writer and her work when he wrote in 1955, "All her books have an elusive quality that was Margaret Wise Brown…. They have simplicity, directness, humor, unexpectedness, respect for the reader, and a sense of the importance of living."
The Children's Year (edited and translated by Brown, 1937). When the Wind Blew (1937). Bumble Bugs and Elephants (1938). The Fish with the Deep Sea Smile (1938). The Little Fireman (1938). The Log of Christopher Columbus (ed. by B. de las Casas and Brown, 1938). The Streamlined Pig (1938). Home in the Wilderness (ed. by Brown, 1939). Little Pig's Picnic (1939). Noisy Book (1939). The Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Punch & Judy (ed. by J. P. Collier and Brown, 1940). Country Noisy Book (1940). The Fables of LaFontaine (ed. and trans. by Brown, 1940). Baby Animals (1941). The Polite Penguin (1941). The Poodle and the Sheep (1941). The Seashore Noisy Book (1941). A Child's Good Morning (1942). Don't Frighten the Lion (1942). The Indoor Noisy Book (1942). Night and Day (1942). The Runaway Bunny (1942). Big Dog Little Dog (1943). A Child's Good Night Book (1943). The Noisy Bird Book (1943). SHHhhh…BANG (1943). The Big Fur Secret (1944). Black and White (1944). Horses (1944). Red Light Green Light (1944). They All Saw It (1944). Willie's Walk to Grandmama (1944). The House of a Hundred Windows (1945). The Little Fisherman (1945). Little Lost Lamb (1945). Little Fur Family (1946). The Man in the Manhole and the Fix-it Man (1946). The Bad Little Duckhunter (1947). The First Story (1947). The Sleepy Little Lion (1947). The Winter Noisy Book (1947). Little Cowboy (1948). The Little Farmer (1948). Sleepy Book (1948). Wait Till the Moon Is Full (1948). Wonderful Story Book (1948). The Color Kittens (1949). Five Little Firemen (1949). The Important Book (1949). Little Chicken (1949). My World (1949). Pussycat's Christmas (1949). Two Little Miners (1949). Two Little Trains (1949). The Dark Wood of the Golden Birds (1950). The Dream Book (1950). The Little Fat Policeman (1950). Peppermint Family (1950). The Quiet Noisy Book (1950). The Wonderful House (1950). Fox Eyes (1951). Pussy Willow (1951). The Summer Noisy Book (1951). The Train to Timbuctoo (1951). Two Little Gardeners (1951). Christmas in the Barn (1952). Doctor Squash the Doll Doctor (1952). The Duck (1952). Mister Dog (1952). The Noon Balloon (1952). Seven Little Postmen (1952). Where Have You Been? (1952). The Dead Bird (1953). The Golden Bunny (1953). The Hidden House (1953). Little Frightened Tiger (1953). The Sailor Dog (1953). Sleepy A B C (1953). The Friendly Book (1954). The Little Fir Tree (1954). Little Indian (1954). Wheel on the Chimney (1954). Willie's Adventures (1954). The Little Brass Band (1955). Seven Stories about a Cat Named Sneakers (1955). Young Kangaroo (1955). Big Red Barn (1956). David's Little Indian (1956). Home for a Bunny (1956). Three Little Animals (1956). Whistle for the Train (1956). Nibble Nibble (1959). The Diggers (1960). Four Fur Feet (1961). On Christmas Eve (1961).
Allen, M. N., One Hundred Years of Children's Books in America: Decade by Decade (1996). Blos, J. W., The Days Before Now: An Autobiographical Note (1994). Greene, C., Margaret Wise Brown—Author of Goodnight Moon (1993). Marcus, L. S., Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon (1999). Marcus, L. S., The Making of Goodnight Moon: A 50th Anniversary Retrospective (1997). Rylant, C., Margaret, Frank, and Andy: Three Writers' Stories (1996). Sheel, E. M., "M. W. Brown" (thesis, 1969). Tobias, T., A Wild and Private Place (1992).
DAB (1977). Junior Book of Authors (1951).
Biography (Summer 1993). Hollins Alumnae Magazine (Winter 1949). Horn Book (June 1958). Life (2 Dec. 1946). NYT (15 Nov. 1952). PW (24 Nov. 1952).
—EDYTHE M. MCGOVERN
UPDATED BY NELSON RHODES