Brown, Margaret Wise 1910-1952
Margaret Wise Brown 1910-1952
(Also wrote under the pseudonyms Juniper Sage, Timothy Hay, and Golden MacDonald) American author of picture books and poetry for children.
The following entry presents an overview of Brown's career through 2004. For further information on her life and works, see CLR, Volume 10.
A prolific children's writer, Brown revolutionized the picture book industry in the 1930s with the introduction of her simple, poetic verse whose sparse style belied both the inherent power of her message and the strength of her writing. With over one hundred titles published during her lifetime—over twenty of which are still in print today as well as the recent addition of at least another twenty more volumes culled from her unpublished manuscripts—Brown's pioneering efforts have allowed her to become one of the most revered authors in children's literature. Her clean yet emotionally affecting manner of addressing the fundamental fears and interests of children has made her one of the best-selling children's writers of the twentieth century, influencing scores of her literary descendents. Several of her books for young children, particularly The Runaway Bunny (1942) and Goodnight Moon (1947), have reached near-iconic status with young audiences, helping to create a rich literary legacy of bedtime stories passed from parent to child.
Born on May 23, 1910, Brown was the scion of a well-known American family. Her father was a high-ranking officer of the American Manufacturing Company, and her grandfather, Benjamin Grantz Brown, earned a reputation as a progressive thinker throughout his service during the Civil War as both Senator and Governor from Missouri. One of the founders of the Republican Party, Brown's grandfather had run for Vice-President on the liberal Republican ticket with Horace Greeley in 1872. Beginning her formal education at a young age, Margaret and her sister, Roberta, were boarded at Chateau Brilliantmont in Lausanne, Switzerland, before transferring to Dana Hall in Wellesley, Massachusetts, where Brown excelled athletically and academically. Upon her graduation in 1928, Brown's now-divorced parents clashed over whether she should be allowed to attend college, with her more progressive mother ultimately triumphing. Brown enrolled at Hollins College in Virginia, graduating in 1932 with a B.A. in English. After college, Brown headed to New York where she became a graduate student at the Writers Laboratory of the Bureau of Educational Experiments (later renamed the Bank Street College of Education) under famed child development researcher Lucy Sprague Mitchell. The Bureau, which operated as both a nursery and center of childhood research, first gave Brown the insight into childhood education and juvenile development that would later become the hallmarks of her children's books. In 1938, publisher William R. Scott, whose son attended the nursery at Bank Street, hired Brown to become the chief editor of the children's book division at his publishing company. As editor, she encouraged several prominent writers of the era to try their hand at writing for children—the primary end result was the picture book The World Is Round (1939) authored by famed modernist prose writer Gertrude Stein. By the time of the release of Stein's book, Brown, working with several different illustrators, had already begun her own prodigious writing career with her first children's picture book When the Wind Blew (1937). A prolific talent, Brown was soon after penning enough books to employ, at times, as many as six other publishing companies. Ironically, despite her strong familiarity with the needs and interests of children, Brown never had any of her own. A spirit of dynamic, adventurous energy, Brown was nonetheless considered to be an eccentric in certain circles. While she is said to have dated the Prince of Spain, Brown's most enduring relationship was with the poet/actress Michael Strange (born Blanche Oelrichs). In 1952 Brown met James Stillman Rockefeller, Jr., a descendent of both the Carnegies and Rockefellers—two of the wealthiest families in the world—and accepted his proposal of marriage two months later. While on a French publicity tour in November of 1952, Brown was stricken with appendicitis and forced to undergo immediate surgery. Upon her release from a hospital in Nice on November 13, 1952, a relieved Brown demonstrated how fit she was feeling by kicking her legs up, cancan style. A moment later, she died, the result of a brain embolism that had traveled from her leg into her brain.
While studying at the Bank Street Educational School, Brown was heavily influenced by the School's guiding principle that "children should be made full partners in learning" and, in particular, Sprague Mitchell's "here and now" philosophy, which emphasized the need for stories about actual everyday experiences rather than those borne from fantasy. To that end, Brown spent her time at the school recording thousands of conversations between children with the intent of analyzing their speech patterns to learn how they absorbed information and then reprocessed it into language. Discovering that children first develop cognitive recognition of sounds rather than words, regardless of whether there is any logical cohesive between those sounds, Brown began constructing simple word poems that spoke to such primal pleasures as touch, sight, and sense. She believed that children had a more intuitive connection to the phonetic structures of rhythm, sound, and pattern than to plot and, therefore, created simple storylines that were repetitive and alliterative. In her more enduring stories, such as The Runaway Bunny, there is palpable affection for both the characters and the intended readers. Despite the little bunny's insistence to his mother that he is running away, there is nonetheless a sense of reassurance as his mother describes the extraordinary measures she is willing to take to be by his side—when he threatens to join the circus, she is shown watching him even as she walks the tightrope; when he imagines being a fish, she becomes the fisherman who catches him, and so on. With simple, yet powerful imagery, accompanied by rich illustrations from Clement Hurd, The Runaway Bunny intimately captures the sense of unconditional love between mother and child.
Operating with an understanding of the child's worldview, Brown's books are often their first contact with the written word, and as such, she sought to create a link between word and thought with such series as her Noisy Book line. These picture books use a combination of audio keys and visual stimulators to trigger mental connections between a word's sound and its meaning. Her first volume in this series, 1939's The Noisy Book, features a blindfolded dog being informed of its surroundings by a gaggle of children who indicate their location by the noises they make. In all nine books of the series, accompanying illustrations are finely attuned to the text thus creating a coordinated response that hopefully encourages participation by the child in making the noises and prompting a permanent contextual connection between word and meaning. In the other volumes of The Noisy Book series, such as The Country Noisy Book (1940), The Indoor Noisy Book (1942), and The Winter Noisy Book (1947), Brown broadened her available vocabulary of words and activities to eventually include a wide of universe of places and things. By 1950 she extended her philosophy to introduce The Quiet Noisy Book, which challenged children to use their imaginations to devise what possible noises concepts as "fog drifting" or "birds dreaming" might sound like.
One of Brown's most far-reaching works is The Dead Bird (1958), which gently introduces the potentially upsetting concept of death to children for the first time. When a group of children find a dead bird in the woods, they bury it and slowly come to terms with what loss means. But perhaps Brown's most famous and enduring work is Goodnight Moon. A relatively brief picture book, Goodnight Moon quietly allows the reader into the nighttime bedroom of a tiny rabbit. While his mother sits protectively in the corner, the bunny—in the most simple language imaginable—wishes each object in his room goodnight, finally finishing with the moon who peeks lazily through the window. Immensely aided by the sparse but warm illustrations of Clement Hurd, the book is as Brown's biographer Leonard Marcus notes "a little elegy and a small child's evening prayer (that) is a supremely comforting evocation of the companionable objects of the daylight world." A prime amalgam of art and text, Goodnight Moon has remained a best-seller for over fifty years, lingering with its readers like a treasured friend from childhood into adulthood.
Widely praised for her gifts of understatement and intuitive understanding of the child's psyche, Brown has been regarded as a revolutionizing force in picture books. Karla Kuskin has noted that, "in the late 1930's by personalizing and simplifying the language of the picture book, Brown helped find a new way of writing for young children." Critics have argued that the subtle cornerstone of Brown's style comes from her ability to deconstruct the standard method of plot development so as to fit more comfortably within the basic perspective of a child. By limiting her stories to a few key elements, yet never trying to underestimate the wide-ranging intuitive abilities of young children, Brown's books have often found an audience beyond even that of small children. Joseph Stanton has asserted that, "the simplicity of Brown's picture-book-length poems and the rightness of the pictures that visualize them have made these unpretentious little books into important artistic events in the lives of innumerable children and their parents." Commentators have applauded Brown's recurring themes of a child alone in the world and the strength of the parent-child relationship, which her books depict as being perhaps the strongest force in the child's universe. Critics have noted that, from this protected place, Brown was able to build upon Sprague Mitchell's "here and now" philosophy, allowing the child to develop stronger vocalization and early childhood skills in the warm, happy confines of a safe place to learn. As Brown's longtime collaborator Clement Hurd has remarked, "her genius came from her extraordinary memory of feelings and emotions way back to her earliest years."
While most of her renown comes from her extensive oeuvre, which continues to grow with the release of two to three new unpublished manuscripts annually, Brown's legacy was not limited to her writing skills. In a multi-faceted career, she served as an influential force in her role as children's book editor at the William R. Scott Publishing Company, helped to pave the way for the board book, and served as a patron for a number of lesser-known illustrators such as Clement Hurd, Garth Williams, Leonard Weisgard, and Jean Charlot. However, despite her well-regarded reputation among her contemporaries for her impressive canon, only one of Brown's books was ever recognized with an award—Little Island (1946), which won the prestigious Caldecott Medal. However, the award was for illustration and was thus given to her collaborator Leonard Weisgard. Two of her other picture books, A Child's Good Night Book (1942) and Wheel on the Chimney (1955), were Caldecott finalists, but did not win.
When the Wind Blew [illustrations by Rosalie Slocum] (picture book) 1937
Bumble Bugs and Elephants: A Big and Little Book [illustrations by Clement Hurd] (picture book) 1938
The Little Fireman [illustrations by Esphyr Slobodkina] (picture book) 1938
The Streamlined Pig [illustrations by Kurt Wiese] (picture book) 1938
The Noisy Book [illustrations by Leonard Weisgard] (picture book) 1939
The Country Noisy Book [illustrations by Leonard Weisgard] (picture book) 1940
The Polite Penguin [illustrations by H. A. Rey] (picture book) 1941
The Seashore Noisy Book [illustrations by Leonard Weisgard] (picture book) 1941
Don't Frighten the Lion! [illustrations by H. A. Rey] (picture book) 1942
The Indoor Noisy Book [illustrations by Leonard Weisgard] (picture book) 1942
Night and Day [illustrations by Leonard Weisgard] (picture book) 1942
The Runaway Bunny [illustrations by Clement Hurd] (picture book) 1942
Big Dog, Little Dog [as Golden MacDonald; illustrations by Leonard Weisgard] (picture book) 1943
A Child's Good Night Book [illustrations by Jean Charlot] (picture book) 1943
Little Chicken [illustrations by Leonard Weisgard] (picture book) 1943
SHHhhhh . . . BANG: A Whispering Book [illustrations by Robert de Veyrac] (picture book) 1943
Red Light, Green Light! [as Golden MacDonald; illustrations by Leonard Weisgard] (picture book) 1944
The House of a Hundred Windows [illustrations by Robert de Veyrac] (picture book) 1945
Little Lost Lamb [as Golden MacDonald; illustrations by Leonard Weisgard] (picture book) 1945
The Little Fur Family [illustrations by Garth Williams] (picture book) 1946
The Little Island [as Golden MacDonald; illustrations by Leonard Weisgard] (picture book) 1946
The Golden Egg Book [illustrations by Leonard Weisgard] (picture book) 1947
Goodnight Moon [illustrations by Clement Hurd] (picture book) 1947
The Sleepy Little Lion [photographs by Ylla] (picture book) 1947
The Winter Noisy Book [illustrations by Charles G. Shaw] (picture book) 1947
Five Little Firemen [with Edith Thacher Hurd; illustrations by Tibor Gergely] (picture book) 1948
The Golden Sleepy Book [illustrations by Garth Williams] (picture book) 1948
The Little Cowboy [illustrations by Esphyr Slobodkina] (picture book) 1948
Wait Till the Moon Is Full [illustrations by Garth Williams] (picture book) 1948
The Color Kittens [illustrations by Alice and Martin Provensen] (picture book) 1949
The Important Book [illustrations by Leonard Weisgard] (picture book) 1949
The Two Little Trains [illustrations by Jean Charlot] (picture book) 1949
The Dream Book: First Comes the Dream [illustrations by Richard Floethe] (picture book) 1950
The Peppermint Family [illustrations by Clement Hurd] (picture book) 1950
The Quiet Noisy Book [illustrations by Leonard Weisgard] (picture book) 1950
The Wonderful House [illustrations by J. P. Miller] (picture book) 1950
Fox Eyes [illustrations by Jean Charlot] (picture book) 1951
The Summer Noisy Book [illustrations by Leonard Weisgard] (picture book) 1951
Two Little Gardeners [with Edith Thacher Hurd; illustrations by Gertrude Elliott] (picture book) 1951
A Child's Good Morning Book [illustrations by Jean Charlot] (picture book) 1952
Christmas in the Barn [illustrations by Barbara Cooney] (picture book) 1952
Mister Dog, The Dog Who Belonged to Himself [illustrations by Garth Williams] (picture book) 1952
*Where Have You Been? [illustrations by Barbara Cooney] (picture book) 1952; revised edition, 2004
The Duck [photographs by Ylla] (picture book) 1953
The Sailor Dog [illustrations by Garth Williams] (picture book) 1953
Little Indian [illustrations by Richard Scarry] (picture book) 1954
Seven Stories about a Cat Named Sneakers [illustrations by Jean Charlot] (picture book) 1955
†Young Kangaroo [illustrations by Symeon Shimin] (picture book) 1955; revised edition, 1993
Home for a Bunny [illustrations by Garth Williams] (picture book) 1956
Three Little Animals [illustrations by Garth Williams] (picture book) 1956
The Dead Bird [illustrations by Remy Charlip] (picture book) 1958
Nibble Nibble: Poems for Children [illustrations by Leonard Weisgard] (children's poetry) 1959
The Golden Birthday Book [illustrations by Leonard Weisgard] (picture book) 1989
Under the Sun and the Moon and Other Poems [illustrations by Tom Leonard] (children's poetry) 1993
Little Donkey, Close Your Eyes [illustrations by Ashley Wolff] (picture book) 1995
The Little Scarecrow Boy [illustrations by David Diaz] (picture book) 1998
The Dirty Little Boy [illustrations by Steven Salerno] (picture book) 2001
Love Songs of the Little Bear [illustrations by Susan Jeffers] (picture book) 2001
Mouse of My Heart: A Treasury of Sense and Nonsense [illustrations by Loretta Krupinski] (picture book) 2001
My World of Color: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue [illustrations by Loretta Krupinski] (picture book) 2001
Robin's Room [illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher] (picture book) 2001
Give Yourself to the Rain: Poems for the Very Young [illustrations by Teri L. Weidner] (children's poetry) 2002
Sailor Boy Jig [illustrations by Dan Andreasen] (picture book) 2002
Sheep Don't Count Sheep [illustrations by Benrei Huang] (picture book) 2002
The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin [illustrations by Richard Egielski] (picture book) 2003
*The 2004 edition featured illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon.
†The 1993 edition featured illustrations by Jennifer Dewey.
Anne Carroll Moore (review date June 1953)
SOURCE: Moore, Anne Carroll. "The Three Owls Notebook." Horn Book Magazine 29, no. 3 (June 1953): 191-92.
[In the following excerpt, Moore offers brief critical assessments of Brown's A Child's Good Night Book, Two Little Trains, Fox Eyes, and The Duck.]
A Child's Good Night Book (W. R. Scott), first published in 1943 in small size, 6½ x 5½, was so perfect a conception of a child's world at twilight that I regret that its publication in larger size detracts from its intimacy. Two Little Trains (W. R. Scott), published in 1949, has everything a picture book needs to provide endless fascination for train lovers not yet absorbed in mechanics. Fox Eyes (Pantheon) was published in 1951, but I had not seen a copy until now. It is a sly brown fox with green eyes who spies first on the possum and then on the children who were supposed to be taking a nap. Having just put aside a book concerned with a whole family of foxes which remains static on every decorative page, I was drawn to Fox Eyes as by a magnet; a slight book in comparison with other work of Mr. Charlot but in character. The text of the three books is by Margaret Wise Brown.
I feel very strongly about the treatment of animals, as mere properties in books for children. Respect for animals and their doings, whether real or imaginary, and for the intelligent appreciation of children who regard them as individuals is well served by so beautiful a book as The Duck. Photographs by Ylla, the story by Margaret Wise Brown (Harper). I never tire of looking at Ylla's photographs of birds and animals. Behind the camera is an artist with a rich experience as a sculptor. Seeing her introduce living creatures to a group of children is one of the memorable experiences of recent years, fully confirming my impression of the living quality of her art. Of Margaret Wise Brown's many stories for little children this is to me one of the best: it is so natural. The Duck is a very distinguished book.
Clement Hurd (essay date October 1983)
SOURCE: Hurd, Clement. "Remembering Margaret Wise Brown." Horn Book Magazine 59, no. 5 (October 1983): 553-60.
[In the following essay, one of Brown's long-time collaborators, illustrator Clement Hurd, offers his personal recollections of Brown while reflecting on the aspects of her character and talents that made her such a successful children's author.]
In the attic of our Vermont house I recently discovered a notebook containing the original text of Goodnight Moon —written in the tentative, scratchy handwriting of Margaret Wise Brown—which brought back a flood of memories of Margaret and of our collaborations with her.
On the title page of the notebook she wrote "Goodnight Moon by Memory Ambrose with pictures by Hurricane Jones." I remembered when we had first mentioned the name of a friend's housekeeper, Memory Ambrose, and how delighted Margaret was. Hurricane Jones was the name of the family in Five Little Firemen, a Little Golden Book that was a collaboration of Margaret and my wife Edith. Margaret had a wonderful feeling for names, as we know from her noms de plume: Timothy Hay, Juniper Sage, and Golden MacDonald. I don't know who changed the credit line of Goodnight Moon, but I am glad it came out with our names undisguised.
In the great green room
Was a telephone
and a red baloon (sic)
and a picture of—
Thus the story began, and I noticed at the top of the page a note by our editor Ursula Nordstrom: "Interior of room—fabulous room—Little Boy Bunny in bed." And a note of Margaret's: "Show both pictures on the wall that are to be enlarged on the following pages."
The cow jumping over the moon.
And there were
Three little bears sitting on chairs.
Margaret was the most creative person, male or female, that I have ever known. When we lived in Vermont all year round, Edith and I used to look forward eagerly to her visits. Usually she would come up from New York in the late fall and in the early spring. She always seemed to arrive late at night and, wrapped in furs and fur rugs, would swirl down our driveway in a great convertible with the top down. And always with her dog Smoke, who was not always welcome as he invariably ended the visit by chasing the neighbors' cows.
Both Edith and I loved Margaret, and all three of us would have a wonderful time on these visits, whether it was concocting good things to eat or picking wild flowers in the woods or listening to music or even creating good books. After her departure we would be exhausted and would sleep for days and then have food for thought for weeks to come.
Altogether, I illustrated eight of Margaret's books, and Edith collaborated with her on writing five Little Golden Books under their own full names and one for Young Scott Books under the name Juniper Sage. I got started with Brownie (as we often called her) when she saw two paintings of mine at a friend's apartment; they were studies for murals I had done for a bathhouse in Greenwich, Connecticut, with the theme "The Perils of the Sea" (such as lobsters and Lotharios that pinch ladies under the water), and she thought that the style of the pictures, if not the subject matter, would be good for children's books.
Earlier in the thirties, I had been a student of Fernand Léger in Paris, so my colors were bold and simple; the result of my meeting with Margaret was Bumble Bugs and Elephants, which had four colors, was printed on heavy paper, and sold for a dollar. Margaret felt that her text of one line per page was so minor she hesitated to say that the book was "by" her; so she solved the problem by saying, "word pattern by Margaret Wise Brown." At that time, she was the editor of Young Scott Books, so I don't remember any uncertainty about whether they would accept the book or not.
The next year, 1939, William R. Scott, Inc., published Gertrude Stein's The World Is Round, which I illustrated. I am not sure whose idea it had been to write to a number of famous authors, such as Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Gertrude Stein; but William Scott and his wife Ethel did write such letters suggesting that these authors should consider writing stories for children.1 The only one who reacted favorably was Miss Stein, who answered that she liked the idea and that she had already written half of the book. As I say, I am not sure what part Brownie played in the original idea, but I do remember that she was very enthusiastic about and excited by the project.
This was the same year that the Scotts published my two wordless books Town and Country—fold-out, accordion-style picture books in which only at the end was there a page of suggested story for parents needing help in making one up. The style of the writing seemed influenced by Miss Stein, but years later when Life magazine did an article on Margaret which included a picture of her surrounded by her books on the floor—what should I spy but Town and Country among them! When I mentioned this to her, she passed it off by saying that she thought she had written the last page but that she felt awfully close to these books, anyway. All of which was undoubtedly true as those of us working for the Scotts at that time were fresh and free and experimental; we worked together very closely, so it is difficult to say who contributed what to which book. Later, when we all had more confidence and were beginning to feel successful, it was more difficult to collaborate. Edith and I used to laugh about it, especially when Brownie was visiting us, for whichever one of us was working on a book with her tended to be a bit at odds with her, while the other tended to calm the waters and to be the soother-downer. But there was never any leftover rancor.
Maybe collaboration on a creative level is always difficult, and maybe the more creative a person is, the more difficult he or she is to work with; but I do feel that all Margaret's main illustrators did their best work in her books. I admire enormously The Little Fur Family (Harper) and The Sailor Dog (Western) illustrated by Garth Williams; The Little Island (Doubleday) and the Noisy books illustrated by Leonard Weisgard; and one of my personal favorites is Two Little Trains illustrated by Jean Charlot (Scott). Without doubt, my pictures for The Runaway Bunny and Goodnight Moon are considered my best work. I don't know why and have never discussed the question with her other illustrators, but I do know that working with Margaret was difficult but at the same time stimulating and satisfying.
After the war Edith and I took a train across the country from San Francisco, arriving in New York a day or two before Christmas 1945. Edith had been living in San Francisco during the war, working for the Office of War Information while I was in the South Pacific for three years. As a welcome-home present, Margaret had offered us Cobble Court to live in as long as we wanted to—a tiny house in a backyard on York Avenue at about Seventieth Street. She had an apartment on East End Avenue across from Carl Schurz Park, where she tended to live, using Cobble Court as a diversion and as an inspirational place to work. I must say it was the perfect setting for me to make the transition from army life to the civilian type of life we loved.
The train arrived at Grand Central Station at one o'clock in the morning, some fifteen hours late, and we took a taxi up to Cobble Court, which we had never seen. To get to the backyard, we had to go through a passageway in the building on the street. The passage was cobbled, and at the end of it there was an old two-story clapboard house. I will never forget that first view as we stepped out into the courtyard and saw the little house with its welcoming lights shining softly from every window onto a dusting of new snow. When we went in, we found fires burning in both fireplaces, vases of fresh flowers in every room, fur rugs on the floor, lots of fur pillows, and a general sense of warm coziness reminiscent of the house in which the little fur family lived in Margaret's book illustrated by Garth Williams. There were two little rooms upstairs and two on the ground floor. I can't remember whether the bedroom was upstairs or down, but I do remember that downstairs the floor was of brick set right on the earth. The kitchen was tucked into the corner of the room we used for a dining room. I remember that we found a glass rotisserie, and it was marvelous to whet your appetite by watching the chicken succulently turn over and over. But this was later in the visit; that first night we fell into bed and blissfully slept like logs. In the morning the sun was shining on the fresh snow in a truly magical way.
Brownie came down from her East End apartment later in the morning and showed us the ins and outs of Cobble Court and also introduced us to Pietro, her Italian valet, who seemed to go with the house and who would miraculously appear to make the fires or polish the brass just when they needed to be done. We basked in the spiritual warmth of it all for a couple of weeks and then moved to the country when we suspected that Brownie might want her house back.
Another memorable visit to Brownie was at her house on the island of Vinal Haven, off the coast of Maine, in June 1951—a year and a half before her death. At her direction we had hired a small seaplane to fly us out from Rockland to the bay in front of her house. As we landed, we saw Margaret coming out to pick us up in a rather small rowboat. Since we had along with us our two-year-old son Thacher, it was not a simple transfer from plane to boat, but we did make it to the dock and onto dry land. We found an old, but trim, fisherman's house, which she had bought the year before. Brownie always referred to her place as a separate island, but you could actually go overland to the village of Vinal Haven by an abandoned road.
Very excited at our bringing Thacher, Brownie had made all sorts of preparations for his visit. There was a fur rug on Thacher's bed and a lion skin on the floor, complete with head and bared fangs. Furs were fine in books, but the reality of the furs themselves was more than Thacher had bargained for, and there was nothing to do but let him share our room during the visit. Seeing that Thacher had a mind of his own and didn't hesitate to show it, Brownie perhaps wasn't so enchanted with him. She had adored him as a baby and had even dedicated her book My World to him before he was born. Her dedication said, "to Hiram Hurd when he comes," but he arrived just before the book went to press, so she made it "to John Thacher Hurd when he comes" and then added "(he's here)!" Maybe it was after his falling from grace that we recognized that Margaret was, in general, not especially fond of children but that her genius came from her extraordinary memory of feelings and emotions way back to her earliest years.
Nevertheless, the visit was a wonderful one, and our memories of the feeling of her island with its sea air and the special light of the Maine coast that Margaret and Leonard caught so well in The Little Island remained with us always. I still have a wash drawing of the old apple orchard behind the house, showing a table under one of the trees with a wash basin and a pitcher on it, where we did our morning and evening ablutions. The outhouses were placed to give lovely vistas through the trees to the sea beyond, and we had our choice of three or four views.
The house was furnished in Brownie's usual cozy way with lots of oil lamps and candles so that in the evenings everything was bathed in a warm glow. Her lobster pot off the end of the dock seemed full of succulent lobsters all the time, and Brownie finally admitted that she had an understanding with the lobsterman to keep it that way. Even though the house had neither electricity nor running water, you certainly couldn't call it uncomfortable, and she had it well stocked with the best of wines and gourmet canned foods.
Margaret was a person whom one is always thinking of and talking about. When one is with other friends of hers, she always comes into the conversation, and there are always new stories about her (true or apocryphal). It is a memory of mine that I am very sure of—that after having written more than a hundred published books in a period of fifteen years of creative work, she became tired of children's books and turned to writing songs. Her great desire was to do an adult work on Virginia Woolf, but she never accomplished it as it required more discipline and stick-at-it quality than she had. Her creative work habits were somehow perfectly suited to her type of books for the very young. She never had certain hours for work but worked only when she felt creative—which might be all the time, night and day. And she was always somewhat skeptical of what she once called "mysterious clock time."
Margaret Wise Brown's death in 1952 at the age of forty-two shocked and saddened her many and varied friends, but she does go on living through her books, enriching the lives of young children.
1. William Scott now confirms that it was Margaret's idea to write to the authors.
Joseph Stanton (essay date December 1990)
SOURCE: Stanton, Joseph. "'Goodnight Nobody': Comfort and the Vast Dark in the Picture-Poems of Margaret Wise Brown and Her Collaborators." Lion and the Unicorn 14, no. 2 (December 1990): 66-76.
[In the following essay, Stanton expounds on two recurrent themes within Brown's picture books—the stray/runaway child and the "child-alone-in-the-wide-world", two situational motifs that are typically resolved in favor of the child's comfort.]
Many of the best known books of Margaret Wise Brown and the artists with whom she collaborated are famous for the comforts they are thought to offer. I believe, however, that it is the understatedly dangerous contexts in which those comforts are offered that gives them their poignancy. The kinds of dangers and the comforts so quietly presented in Brown's books are, it seems to me, powerful contraries that resonate at the psychic core of the parent-child bond. The simplicity of Brown's picture-book-length poems and the rightness of the pictures that visualize them have made these unpretentious little books into important artistic events in the lives of innumerable children and their parents.
Two motifs that occur again and again in Brown's work are the runaway-child and the child-alone-in-the-wide-world. Although they obviously overlap, and the second motif is always at least partially present whenever the first motif is in operation, it is important to distinguish them because the plots driven by these two motifs polarize the parent and the child figures in two different, but strangely complementary, ways. The runaway-child plot involves the rescue or return of the child, whereas the child-alone-in-the-wide-world plot leaves the child by him- or herself while finding a satisfactory resolution within that aloneness.
Brown had a passionate yet unsentimental view of children and childhood. One important aspect of the dynamics of the parent-child relationship in Brown's books is the rebellious aggressiveness of the child. It was remarked, by Brown as well as others, that she saw herself as a child. Her identification with the child—often presented in her book as a furry or fuzzy little animal, a rabbit more often than not—was declaredly unpretentious. To underscore that her identification with children and bunnies was not sentimental she would tell partially facetious stories about her exploits as a rabbit-hunting "beagler." As she explained to a Life Magazine writer:
a beagler's object is to run fast enough to be in at the kill when the hounds finally catch up with their prey and, assuming that the pack has not torn the rabbit to bits before anyone can interfere, a successful beagler is rewarded by getting a rabbit's foot suitable for mounting.
When questioned about the oddity of this hobby for one who writes of "the hopes and aspirations of small furry creatures," Brown's joking reply would be worthy of a Woody Allen:
Well, I don't especially like children either. At least not as a group. I won't let anybody get away with anything just because he is little.
Despite her rigorous resistance to all tendencies that she perceived to be romanticizations of the Child, she considered herself a staunch defender of the powers and prerogatives of children. Since she spent a considerable amount of time observing children and talking with them—especially during her years at Lucy Sprague Mitchell's Bank Street School—she had great confidence in her ability to understand and speak to children's needs and interests. One of the main themes of her comments about children is that they are too often underestimated by adults. She felt strongly that children are perceptive in ways adults are not. She saw the simplicity necessary in children's books to be a demanding discipline. In an oft-quoted line, she declared the goal of her art: "I hope I have written a book simple enough to come near to that timeless world" (Bechtel 186). Her invention of the "noisy book" genre and her desire for strong visual and tactile qualities in books were related to her belief that children are, in some important respects, more aesthetically sophisticated than adults. Brown liked to relate an anecdote in which a teacher expressed astonishment when confronted with an abstract painting. To a teacher's "My goodness, what's that?" a child replied impatiently, "It's a picture, you dope!" (Bliven 64).
The runaway-child motif is perhaps most famously captured by Brown in The Runaway Bunny. It is, of course, comforting that the little bunny who wanted to run away from his mother was answered successfully at every turn by that loving mother. There is wonderful, unqualified love in this willingness to run after the child who, of course, does not really want to get away. She will run after him simply and absolutely because he is her little bunny. The back and forth of this poetic dialogue has a marvelous cadence of real conversation that children (and their parents) enjoy. If he becomes a fish, she will become a fisherman. If he becomes a rock on the mountain, she will become a mountain climber. If he becomes a crocus in a hidden garden, she will become a gardener. And so on. There is great comfort to this. No matter what he does or how he strays the mother's love is so great that she will find a way to be there to catch him in her arms and hug him.
But at the same time as the comfort is enforced by the mother's satisfactory and satisfying rebuttals, the child's stated plans of escape name the far reaches of the wide world. Each of the episodes sets the child dangerously apart in another way. This constant reenactment of the mother striving to reach the strayed child suggests that the process could go on forever, and suggests, subtly, by the very heroism of the mother's effort, the drama could, at some future time, end differently. The prospect of loss and abandonment is dangled again and again, and it is in the very repetition that the dangerousness of the wide world is made apparent.
Obviously, Margaret Wise Brown's predilections have dictated the nature of this poetic dialogue, but the artist, Clement Hurd, contributes importantly to the quality and effectiveness of the finished work. His pictures for this book are of two kinds. There are the black-on-white line drawings that illustrate some of the basic details of each episode, and then for each episode there is a full-color painting, covering two facing pages, that presents the heart of the action, the mother's dramatized and in-costume readiness to rescue her baby. These large, uncaptioned pictures give Clement Hurd's painting equal partnership with Brown's writing.
Hurd's pictures reinforce and go beyond the text in several important ways. The bunnies are without facial expression and, indeed, show no signs of having mouths. This expressionlessness is an important support to Brown's unsentimental agenda. One has but to recall the many children's books with grinning animal protagonists to appreciate the importance of this expressionlessness. (In the "Curious George" books, for example, everything smiles, even fish that are about to be eaten). Despite their lack of emotion, this mother and this child appear eminently huggable. Likewise, the gorgeous world of Clement Hurd's picture looks deliciously soft and gloriously colorful. The richness of the colors is exciting as well as comforting. The red walls of the living room scene have, for instance, a Matisse-like intensity that will be transformed by Clement Hurd into "the great green room" of Brown's Goodnight Moon. The joyous, bright magic of Hurd's pictures lights up this little book and serves to further overwhelm the dark undercurrent of potential loss; however, as I have already stressed, the repeated runnings away keep the possibility of loss alive.
In a sense, the last picture in The Runaway Bunny encapsulates the theme of this essay. The mother and child are sheltered in the warm food-filled comfort of their burrow, while outside the vast, indifferent universe of fields and starry skies stretches into the distance. Here again, we have an anticipation of Goodnight Moon, but, before getting into that Brown-Hurd companion collaboration to The Runaway Bunny, I would like to look briefly at some other Brown collaborations where the threat of loss of the runaway is broached in other contexts.
The best of her many other books on this theme is undoubtedly Little Lost Lamb. It lacks the simplicity and power of The Runaway Bunny and does not entirely avoid sentimentality, but it is, nevertheless, one of the best of her many collaborations with Leonard Weisgard. As in the familiar parable and popular song, what we have here is a little lost lamb that has gone astray. The implausibility of the middle-of-the-night rescue of the lamb by the shepherd boy is somewhat of a problem in a story that is, in many respects, realistic, but the core dynamics of the lostfound motif is ultimately satisfying. There is lovely compatibility between Brown's poetically cadenced text and Weisgard's coolly attractive paintings. As in The Runaway Bunny we are given a wonderful wide world whose beauty is intermingled with danger. Most writers would make the mountain lion that almost devours the lamb into some manner of villain. Here it is just one of the details of a lyrically evoked landscape in which a small creature happens to be lost.
The art of Weisgard performs a similar role to the art of Hurd. We are moved by the positive celebration of aliveness presented by both text and picture. Nevertheless, both forms of art also provide a negative undertow: in dozens of subtle ways we are made to understand that the lamb could die in this pretty place. The shepherd boy serves as a foil to that undertow, of course, but, for all his good intentions, he is clearly a fallible protector. He would do "what a shepherd had to do," but he was well aware that it might not be enough to save the lost lamb. Part of what is touching for young readers is that the shepherd is himself a child. Young readers can, thus, identify easily with the protector as well as the runaway. The tale of the lost lamb connects with the child's (and the adult's) memories of things or people that they have lost. Thus, a hamster that ran away, a fish that had to be flushed, a friend that moved to another town, or even a death in the family—any such small or large sorrow would enable the reader to identify with the anxiety of the shepherd boy, as he worries through the night unable to sleep.
Let me just mention in passing a few of the dozens of Brown's tales that involve variations on the runaway theme. Although her books vary considerably in quality, a surprisingly large number of them are still in print or have recently been brought back into print.
Little Chicken, a collaboration with Leonard Weisgard, was published in a format similar to The Runaway Bunny and Goodnight Moon. In a reversal of The Runaway Bunny pattern this story involves a parental figure that runs away and leaves the protagonist to find others to play with, which, of course, he does. The story ends with a snuggling of parent and child figures reminiscent of the concluding pages of The Runaway Bunny. Home for a Bunny and The Golden Egg Book, less satisfying productions, also conclude with scenes of that kind. The sentiments of these endings are, for the most part, earned by the lack of nurturing sweetness in the plots that lead up to them. Although the worlds of these lightweight books hardly seem dangerous, the protagonists are, as usual, little helpless things out there on their own. The success of Brown's treatment of aloneness and loneliness in these little books is due, in part, to the unusual amalgam of sincere sympathy and wry sense of humor that are hallmarks of her attitude toward her fictional worlds. She cares deeply about these little creatures but does not take her caring too seriously.
My last runaway example faces a seemingly more considerable threat, but the danger is mitigated by the bizarre nature of his adversaries and by the whimsical tone with which the tale is told. "A Remarkable Rabbit," a posthumously published story, is a kind of reprise of The Runaway Bunny. This time the runaway bunny gets captured by an odd team of villains—a frog, a snake, a worm, and a porcupine—but this peculiarly menacing gang cannot keep him down. He gets away by slyly outwitting the bad guys. He is, after all, a "remarkable rabbit."
The best and most famous of Brown's child-alone-in-the-wide-world plots is Goodnight Moon. I expect to hear some objections. It might be pointed out that this child is neither alone nor out in the wide world. Goodnight Moon is, in fact, renowned for its cozy comforts. The child is protected by "the quiet old lady whispering 'hush'" and sheltered by "the great green room." It is my contention here, however, that this book has been so profoundly moving to so many children and adults precisely because Margaret Wise Brown poetically invokes, with the considerable help of Clement Hurd's pictures, both a comforting interior space and an overwhelming exterior space. I can think of no other book that provides the kind of experience this one does, although it has had numerous imitators.
The book embodies an uncomplicated, yet subtly modulated, process. Preparatory to going to sleep, a child, illustrated as a bunny in the same style that was used in The Runaway Bunny, says goodnight to the world of his bedroom, as well as to the world in general. As these goodnights proceed the room gradually darkens, from page to page, while the moonfilled sky gradually brightens. Part of the magic here is the result of the nature of the voice that speaks the goodnights. Unlike most books in the goodnight genre—a genre that has become an industry, in part because of the legendary popularity of Brown's classic—Goodnight Moon does not feature a parental figure helping a child to say his or her goodnights. Here the child's point of view is all we have. The child has complete authority here. Everything in this universe revolves around the child as a central "human" presence, and this presence names its universe.
There is a problem here, however. The voice speaking in Goodnight Moon does not sound like the voice of a child. It is a knowing voice, a whimsical voice, a voice that sees and understands what the child sees and understands in the universe the book creates. It is, of course, the omniscient voice of Margaret Wise Brown at its poetic best. Brown has found here a powerful vehicle for her voice. The oracular nature of this authorial naming of the universe taps into the power of a basic type of myth that has "comforted" people of all ages. It is, in essence, a creation myth in a kind of end-of-the-world (rather than beginning of the world) pattern. Of course, the end-of-the-world here is merely a saying of goodnight to the world, but the mythic weight of this ritualistic naming of things is implicit in the satisfactions this simple little book provides.
The bright pictures of Clement Hurd are key to the success of this book. I have not attempted to determine to what extent Brown "conceptualized" the contents of the pictures. Some information on that score would undoubtedly be available to a researcher. Brown is well known to have done layouts of her concepts in advance of the give-and-take of discussion with the artist. Because she was an important editor as well as a highly-in-demand author, she was in a better position to genuinely collaborate than are most children's book authors. In addition, many of the artists she worked with, like Clement Hurd, were close personal friends.
There is an enormous amount that could be said about the interface of words and images in this book. I will limit myself to a few observations. In the pictures, as in the poem, the child is the center of this universe. Although the child-bunny is in bed throughout the book, he is the active protagonist around which the action revolves. He changes his position and what he is looking at from one frame to the next. His shifts are not highly dramatic. Sometimes he is partially under the covers; sometimes he is sitting or crouching on top of them; but everything in the scene is clearly oriented around him and what he is looking at. His stance always relates in some way to what is being named. By contrast, "the quiet old lady whispering 'hush'" is a virtual statue. She is sometimes absent, with her knitting equipment left on her rocker, but when she is present she is always in the same position, one hand on her lap and the other raised to her mouth to signal the quiet she demands. It is significant that she is described simply as "an old lady," with no indication of any connection to the child. The child is essentially alone in the world of this book. The old woman is not treated as a parent or even as a person. She is just one of the features of the landscape. The child sits alone in a universe that extends from delightfully trivial details such as "a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush" to the vast outside that includes stars, air, and even the whimsically puzzling "nobody."
Although the old woman stays put, other creatures of the room move about in ways that delight young consumers of this book. The kittens play themselves into several positions and, most delightful of all, there is a mouse that changes position radically from one frame to the next. The changing position of the tiny mouse serves as a "find-me" game for young readers, yet even the mouse seems influenced by the ongoing naming of the world. He, too, seems to be saying goodnight to many of the named things. The stance of the mouse plays a kind of musical counterpoint to the stance of the child-bunny.
It is with regard to light and dark that I would like to tie together the strands of my interpretation of Goodnight Moon. In this reverse creation myth we meet the child in the midst of his world of things—his pictures, his toys, his socks, his old woman whispering "hush," and so forth. As the room darkens the things are gradually lost in a dark that is only slightly mitigated by the nightlight inside the toy house and a lingering fire in the fireplace. What becomes dominant in the concluding pictures is the moon and the sky that has changed to a bright blue to give us a sense of the brightness of a moonlit night once interior house lights are dimmed. Although the now familiar but dimmed details of the room are overwhelmed visually by this marvelous evocation of the moonstruck night, the child and his point of view are still strongly present in the speaking voice of the poem. He is securely present in the center of his universe, yet he is completely alone in that godlike eminence. The child is regarding, at the last, a vast dark of "noises everywhere" in which the child is alone but unafraid. The child is finally lost in his sleep while the universe gleams on without him.
Similar instances of the-child-alone-in-the-wideworld motif recur often in Brown's books. This motif can be established in single scenes even in books that are preoccupied with other motifs. For instance, the concluding scene in Little Lost Lamb, in which the boy is returning from the mountain with the rescued lamb in his arms, shows boy and lamb against a backdrop of a most impressive vast dark. We are told that the boy "sang to the night" and are given a repetition of the simple shepherd's song that had also been presented at the beginning of the tale. The feel of this scene is similar in many respects to that of the conclusion of Goodnight Moon. The shepherd boy's singing to the night is roughly parallel to the child-bunny's naming of his universe.
In Brown's lovely collaboration with Jean Charlot, A Child's Good Night Book, the voice speaking a poetic goodnight takes an adult point of view that names children as among the things that will sleep. It all adds up to a prayer to God on behalf of all "small things that have no words." God, invoked as a protector, is asked to "guard with tenderness" all the helpless little ones. Although this poem does not avoid sentimentality, it provides another way for Brown to eloquently poetize the vulnerability of the child and the childlike. The final Charlot picture in which two angels have gathered up all the helpless small things into a blanket of some sort is so straight-forwardly sentimental that it may be problematic for some adult readers. The jumble of two children, a lamb, a fish, a bird, a rabbit, a dragonfly, and a cat that fills the blanket could be considered laughable; however, the attractive and dignified cadence of the poem and the delicate power of Charlot's pictures makes it difficult for the reader to resist even this excessive sweep of sentiment.
One more instance of the child-alone motif, The Little Island, provides a useful example of how this motif need not be restricted to the night and darkness contexts which I have discussed thus far. This example of another of Brown's best books was a collaboration with Leonard Weisgard for which she wrote under the pseudonym Golden MacDonald. There are two child surrogates in The Little Island : the island itself, and a small cat that comes to the island on a boat. Most of the book involves the kind of naming of the universe that we observed in Goodnight Moon. Again, that naming has a kind of incantatory effect that surrounds the protagonist with a world through a quasi-mythic recitation. Here, however, the world is presented in fairly realistic detail. This text could, in fact, be used to help children get some sense of how and why seasons change. The way this book asks its readers to experience the passing of time as the pages turn is parallel to the way Goodnight Moon asks the reader to experience the bedtime hour.
The little island's situation as a child alone in the wide world is given a kind of resolution that is explained to the kitten. (This is a departure from the pattern of Goodnight Moon, where the child's aloneness remains unacknowledged and unexplained.) The kitten recognizes that he himself is "a little fur Island in the air," and also finally acknowledges that any island is also a part of the land because "all land is one land under the sea." This unity of all things must be accepted on "Faith." Thus, the underlying truth that "no man is an island" must remain entirely underlying. The day to day life of the island is a life lived alone. The important fact of the island's connectedness is of no obvious practical value, but is simply a treasured fact that the island hugs to itself. The closing lines of the book make clear the balanced resolution: "And it was good to be a little Island. A part of the world and a world of its own all surrounded by the bright blue sea."
Weisgard's pictures are lovely and loving depictions of the various aspects of the little Island described in Brown's words. Weisgard had spent time with Brown in one of her houses on a little island off the coast of Maine. The quiet beauty of such places is one of the themes of the book. The close friendship of Brown and Weisgard is evident in the harmonious compatibility of their visions. His landscapes provide wonderful counterparts to her words. The sense of the place is equally vivid and equally simple in the two forms of art. Both writer and artist achieve sophisticated effects with a minimum of strokes.
While I have no definitive theory to offer in explanation of Brown's fascination with the two motifs I have examined here, I think it is obvious that they generate stories that speak of basic needs of children. The impulse of the child in Brown's books is almost always toward independence, but the independence of the small creatures is always problematic. These two motifs present those problems in complementary ways. Brown cherished both possibilities: the rescue of the runaway by a loved one was a marvelously satisfying outcome, but so too was the child who experiences aloneness yet remains unafraid. Perhaps the latter motif was dominant; one of her last published books before her death was entitled Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself.
Throughout her brief life (she died at forty-two of a complication in a routine operation) Margaret Wise Brown was a confidently independent individual, much like her protagonists. Her rambunctious, wittily mischievous, self-reliant style of life was more than a little unusual for her time or any time. She enjoyed being alone—she once told a reporter that her hobby was "privacy"—yet she also had a wide circle of close friends. She never achieved the success she had hoped for as a writer of poetry for adults, but she made the best of her own unique form of literary art—a form of prose poem for children's picture books that could achieve a kind of eloquence for which simplicity of statement was a precondition. That this kind of eloquence required pictures to realize its full expression is a special feature of that eloquence rather than a limitation.
It could be argued that the children's picture book is, in certain respects, one of our society's most valuable forms of art. It is a form of art both literary and graphic that parents can hold in their hands to share with their youngest and, therefore, most fragile children. The intimate transaction between parent, child, and picture book is one that Margaret Wise Brown appears to have understood well. She found ways to make that core interconnectedness the primary subject of her art and the art of the collaborators she brought into her projects. The example of her best works showed picture book makers that the most primary of subjects for picture books, the parent-child bond, could be addressed directly if one had the wisdom and the wit to achieve genuine simplicity.
Bechtel, Louise Seaman. "Margaret Wise Brown, 'Laureate of the Nursery.'" The Horn Book Magazine, June 1958: 173-86.
Bliven, Bruce Jr. "Child's Best Seller." Life Magazine, 2 Dec. 1946: 59-68.
Brown, Margaret Wise. A Child's Good Night Book. Illus. Jean Charlot. New York: Young Scott, 1950.
——. The Golden Egg Book. Illus. Leonard Weisgard. New York: Simon, 1947. (There is also a 1962 edition with pictures by Lilian Obligado. The Weisgard version was lavishly decorated with wild flowers because Brown loved wild flowers and felt children would too.)
——. Goodnight Moon. Illus. Clement Hurd. New York: Harper, 1947.
——. Home for a Bunny. Illus. Garth Williams. Harper, 1956.
——. Little Chicken. Illus. Leonard Weisgard. New York: Harper, 1943.
——. (pseudonym Golden MacDonald). The Little Island. Illus. Leonard Weisgard. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1946. (This book won the Caldecott Medal.)
——. (pseudonym Golden MacDonald). Little Lost Lamb. Illus. Leonard Weisgard. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1945.
——. Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself. Illus. Garth Williams. New York: Simon, 1952.
——. "A Remarkable Rabbit." Once Upon a Time in a Pigpen and Three Other Stories. Illus. Ann Strugnell. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1980.
——. The Runaway Bunny. Illus. Clement Hurd. Harper, 1942.
Other Works of Interest
Bader, Barbara. "Margaret Wise Brown." American Picturebooks from Noah's Ark to the Beast Within. New York: Macmillan, 1976. 252-64.
Brown, Margaret Wise. Big Red Barn. Illus. Rosella Hartman. New York: Young Scott, 1956.
——. Christmas in the Barn. Illus. Barbara Cooney. New York: Harper, 1952. (The pictures are wonderful. Cooney is one of the best.)
——. Country Noisy Book. Illus. Leonard Weisgard. New York: Harper, 1942. (The seven books in the Noisy Book Series were considered by many to be Brown's and Weisgard's most innovative contributions to the picture book genre. Everything in these books revolves around what a little dog named Muffin could and could not hear. Among other things, this series showed how questions could be used to involve small children in the matter of a book.)
——. David's Little Indian. Illus. Remy Charlip. Birmingham, AL: Hopscotch, 1989. (There was also a 1956 edition with pictures by Richard Scarry.)
——. The Dead Bird. Illus. Remy Charlip. New York: Young Scott, 1958. (This remains one of the best books ever written for small children on a most difficult subject.)
——. Nibble Nibble: Poems for Children. Illus. Leonard Weisgard. New York: Young Scott, 1959. (It is surprising and unfortunate that Brown was not as effective in straightforward verse as she was in her poetic picture books.)
——. SHHhhhh. . . . BANG: A Whispering Book.
Illus. Robert De Veyrac. New York: Harper, 1943.
——. Two Little Trains. Illus. Jean Charlot. New York; Harper, 1949. (Maurice Sendak has recently praised this book as "a little masterpiece" and a "miracle of bookmaking." See article cited below.)
——. Where Have You Been? Illus. Barbara Cooney. New York: Hastings, 1952.
——. Wonderful Storybook. Illus. J. P. Miller. New York: Golden, 1948. ("The Steam Roller" is the star of this uneven collection.)
Marcus, Leonard S. "The Legend of Margaret Wise Brown." Publishers Weekly 22 July 1983: 74-76.
Sendak, Maurice. "Margaret Wise Brown and Jean Charlot." Caldecott & Co.: Notes on Books & Pictures. New York: Farrar, 1988.
T. M. Rivinus and Lisa Audet (essay date March 1992)
SOURCE: Rivinus, T. M., and Lisa Audet. "The Psychological Genius of Margaret Wise Brown." Children's Literature in Education 23, no. 1 (March 1992): 1-14.
[In the following essay, Rivinus and Audet contend that Brown's talent lay in her ability to manifest subtle psychological lessons and tools for development within the limited prose of her picture books.]
In 1938 the future author of young children's literature, Margaret Wise Brown (1910-1952), became a student of Lucy Sprague Mitchell1 in the Writers' Laboratory of the Bureau of Educational Experiments, which was later to become the Bank Street School and College of Education in New York City. Brown learned well from Mitchell, whose methods of preschool education and story writing for children focused on the "here and now" of the child's world. Mitchell encouraged her students "to examine first the things which get the spontaneous attention [of the child] . . . and then to determine what relationships are natural and intelligible at these ages." She also encouraged teachers and writers for children to ". . . have the courage to forget our own adult way and follow" the lead of the child.2 Mitchell's associate, a psychologist and cofounder of the Bureau, Harriet Johnson, had, before her death in 1934, set a standard of having student teachers and writers collect the data by classroom observation of children's habits, emotional responses, language, and relationships.3 Johnson's successors, psychologist Barbara Bieber and nursery school director Jessie Stanton, perpetuated these methods and, with Mitchell, influenced a generation of great teachers, educators, writers, and illustrators of childrens books at the Bank Street School. Margaret Wise Brown was later to stand on the shoulders of these four American pioneers of early childhood education and writing to produce her greatest work.4
At the Writers' Laboratory, Brown observed and interacted with children in the laboratory classrooms and learned to enter the child's mind, heart, and imagination. She listened to their stories and wrote her first stories in their company. During her fourteen-year career as a writer of children's books, Brown provided us with more than one hundred wonderful volumes of which approximately twenty remain in print. With the collaboration of the outstanding illustrators at the Writers' Laboratory, Brown labored prolifically to make new artistic connections between the cognitive and emotional needs of the young and the child's verbal and visual imagination. In the practice of her art, Brown became an expository pioneer of numerous psychological insights that have been expounded by developmental theorists and further extended by other authors for children since her time.
In our work with young children, we have been struck by how gracefully and intuitively Brown's books address the issues of children, who are struggling with developmental tasks. We use Brown's books in our work and recommend them to parents, teachers, and therapists of young children. We have observed how positively children respond to Brown's books and have come to prize her gifts as a psychologist and a writer. In appreciation of Brown's work, we review some of her classics in the context of developmental theory, which has become well accepted since her premature death forty years ago. We present some reasons why her writing, understanding, and intuition are so inspired and durable, and we emphasize the therapeutic value of her art.
Brown's stories illuminate a number of principles in the cognitive development of children, particularly those outlined by Jean Piaget, which have been widely accepted and elaborated since her time. For example, Brown respects the preoperational needs and thoughts of the young child.5 Although she was not the first author to do this, her consistent use of small animals as central figures in her stories fits the very young child's egocentric and animistic view of the world and allows the child to identify with the little but not-so-helpless. In the story "The Remarkable Rabbit," 6 a rabbit runs away from his mother. He falls in a hole; he experiences confrontations with four scary animals: a frog, a snake, a worm, and a porcupine. In each encounter, the rabbit negotiates a truce with the animal and deals with the threats they present him. Chastened, but victorious, the remarkable rabbit
runs and he runs and he runs to this mother.
"I'll never fall into a big black hole again," he says.
"Don't be silly," says his mother. "You'll fall into plenty of holes. Just remember that you can get yourself out of them. You are a remarkable rabbit. Never forget that."
Running away is characteristic of the egocentric, sometimes negativistic, preoperational stage of the young child. The rabbit may run away and do his "own thing," but eventually he is forced by reality to negotiate with others, to assimilate and accommodate to their reality. The world will not let him simply exercise his will unopposed. His mother praises his ability to change his experience and learn from it. With a moral conclusion, Brown has mother and rabbit discuss his experience reciprocally, moving him beyond the egocentric view to foretell development beyond the preoperational stage to the stage of formal operations, in which conclusions are drawn from experience.
Brown's writing addresses the basic human drive to communicate in various ways. The language of her books developmentally parallels the language of the young child. For example, Brown carefully chooses vocabulary, repeats key content words regularly throughout her stories, and selectively introduces new words to the narrative. These features allow children to focus their energies on the story and its psychological lessons rather than struggle to understand context. A sampling of Brown's books for the young child shows that her narratives begin with sentence structures typical of two- to five-year-old children. Later in the course of her stories, Brown helps pull the children up to a new level of linguistic knowledge by exposing them to words and structures slightly above their developmental level. Repetitive and onomatopoetic forms are used to engage the child; for example, in The Indoor Noisy Book 7 the dog, Muffin, listens to old as well as new and unknown sounds:
Then he could hear the little boy's mother's footsteps
patter patter patter
Then the little boy's father's footsteps
How was that?
clump clump clump
Then the cook's footsteps
How was that?
Dump Dump-de-dumma-de Dump
The repetitive conjunctions ("Then . . . Then . . . Then . . .") and verbs ("clump, clump, clump") are the speech of a young child. At the same time, new words (footsteps and clump patter) are introduced.
Brown understood how children develop conversational skills, maintain interpersonal interest and contact, and master psychological milestones through dialogue. Her dialogue teaches turn taking and mutual respect. She frequently offers a sample of successful interchange between parent and child, as, for example, in this memorable passage from Wait Till the Moon Is Full :
"How dark is the dark tonight?" asked the little raccoon.
"Not so dark," said his mother. "There is a new
moon tonight, thin as the curve of a raccoon's
whisker in the sky above the tree tops."
"Can I see it?" asked the little raccoon.
"No," said his mother. "You must wait. Wait till the moon is full."
"How big is the night?" asked the little raccoon.
"Very big," said his mother.
"How big is Big?" asked the little raccoon.
"Wait," said his mother. "Wait till the moon is full."
As Brown models responsive dialogue between child and parent, she offers, in language characteristic of the young child, important lessons in allaying fear, delaying impulses, and rehearsing, verbally and mutually, before acting. The child's persistent questioning and a caretaker's patient, ready responses are the medium through which affect and information are shared.
Brown carefully regulates the number of characters in her stories. A review of her stories shows that there are usually only two characters engaged in conversation—the number best suited to the young child's developmental capacities. If there are more than two characters in the story, the main character meets other characters who form a collective, with a common goal or intention that often serves a cautionary superego function, often referred by the pronoun they.
The little dog Muffin had a cold.
"You can't go outdoors Muffin," they said.
Brown often has a protagonist serially meet other characters, allowing the child to begin to engage in parallel processing. Each encounter introduces a separate, but related, and newly elaborated event for the child to manage (as in the stories, The Little Fire Engine or The Little Chicken ).
Halliday has suggested that language development in the young child falls hierarchically into three successive stages. There is overlap between stages, and each stage retains its primary linguistic function for the child and is not lost. Instrumental language is language in which the child expresses an "I want" or "need" function. Instrumental language is then joined by a stage of regulatory language, in which the child directs attention to objects in the outside world. Later using interactional language, the child learns to exercise a social give-and-take function. Brown artfully mixes these three levels of language in her stories. Her use of dialogue proceeds from the simple to the more complex. Proceeding toward interactional language, she first uses instrumental and regulatory language. She takes what is presented as a concrete, egocentric, psychomotor need or wish and translates it into its underlying developmental and regulatory process. Subsequently, she teaches the social function of language through dialogue. Take, for instance, this classic passage from The Runaway Bunny :
Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away. So he said to his mother, "I am running away." "If you run away," said his mother, "I will run after you, for you are my little bunny."
Here, the little bunny is expressing an instrumental need: to take independent action separate from his mother. Yet, when he expresses this wish, it becomes a shared experience, a kind of "affectual attunement,"8 in the phrase of Daniel Stern, between the bunny and his mother (and between the child and parent readers). The mother in the story responds by acknowledging the bunny's concrete psychomotor need (and also his developmental need to separate) to run away. She "allows" the bunny to go. At the same time, Mother Bunny (and reader) communicates her own intention to ensure the Bunny's safety. By an assertion of the continuity of a relationship ("I will run after you . . . you are my little bunny") through dialogue between mother and child, the interactional uses of language are affirmed. The Runaway Bunny also illustrates the use of language for regulatory purposes in other ways, when, for example, the bunny asserts that he wishes to become a boat, and his Mother Bunny becomes the wind. The cause-effect relationship between objects in the real world (i.e., boat and wind) is emphasized, paralleling the helpful and facilitating interaction between parent and child.
According to Wesby, preschool and early-elementary-school children focus much of their learning on cause-effect relationships. They begin to be aware of time as linear and to learn in familiar sequences.
Young children also love stories where apparent cause-effect relationships have no evidence of planning such as "Old Mother Hubbard" and "The House That Jack Built." These stories often are humorous or whimsical. They confirm the unpredictability of events—especially as they occur to the young child—without neglecting the basic principle of cause and effect. Brown's The Golden Egg Book illustrates this point. A little bunny engages in random actions to get inside the egg. His goal is clear, but his planning is ambiguous. Inside the egg,
He could hear something moving.
He shook it.
Then the bunny pushed the egg with his foot.
He jumped on top of the egg.
He climbed a tree and threw nuts at it.
He rolled the egg down a hill.
But still it didn't break.
The story dwells on the unbridled curiosity and experimentation of the solitary child. Then the unexpected happens. The bunny finds a new friend. The egg hatches and a duckling emerges. The story converges on a moral: Adventure can lead to friendship.
Fittingly, Louise Bechtel has called Brown the "laureate of the nursery." Brown's language is poetic and simple and proceeds only gradually and carefully toward complexity. The stories unfold in a simple, tender manner, well suited to the child's learning and affectual needs. A simple, joyful, moral, and comforting conclusion is usually reached in her stories. Children do not need to exert great energy to process content and theme and can easily compare the events of Brown's stories with events in their own lives, which give them competent help in the mastery of developmental tasks.
Just as Brown was a pioneer in her intuitive attention to the cognitive and language needs of children in her stories, she also artfully pioneered and informed interest in the core emotional needs of her readers. Her books focus on issues of attachment, intimacy, care, friendship, separation, individuation, autonomy, and the emotional mastery of being alone.
Attachment is a powerful biological and psychological instinct for infants and children. The instinct for attachment persists throughout life and reflects the child's early experience. The drive to attach is reciprocal and extends from the child to parent and from parent to child. When a child's reach for attachment is reciprocated by primary caretakers, the child is presented with the essential elements for biological and psychological survival and growth.9
Brown's The Golden Egg Book is a comforting story of attachment for the young child. It is the story of birth, and the gift to a child of a friend, a companion to "a little bunny [who] was all alone." First, the bunny finds an egg: "He could hear something moving inside the egg. What was it?" He guesses: a boy, another bunny, an elephant, "maybe a mouse." He hears something moving inside it. He seeks to find out by pushing it, jumping on it, throwing nuts at it, rolling it down a hill. He gets tired of waiting for the egg to hatch and falls asleep.
Then a little duck picks its way out of the egg and is hatched. He finds the bunny asleep. The little duck says:
"Inside the egg. . . . I thought I was alone . . .
Now I find myself alone with a bunny . . .
And the bunny won't wake up."
So, he pushes and jumps on the slumbering bunny, throws things at him, rolls him down the hill.10 He mirrors, in his reaction to the sleeping bunny, the same frustration that the bunny has had with the egg. The bunny finally wakes up. The bunny says:
"Where is my egg? . . .And where did you come from?"
"Never mind that," said the duck. "Here I am."
So the bunny and the duck were friends. And no one was ever alone again.
The persistence of bunny and duck not to be alone, to find a friend in the world, to attach, is powerful. The captivating energy and humor with which these two "go at it" not only charm child and parent readers but confirm, for parent and child alike, that hard work, even gentle aggression, is integral to the lasting bond and security from loneliness that result from the attachment instinct.
The process of separation-individuation is also central to human development and parent-child relationships. Childhood negotiation of separation-individuation may be pivotal in our choice of friends and partners in life and a predictor of our later attitudes toward ourselves. Basing their observations on direct observations of infants and young children, Mahler, Pines, and Bergman first described separation-individuation and outlined four subphases of the process. During the differentiation or hatching, the child becomes aware of being separate, with a body and feelings that are different from those of parent or caretaker.11 Smiling, crying, and other early forms of communication allow children to understand that separate action on their part can initiate a reaction by another (pp. 52-64). Practicing corresponds to a child's ability to move away from the parent. Practicing separation places the child at risk and is accompanied by shortlived fearlessness and a sense of omnipotence (pp. 65-75). During rapprochement, the child expresses intense fears of separation from the primary parent and at the same time, moves toward others (fathers, other caretakers, siblings, peers) who help to diffuse the intensity of separation from the primary parent, usually the mother. During rapprochement, the omnipotence and fearlessness of the practicing subphase are tempered by fears of abandonment and of loss of love. Parents must be ready to "catch" and reassure the fearful child in order to reinforce a sense of safety and acceptance during rapprochement (pp. 76-108). During individuation, children develop a sense of themselves as separate, unique beings and of others as consistent beings, who will "be there" when the child returns; this is "object constancy" (pp. 109-120).12
Brown's classic The Runaway Bunny is the prototypic and classic story of separation-individuation for children. Brown adopted the repetitive statement-and-response form of a french folk lyric to her uses in the story (p. 149).13 The title itself announces the bunny's decision to separate himself. When the bunny defiantly proclaims, "I am running away," his mother promptly acknowledges his regulatory need and right to "run away," but she also declares her bond to the little bunny: "I will run after you. For you are my little bunny" (italics added). The little bunny, having announced his right to differentiate, begins to practice: first, by becoming a "fish in a trout stream"; then, by becoming a "rock on a mountain, high above"; then, "a crocus in a hidden garden." His mother pursues, finding her runaway in each new location. Brown then masterfully varies the theme of practicing, signaling rapprochement. At first, the theme is of the chase, the mother in pursuit of her runaway bunny. The mother then shifts her focus and offers her "runaway" refuge. When the bunny becomes a bird, his mother becomes "a tree that you come home to" (italics added). The mother has begun to help her runaway bunny in achieving his goal, which is also her goal, the goal of reunification. When the bunny decides to become a sailboat, she announces that she will blow him "where I want you to go" (italics added). She guides him to pursue her goals as his own. By providing him with safe passage, she assures him of her presence and safekeeping while assuring him of a source of accomplishment and individuality. As the story concludes, bunny and mother return to the real world. When the bunny runs into his house, his mother catches and hugs him. The bunny notes the end of the cycle of practice by realizing, for the moment,
I might just as well stay where I am and be your little bunny. And so he did.
The bunny has asserted his sense of individuality and object constancy with his mother, and the mother has provided the bunny with the necessary "holding environment" to experiment with separating and individuating.14 Brown (with her magical collaborator, the illustrator Clement Hurd) noted and recorded these basic psychological processes three decades before they were proposed by Mahler and her colleagues in their psychological research on separation-individuation. Furthermore, Brown (and Hurd) did it in a form which creatively models, rehearses, and teaches the process directly to caretakers and children themselves.
Brown also wrote for children of aloneness, of the naturalness of being alone in the course of things, and of the development of a sense of security while alone.15 For example, the bunny in Brown's Golden Egg Book is alone while he devises strategies to deal with the egg he has found. The Little Chicken, The Little Fur Family, and numerous other Brown stories tell of a protagonist, a little animal usually, going out, alone, into the world to seek the company of others. These protagonists learn to tolerate and enjoy separateness, aloneness, and the sense of self that the experience, if safely provided, can give.16
One of Brown's most comforting stories about being alone is The Little Island. This book evokes, for the "reading couple,"17 an almost cosmic sense of the coming and going of people, of seasons, and of time in a wonderful, wistful story. A lone island is visited by a kitten, which arrives in a boat. A kingfisher, seals, fish, and the four seasons also came to visit the island. The book closes with this message poetically articulated in a child's language:
Nights and days came and passed
And summer and winter
and the sun and the wind
and the rain.
And it was good to be a little island
A part of the world
and a world of its own
all surrounded by the bright blue sea.
The gentle rhythms, the positive adjectives (good, bright), and the illustrations by Leonard Weisgard, which beautifully balance between the imagined and the real, convey to children a feeling of the safety and rightness of being alone and help develop their sense not only of their own being but also of the interconnectedness of being. Brown helps suggest to the child that aloneness can offer a window to a greater whole and to the realization that there is a connectedness of all things.18
Brown also wrote a number of outstanding bedtime stories (see Appendix). These stories help parent and child in the leavetaking process that prepares the child for separation and sleep. Brown's genius, in these stories, lies in her use of simple, soothing, rhythmic patterns of word and phrase. Her use of poetry, the matching creativity of her illustrators, and the combination and repetition of the familiar in word and picture help fortify the child against the fear of aloneness and night.
Brown's most famous bedtime story (and arguably the classic of all bedtime literature) is, of course, Goodnight Moon. A parent reading this book is able to convey an atmosphere of steadfastness and safety to a child. Goodnight Moon begins descriptively:
In the great green room
there was a telephone
and a red balloon
and a picture of
the cow jumping over the moon
and there were three little bears sitting on chairs . . .
Brown uses the familiar in repetitive words and rhythms which are brilliantly reflected in the illustrations by Clement Hurd. She quotes familiar fairy tales and nursery rhymes (Goldilocks, "Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle," "Poor little kittens, who've lost their mittens"):
. . . two little kittens
and a pair of mittens
and a little toyhouse
and a young mouse.
To each, the child says goodnight as a way of assisting him or her to separate. Even the air and a certain "Nobody" have a familiarity that warrant a child's salutory leave-taking. Finally, the moon and the shadowy, but constant, old lady "whispering hush" take leave, shrouding the room in the indirect light of the night sky, while a little mouse, looking at the stars, stands guard over the child. What could be more in keeping with helping the child to acquire—through simple language, plot, poetry and picture—the pleasure of separation from a parent, to the natural embrace of sleep, to the stars, and to the quiet night. Learning to be alone in the company of a reading parent is a dress rehearsal for the real thing.
A genius is defined by Webster's Dictionary as "a person endowed with a transcendent mental . . . inventiveness and ability . . . as manifest in unusual capacity for creative activity." Margaret Wise Brown was manifestly a genius by this definition. To create her books, she built on her own childhood experiences, on her great gifts of communication with young children, and on the teachings of Mitchell, Johnson, Bieber, and Stanton and the collaboration of many (teachers, writers, illustrators, and children) at 69 Bank Street. She transcended her time, her teachers, and her peers in her ability to synthesize the developmental and emotional issues of young children into creative stories written in their language. The great value of her work resides in her provision of a safe and lyrical medium for children to negotiate the difficult developmental steps and transitions of early life. These are some of the gifts of a genius who understood the deepest yearnings of the developing child. There is, no better way to salute this preeminent author of books for the very young than to quote her own sources and intentions in writing for children.
We all have a child still in ourselves who can recognize and meet those qualities of pure childishness in another child. So never believe anything they tell you about children that you can't see or recognize either in children themselves or in the child within—the child within all of us always—perhaps the one laboratory we all share—the child we all had to be before we grew up. Show me the person who ever skipped being a child. . . .
One can but hope to make a child laugh or feel clear and happy headed and he follows the simple rhythm to its logical end. It can jog him with the unexpected and comfort him with the familiar, lift him for a few minutes from his own problems of shoelaces that won't tie, and busy parents and mysterious clock time, into the world of a bug or a bear or a bee or a boy living in the timeless world of a story. That is if anyone is lucky enough to write a book simple enough to do that or to come near to that timeless world.19
Children, parents, and teachers alike, we can be grateful for our good fortune that Margaret Wise Brown was lucky enough to achieve her hope many times over—to deliver us to that timeless world of children in ourselves and our lives.
1. Lucy Sprague Mitchell, her husband Wesley, and Harriet Johnson founded the Bureau of Educational Experiments in 1930. Lucy Mitchell had already published the Here and Now
Story Book in 1921, in which she describes her ground-breaking ideas and technique. Mitchell had also published The Here and Now Primer (1924), Houses Now and Long Ago (1926), North America (1931), Skyscraper (with Elsa
H. Naumburg and Clara Lambert), (1933), and Streets, Trains, Boats and Bridges (1933), which were prototypes of her educational philosophy and technique, in the language of young children. Mitchell's children's volumes, however, never achieved the poetic and psychological greatness of Brown's books.
2. Lucy S. Mitchell, Here and Now Story Book, p.
3. Joyce Antler, Lucy S. Mitchell: The Making of a Modern Woman, p. 287.
4. Brown, who joined the Writers' Laboratory in 1938, did not work with Johnson directly but was touched by her influence through her successors Bieber and Stanton. Discussion of Brown's methods of writing can be found in Bechtel (1958) and in Brown, Writing for Children (in which Brown specifically acknowledges her debt to Lucy Sprague Mitchell and Jessie Stanton).
5. Piaget's preoperational stage of development occurs from birth to four to six years of age. The preoperational stage is followed by the stage of formal operations, in which relationships between things and people are the stuff of learning (Piaget, 1967). Brown's mentor Lucy Sprague Mitchell reviewed Jean Piaget's early work before it was first published in English in 1930 (most of Piaget's work was translated into English in the 1950s; see Eikind, 1980, p. 371). While appreciating Piaget's view that children's language is an expression of logical thought, Mitchell criticized Piaget for not recognizing the child's language as an art form. See Mitchell's review of Piaget (1927; cited in Antell, 1987, pp. 299-300).
6. This story was found by her sister Roberta among Brown's manuscripts after her death. Brown had apparently been working on them in the months before her untimely death at age 42 of a pulmonary embolus following abdominal surgery (Marcus, 1992, p. 279).
7. Between 1939 and 1951 M. W. Brown and (with one exception) the illustrator Leonard Weisgard created a series of "Noisy Books" that teach, clarify, and desensitize the child to various noises in a child's world. Brown artfully balances noises which are both within and beyond the ken of the young child. The "Noisy Books" also qualify as bedtime stories because they end, as many Brown stories do, with the bedtime of the protagonist.
8. Stern (1985) provides the following definition of affectual attunement in a statement on the development of language in the child:
Language provides a new way of being related to others (who may be present or absent) by sharing a personal world knowledge with them. . . . These comings-together permit the old and persistent life issues of attachment, autonomy, separation, intimacy and so on, to be re-encountered on the previously unavailable plane of relatedness through shared meaning of personal knowledge. The advent of language ultimately brings about the ability to narrate one's own life story with all the potential that holds for changing how one views one's self.
This definition, written more than thirty years after Brown's death, seems to capture the essence of her narrative purpose.
10. How many eager and wide awake young children have awakened sleeping parents—who hope for an additional hour of rest on a weekend—in the same way that the bunny tries to wake the duck?
11. In The Golden Egg Book, Brown even anticipates the concrete terminology adopted by Mahler and associates as she describes the duck "hatching" from the egg.
12. Margaret Mahler, Fred Pine, and Annie Bergman, The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant, pp. 52-120.
13. Leonard S. Marcus, Margaret Wise Brown.
14. The concept of the holding environment as a basic human developmental need is described by D. W. Winnecott (1960).
15. Of the capacity to be alone, the psychoanalyst
D. W. Winnecott (1958) notes that when the child temporarily feels separate from his or her parent (who may be near or just around the corner), "the sensation or impulse will feel real and be truly a personal experience. . . . It is only when alone (that is to say, in the presence of someone) that the infant can discover his personal life," (p. 418). According to Winnecott, one of the duties of "good enough" parenting, therefore, is to foster the development of the capacity to be alone, to be at peace with and to value the ability to be alone with oneself. "Good enough mothering," generalized here to "good enough parenting" or "caretaking," is a concept which was also introduced by Winnecott (1960).
16. For parent and child to share the experience of aloneness together while reading fulfills necessary criteria (Winnecott, 1958) for helping the child to differentiate aloneness from loneliness.
17. Reading couple is our term, although we are not sure it is original. It is paraphrased from Merrill Middlemore (1941), who speaks of the "nursing couple" when she describes the intricate relationship of the child and the nursing mother. Parent, caretaker, storyteller, teacher, and child, often sitting in the lap or at the side of the reader, form a "reading" or "storytelling couple." Nursing, reading, and storytelling are templates for all emotional and physical relationships. Relatedness comes from these early didactic relationships and underscores the emotional importance of the reading (or storytelling) relationship between caretaker and child.
18. This book offers to the child a conclusion similar to that made by John Donne in his immortal statement in Devotions upon Eminent Occasions (1624): "No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. . . ."
19. Margaret Wise Brown, Writing for Children, unpublished manuscript.
Appendix: The Bedtime Stories of Margaret Wise Brown
Night and Day. Leonard Weisgard, illus. New York and London: Harper, 1942.
A Child's Good Night Book. Jean Charlot, illus. New York: Scott, 1943.
Goodnight Moon. Clement Hurd, illus. New York: Harper, 1947. (Kingswood, Surrey: World's Work), 1975.
The Sleepy Little Lion, photographs by Ylla. New York: Harper, 1947. London: Harvill Press, 1960.
The Golden Sleepy Book. Garth Williams, illus. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1948.
The Dream Book: First Comes the Dream. Richard Foethe, illus. New York: Random House, 1950.
A Child's Good Morning. Jean Charlot, illus. New York: Scott, 1952.
Sleepy ABC. Esphry Slobodkina, illus. New York: Lothrop, 1953.
Ainsworth, Mary, "The Development of Infant-Mother Interaction among the Ganda," in Determinants of Infant Behavior, vol. 2, B. M. Foss, ed. London: Methuen, 1963. New York: Wiley, 1963.
Bechtel, Louise, "Margaret Wise Brown: Laureate of the Nursery," Horn Book, (June) 1958 34; 172-186.
Bowlby, John, "Attachment and Loss": vol. 1. Attachment. London: Hogarth, 1969. New York: Basic Books, 1969.
Brown, Margaret Wise, The Little Fireman. New York: Scott, 1938.
Brown, Margaret Wise, Noisy Book. New York: Scott, 1939.
Brown, Margaret Wise, Country Noisy Book. New York: Scott, 1940.
Brown, Margaret Wise, The Seashore Noisy Book. New York: Scott, 1941.
Brown, Margaret Wise, The Indoor Noisy Book. New York: Harper & Row, 1942.
Brown, Margaret Wise, The Noisy Bird Book. New York: Scott, 1942.
Brown, Margaret Wise, The Runaway Bunny. New York: Harper & Row, 1942.
Brown, Margaret Wise, The Little Chicken. New York: Harper & Row, 1943.
Brown, Margaret Wise, The Little Fur Family. New York: Harper & Row, 1946.
Brown, Margaret Wise, The Golden Egg Book. Leonard Weisgard, illus. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1947.
Brown, Margaret Wise, Goodnight Moon. New York: Harper & Row, 1947.
Brown, Margaret Wise, The Winter Noisy Book. New York: Scott, 1947.
Brown, Margaret Wise, The Quiet Noisy Book. New York: Scott, 1950.
Brown, Margaret Wise, Wait till the Moon Is Full. New York: Harper & Row, 1950.
Brown, Margaret Wise, Writing for Children. Unpublished manuscript, Margaret Wise Brown archives, Westerly Public Library, Westerly, RI, ca. 1950.
Brown, Margaret Wise, The Summer Noisy Book. New York: Scott, 1951.
Brown, Margaret Wise, "The Remarkable Rabbit," in Once upon a Time in a Pig Pen and Three Other Stories, pp. 18-33. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1980.
Brown, Margaret Wise, [Golden MacDonald, pseud.], and Leonard Weisgard, The Little Island. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1946.
Donne, John, Devotions on Eminent Occasions, No. 17, London: 1624.
Elkind, David, "Developmental Structuralism of Jean Piaget," in Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry/II, vol. 1, Harold I. Kaplan, Alfred M. Freedman, and Benjamin J. Sadock, eds., p. 371. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1980.
Halliday, M. A. K., "Learning How to Mean," in Foundations of Language Development, vol. 1, E. Lenneberg and E. Lenneberg, eds. New York: Academic Press, 1975.
Mahler, Margaret, Fred Pine, and Annie Bergman, in The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant, pp. 39-122. New York: Basic Books, 1975.
Marcus, Leonard S., Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon, Boston: Beacon Press, 1992.
Middlemore, Merrill, The Nursing Couple. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1941.
Mitchell, Lucy S., The Here and Now Primer: Home from the Country. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1924.
Mitchell, Lucy S., Houses Now and Long Ago. New York: Harcourt-Brace, 1926.
Mitchell, Lucy S., Progressive Education, 1927, 4(2).
Mitchell, Lucy S., North America: The Land They Live in for the Children Who Live There. New York: Macmillan, 1931.
Mitchell, Lucy S., Streets, Trains, Boats and Bridges. New York: John Day, 1933.
Mitchell, Lucy S., "Harriet Johnson: Pioneer: 1867-1934," Progressive Education, 1934, 2, 427-429.
Mitchell, Lucy S., Here and Now Story Book: Two through Seven-Year Olds. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1948.
Mitchell, Lucy S., and Margaret Wise Brown, Our Country. New York: D. C. Heath, 1945.
Mitchell, Lucy S., Elsa H. Naumburg, and Clara Lambert, Skyscraper. New York: John Day, 1933.
Piaget, Jean, "The Mental Development of the Child," in Six Psychological Studies, D. Elkind, ed., and A. Tenzer, trans., pp. 3-59. New York: Random House, Vintage Books, 1967. Reprinted from Juventus Helvetica. 1940.
Stern, Daniel, The Interpersonal World of the Infant: A View from Psychoanalysis and Developmental Psychology. New York: Basic Books, 1985.
Webster's Third New International Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam, 1968.
Wesby, Carol, "Learning to Tell Stories: Thought and Language for School Success." Paper presented at Peel Board of Education, Toronto, Canada, February 1988.
Winnecott, Donald, "The Capacity to be Alone," International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 1958, 39, 416-420.
Winnecott, D. W., "The Theory of the Parent-Infant Relationship," International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 1960, 41, 585-595.
Winnecott, D. W., "Ego Distortion in Terms of True and False Self," in The Maturation Processes and the Facilitating Environment, pp. 145-146. New York: International Universities Press, 1965.
Suzanne Rahn (essay date 1994)
SOURCE: Rahn, Suzanne. "Cat-Quest: A Symbolic Animal in Margaret Wise Brown." Children's Literature 22 (1994): 149-61.
[In the following essay, Rahn examines how Brown's prose transcends the traditionally cloyingly, sentimental stereotype of anthropomorphic animals and instead demonstrates a sense of deliberate purpose when utilizing such animals as characters.]
For the 1986 annual conference of the Children's Literature Association, Trina Schart Hyman planned "a vicious diatribe," subtitled "How to Survive Twenty-Five Years of Illustrating Children's Books without Putting Clothes on Animals" (Hyman 5). Although the lecture she delivered was on another subject altogether, the question session afterward gave her the opportunity to explain why anthropomorphic animals were her "pet peeve." "Every other picture book for small children," she complained,
doesn't even mention that these characters are animals. It says, Henrietta's First Trip to the Dentist. Well, Henrietta's a raccoon, you know, with Nikes and a little pink dress on. And the dentist is a rhinoceros. . . . Why couldn't Henrietta be a kid and why couldn't the dentist be a real dentist? Is that because we're taking the easy way out and we're afraid to show real people in questionable situations? Not only that, don't you think that this is giving kids the idea that animals are supposed to behave and think and have the same values as us? And that's really wrong.
For the lay public, "children's literature" is indeed all but synonymous with cute talking animals. Would-be writers for children have driven some editors to the point of advertising in Writer's Market that "no talking animal stories will be accepted." Even in highly regarded picture books, species are assigned to characters with little or no concern for the nature of the animal. A child will learn nothing about badgers from Russell Hoban's Frances books, or about grizzlies from Else Minarik's Little Bear. Such animal characters are not really animals but, as Margaret Blount calls them, "Ourselves in Fur."
We could trace the clothed animal syndrome back to the turn of the century and Beatrix Potter, yet her characters are still in a sense true animals, their small lives dominated by the need to find food and shelter, raise families, and survive the lethal attacks of predators. A stronger case could be made against Margaret Wise Brown. The popularity of her books for small children, steadily growing since the 1940s, may well have influenced the picture-book makers of today. And many of her numerous animal protagonists seem only nominally animal. The Runaway Bunny, though sharing Peter Rabbit's impulse to leave home, has neither an overpowering desire to gorge himself on vegetables nor a Mr. McGregor to watch out for. In Goodnight Moon, the animal-human question was not decided until the final editorial meetings; a little boy might be sleeping in the "great green room" today had Clement Hurd not been better at drawing rabbits than children (Marcus 197). For other books, the animal species seems to have been chosen almost at random. The animal family in Wait till the Moon Is Full consisted originally of rabbits, but were changed to raccoons (Marcus 229). The animals in Little Fur Family and Three Little Animals do not even possess a species—only a generic furriness.
Yet it does seem to matter, at some level, whether these characters are animals or not. We feel instinctively that to replace the rabbit with a little boy would change the great green room. To me, the animality of her animals is essential in Margaret Wise Brown, if not to her imitators. I will even argue that she chose which species of animal to use in a given context—not scientifically, nor always consistently, but in harmony with a poetic logic of her own.
Leonard Marcus's sensitive portrait of Brown in Awakened by the Moon suggests that the boundaries between children, animals, and self were more fluid for her than for most adults. At the Bank Street School, for example, "Brownie" amazed her peers by her ability to achieve "as if by second nature" the "unselfconscious identification with the young child's experience" for which the other students strained and strove (Marcus 61). In later years, Brown's periodic vacations alone on her Maine island seem to have kept her in touch with her animal self as well. "Everything is so astonishingly wild and beautiful here," she wrote, "and I have developed the ears of a rabbit and the eyes of an eagle. . . . Michael used to say that only a great saint or a beast could live alone and I seem to have described the beast" (Marcus 259).
Brown's unforced kinship with both children and animals was fundamental to her creative work. Her comments on writing for children often couple the two together. "Children are keen as wild animals and also as timorous," she states in "Creative Writing for Very Young Children" (Marcus 249). She speaks of "the small animal dignity that children and puppies and shy little horses struggle so hard to maintain" as an inspiration for her work. She compares writing for young children—"the sudden starts and stops, the sounds and silences in the words"—to writing for puppies and kittens and even suggests that dogs would enjoy listening to her Noisy Books (Bader 258).
Although adults often sentimentalize small animals and children, the animals and children are not sentimental about themselves, and Brown was not sentimental about them either. To write for children, she said, "one has to love not children but what children love" (Marcus 251). Adults might be dismayed to learn that Brown's favorite sport was beagling—hunting rabbits cross-country on foot with a pack of beagles—but in fact Brown's animal self included an unmistakable predatory streak. Her love of hunting expressed itself not only in beagling but, as Marcus has observed, in her choice of metaphors. He notes how she refers to "the child I will chase" in a Bank Street research project, and to "catching" the stories and poems that children improvise (65); he points out that The Runaway Bunny is a magical hunting tale (149). As a child, Brown skinned a dead pet rabbit for its fur, and boasted that she would be a "lady butcher" when she grew up (16). As an adult, she carpeted her living-room floor with polar bear skins and had Little Fur Family bound in rabbit fur. Yet the goddess Diana, the huntress, was also the protector of all wild animals, and Brown clearly identifies with small, harmless creatures, too; she and her lover, Michael Strange, corresponded as "Bun" and "Rab."
Rabbits were clearly a special animal for her. She had kept pet rabbits as a child, and was "captivated," says Marcus, by the "comforting softness and sensuality" of their fur and their "quickness and vulnerability" (16). From these early experiences, furry feelings of comfort, coziness, and emotional security—but also of flight and elusiveness—came to cluster around the animal. The Runaway Bunny, fluctuating between escape and security, freedom and love, expresses perfectly what rabbits meant to Margaret Wise Brown. And it is evident in this picture book that the animals are not interchangeable with human beings. No child can run away as well as a bunny can. At one point, Brown even foregrounds the distinction by having the bunny threaten to "become a little boy and run into a house"—as if this were the wildest idea he could come up with. The Golden Egg Book, with its lonely rabbit who finds an unexpected friend, also deals with the need for a loving relationship. The child character in Goodnight Moon, with its deep sense of comfort and security, did need to be a rabbit rather than some other animal. The essence of rabbitness permeates all these stories.
The personal symbolism of other animals is less obvious in Brown's work. Sometimes, as in Little Fur Family, it seems that mere furriness was enough to connect her creatively with the keen senses and deep emotions of her child-animal self. Yet a close look at Brown's cats—with rabbits and dogs, her most numerous animal protagonists—suggests that they, too, had a special significance for her.1
In a previous article, "Cat-Child," I defined the characteristic roles of cat protagonists in children's literature. Unlike the straightforward dog, who is inevitably "man's best friend," the cat, with its ambiguous status as a not quite domesticated domestic animal, can move in a number of directions. It can serve as a magical guide or intermediary to another world (as in Lloyd Alexander's Time Cat or Dr. Seuss's Cat in the Hat). It can belong to a sophisticated society parallel to our own (as in the Cat Club books of Esther Averill), or simply enter our world on equal, adult terms (as T. S. Eliot's cats do). It may represent the nonconformist in society, like Kipling's "Cat Who Walked by Himself." Or, especially as a stray, it can become the child in search of love and security, as in Wanda Gag's Millions of Cats or Beverly Cleary's Socks or Paul Gallico's The Abandoned.
Brown's cats, however, belong in a "category" of their own. On a questionnaire Brown once listed her hobby as "Cat Life—which means doing nothing and just watching" (Marcus 146). Cat Life was what she pursued in solitude on her Maine island, where she recharged her acute sensory awareness of the natural world. Her fictional cats express what Cat Life is and what it can do. It is curious without being predatory, receptive without being passive, alone without being lonely. The "wonder and surprise at the world" of a kitten on its own for the first time inspired her as a writer, she says (Bader 258). Her cat stories reflect this same surprise and wonder.
We can see instantly how different her cats and her rabbits are by comparing The Runaway Bunny to the short-short story "One Eye Open," the first of a series called a Page for Children that Brown did for Good Housekeeping in the late 1940s. The bunny's need for security outweighs his need for independence; in the end, he gladly surrenders to his mother's protecting love. The kitten, on the other hand, is determined to take off: "Once there was a little cat who wanted to see the world. So he stuck out his whiskers and went pussyfooting over to tell his mother good-bye. His mother was asleep. But she had one eye open. 'Why do you want to see the world, you funny little kitten?' she said. 'Why not just curl up by me and eat and sleep?' 'Because I want to see the world,' said the kitten, 'and off I go.' 'Good-bye,' said his mother. 'Look where you're going. Look before you leap, and always keep One Eye Open'" (94). "To see the world" is repeated three times in this very short story; the mother cat tells her kitten to "look where you're going" and "look before you leap," and she, too, keeps "one eye open." As just watching, the basic principle of Cat Life, led Brown into creation, her cat characters' desire to see leads them to explore, to investigate, to experiment, and sometimes to create as well.
Other Good Housekeeping Pages for Children reinforce this image of the cat. "Where Have You Been?" contrasts the stolid conservatism of the dog with the enterprise and curiosity of the cat.
Little White Dog,
Little White Dog,
Where have you been?
Sitting on a log,
Said the Little White Dog.
Little Gray Cat,
Little Gray Cat,
Where have you been?
To see this and that,
Said the Little Gray Cat.
And "Pusscatkin and the Pumpkin," from the same series, takes Cat Life a step further.
Pusscatkin found a pumpkin.
He looked inside it.
Suddenly the pumpkin's eyes turned green
and the pumpkin began to purr.
But where was Pusscatkin?
The cat's wondering curiosity leads it first to look inside the pumpkin and then to transform the pumpkin into something new and surprising—even magical.
Pussy Willow, a Little Golden Book published in 1951, is also based on a kitten's wonder and surprise at the world. This "little pussycat not much bigger than a pussywillow" and "just as soft and gray and furry as those little flowers clinging to the branches all about him" is born into "a wide green world" of spring flowers and small creatures. When the pussy willows disappear, replaced by seed tassels and green leaves, Pussy Willow goes in search of them, climbing trees, exploring a garden, hunting along the seashore, asking every creature he meets where the pussy willows are. The seasons pass as he searches, and when spring returns, he finds his pussy willows once more—just where he left them. The story celebrates the ever-changing beauty of the natural world, experienced through the senses of a kitten fearlessly on its own. The quest, being unnecessary, becomes an end in itself.
The nonpredatory nature of Cat Life is especially noticeable in Pussy Willow. Pussy Willow encounters a bug, a frog, a deer mouse, and a butterfly—without pouncing on any of them. He even shares a nest with a family of baby birds. Only by making her kitten "not much bigger than a pussywillow" (and avoiding all mention of what he eats) could Brown cast even a thin veil of plausibility over such unnatural behavior. Like the symbolic rabbit, the symbolic cat represents not one trait or tendency but a cluster of them, stressed differently in different characters and with differing degrees of humanization. In The Little Island (1946), as in Pussy Willow, Brown places a self-aware, solitary kitten in a setting of great natural beauty—the very island that Brown could see from the window of her house in Maine (Marcus 190-91). The kitten's situation is a miniaturized version of her own. A Pussycat's Christmas (1949) focuses on the sensory awareness of the cat, and falls at the least humanized end of her scale. Evoking what a real cat might experience on Christmas Eve, Brown describes everything in terms of sensory input.
The little cat Pussycat knew that Christmas was coming.
The ice tinkled when it broke on the frozen mud puddles.
The cold air made her hair stand straight up in the air. And the air smelled just as it did last year.
What did it smell like?
Could she smell Christmas trees?
Of course she could.
And Tangerines? And Christmas Greens? And Holly?
And could she hear the crackle and slip of white tissue paper?
And red tissue paper?
She certainly could.
For children, too, Christmas is at least half anticipation, triggered by such sensory cues as these.
Just twice in Pussycat's Christmas, Brown suggests realms beyond the comprehension of a cat. As evening falls, Pussycat is still outside when she hears the sound of bells "coming from far away off up the snowy road. . . . What was it?" (You turn the page.) "She saw it! She saw the sleigh go jingling by." And you, too, see a sleigh drawn by reindeer spread across both pages through the falling snow, and Santa himself waving a hand at you.
Only the cat—and you—is allowed that glimpse of Santa Claus. The moment evokes the cat's traditional alliance with supernatural powers but is also a kind of object lesson in the value of Cat Life. Only because Pussycat is there, just watching, does she witness something magical.
On the last pages, Brown ventures deeper still into what Christmas is. Pussycat's anonymous "people" have gone to church, and she hears the carol singers outside in the darkness singing "Silent Night." "Pussycat listened for a long time. Of course she didn't understand the words, but she liked the mystery of it all. Then she pushed open the living room door with her paw and there in the silent house was the Christmas tree." There is no pretense that a cat can understand what Christmas really means—no sentimental miracle. By keeping her eye firmly on the cat, Brown captures the excitement and wonder of Christmas Eve, hints at the mystery behind it, and quietly backs away, leaving the cat to contemplate the glory of the tree. Nothing could be more effective than the restraint she shows here.
At the opposite end of the humanization scale is The Color Kittens: A Child's First Book about Colors (1949): "Once there were two color kittens with green eyes, Brush and Hush. They liked to mix and make colors by splashing one color into another. They had buckets and buckets and buckets and buckets of color to splash around with." Brush and Hush can talk to each other, they dream fantastic color dreams, and in the pictures by Alice and Martin Provenson they wear cute little caps and overalls and walk on their hind legs.
Yet Brush and Hush share the qualities of Brown's symbolic cat, though here the emphasis is not on receptive watching, but on the experimental curiosity that makes Pussycat bat at Christmas tree balls, the kitten in "One Eye Open" set off to see the world, and Pusscatkin climb into the pumpkin. As in "Pusscatkin," what begins with sensory awareness (in this case, of colors) proceeds to exploration (mixing colors), and ends in the creation of something new and wonderful. Not content with discovering how to make their favorite color, green, Brush and Hush dream of lands where the colors obey entirely different rules:
Of a purple land
In a pale pink sea
Where apples fell
From a golden tree.
And the next morning, "wild with purring and pouncing, . . . they knocked over the buckets and all the colors ran out together. There were all the colors in the world and the color kittens had made them."2
It is tempting to see Brown's symbolic cat as a paradigm for her own creativity, just as the rabbit seems to represent emotional needs, vulnerabilities, and satisfactions. The cat's contemplative ability, coupled with acute sensory awareness, produces the state Brown called Cat Life—the inner condition from which active creativity arises. The curiosity of the kitten exploring its new world may remind us of Brown's eagerness to experiment with the form and content of the picture book. The cat is also proverbially a loner, rather than a social animal. Brown recognized in herself a lifelong tendency to aloofness and detachment from close relationships, which caused her a good deal of unhappiness (see Marcus 158, 233), but may have been necessary for her creative work. The Runaway Bunny stays home with his loving mother, but the kitten in "One Eye Open" detaches himself from her so that he can see the world.
If the cat analogy holds true, what is Brown telling us about her art in The House of a Hundred Windows (1945)? This experimental picture book combined simple two-color lithographs by Robert de Veyrac with photographs of paintings by artists ranging from Samuel Ryder and John James Audubon to Henri Rousseau, Max Ernst, and Yves Tanguey. The text tells how a small black cat lives in a house with a hundred windows; each window looks out into the landscape of a different painting. Brown does not inform the young reader that these are paintings, or what famous artists painted them; each "window" speaks for itself, with its own vision of the world. Many of the paintings are masterpieces of surrealism, and their effect in this context is hauntingly magical. Through each window we see a strange new world.
Brown's own houses reveal her fascination with the magical possibilities of doors and windows. A door in her Maine house, called the Witch's Wink, opened onto a fifty-foot drop to the rocky shore below; on the opposite wall, a group of small mirrors, each framed differently, reflected multiple images of the sea (Marcus 165). In the cottage she built for Michael Strange, an ornate antique frame was hung to outline not a painting but a window looking out onto a dark forest of spruces (Marcus 237). This Picture Window, as Brown called it, an exact reversal of the Hundred Windows, raises the same speculations about the power of the frame, and the relation of art to reality. In The House of a Hundred Windows, Brown transforms a personal aspect of her creative life into a way of sharing the creativity of all artists with her young audience. As art appreciation for children, the book is still unique of its kind, and Brown herself must have felt stimulated by it, for she left notes for two sequels and a television version among her papers (Marcus 286-87).
The House of a Hundred Windows is a fair example of a book whose main character might seem interchangeable with another animal—a dog, say, or a mouse. Or, as Trina Schart Hyman might ask, "Why an animal at all? Animals don't look at paintings. Why not a child instead?"
But in the context of Brown's feline symbolism, the small black cat of the House seems inevitable. As it moves silently from room to room, gazing with wonder through the different windows, the cat once more personifies the total sensory awareness and receptive contemplation of its species. Here Cat Life moves beyond the natural world to embrace the artist's world of the imagination.
Yet the story takes a startling turn. Suddenly, for the first time, the cat finds a door that leads not into some artist's private vision but out into the real world. Will the cat go back into the house or outside, into a world it has never seen before? The book ends there. The cat stands hesitating on the threshold, as cats do, but the decision must be made by the young reader. Most children, I think, will decide that the cat must venture out into the real world, now that it knows the world is there. But did Margaret Wise Brown go out? Or back in? Or did she feel that she was poised, forever, on that threshold between two worlds?
1. According to Marcus, as a child Brown had a black cat named Ole King Cole, about whom she used to tell stories to her younger sister
(13). Although we hear more in his account of her Kerry blue terrier Crispian, cats remained a part of her life. Her black cat with white paws stars in the posthumously published Seven Stories about a Cat Named Sneakers (1955), and her cat Bobby in The Little Island (1946 [Marcus 298, 191]).
Brown's dogs deserve an analysis of their own. Her own Crispian had "an unusually wild and contrary temperament, even for a Kerry. . . . Crispian was a terror—and this, doubtless, was what Margaret liked about him. He was the wildness of small children, hers at times to rein in, at other times hers only to keep pace with" (Marcus 182). The strong, almost undoglike individualism of Crispian became the focus of Brown's Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself (1952). Even Muffin, the protagonist of Brown's Noisy Books, seems less doggily dependent on his "people" than dogs generally are in fiction and almost catlike in his investigations of the sensory world.
2. Brown planned a sequel to The Color Kittens called "The Number Bears," a counting book, but it was left unfinished at her death (Marcus 286).
Bader, Barbara. American Picturebooks from "Noah's Ark" to "The Beast Within." New York: Macmillan, 1976.
Blount, Margaret. Animal Land: The Creatures of Children's Fiction. New York: Morrow, 1975.
Brown, Margaret Wise. The Color Kittens: A Child's First Book about Colors. New York: Golden Press, 1949.
——. The House of a Hundred Windows. New York: Harper, 1945.
——. "One Eye Open." Good Housekeeping 126 (April 1948): 94.
——. "Pusscatkin and the Pumpkin." Good Housekeeping 127 (October 1948): 86.
——. A Pussycat's Christmas. New York: Crowell, 1949.
——. The Runaway Bunny. New York: Harper, 1942.
——. "Where Have You Been?" Good Housekeeping 126 (May 1948): 93.
Hyman, Trina Schart. "Illustrating The Water of Life." In Proceedings of the Thirteenth Annual Conference of the Children's Literature Association, ed. Susan R. Gannon and Ruth Anne Thompson. West Lafayette: Education Department, Purdue University, 1988.
Marcus, Leonard S. Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon. Boston: Beacon, 1992.
Rahn, Suzanne. "Cat-Child: Rediscovering Socks and Island Mackenzie." Lion and the Unicorn 12.1 (1988): 111-20.
Karla Kuskin (review date 20 May 2001)
SOURCE: Kuskin, Karla. "Hello Again, Moon." New York Times Book Review (20 May 2001): 19.
[In the following review, Kuskin critiques several contemporary editions of Brown's picture books, including Two Little Trains, The Dirty Little Boy, Love Songs of Little Bear, and Mouse of My Heart.]
By 1952, when Margaret Wise Brown died unexpectedly at the age of 42, she had written close to 100 picture books. If a best-selling author dies young, it is not usually bad for business. New manuscripts have a way of turning up, bits of forgotten poetry become memorable, scraps of stories are made whole, and young editors beat fast paths to the doors of an author's heirs.
In the late 1930's, by personalizing and simplifying the language of the picture book, Brown helped find a new way of writing for young children. Her most famous book, Goodnight Moon (1947), is still in print with the original Clement Hurd illustrations. Yes, the color has been "enriched"; yes, there is a board-book version, a pop-up version, an edition that comes with a slipper, or a comb, or an audiotape. If you want a copy, for yourself or a child you know, you will join a discerning group of more than 10 million devotees (and growing).
This continuing popularity explains why in the spring of 2001, almost 50 years after her death, there are three new picture books, plus a collection of stories and poems, by Brown. It also explains why there is an official-looking gold seal reading "By the author of Goodnight Moon " printed on the cover of the new version of Two Little Trains.
The original, published in 1949, had illustrations by Jean Charlot. This 21st-century edition is a handsome full-color picture book starring an ultra-streamlined train on its way "to the West" and "one little old train," just three cars made of colored blocks and yellow wheels, running freely around a little old house. The words read like the lyric of a familiar folk song:
Look down, look down that long steel track
Where you and I must go;
That long steel track and strong cross bars,
Before we travel home.
The illustrators Leo and Diane Dillon follow the words as if they were gospel, constructing a carefully designed journey that alternates between long views of the silver train slicing through the countryside and close-ups of the toy train as it circles a bathtub or, amazingly, climbs the banister.
In 1939 The Dirty Little Boy, at that time entitled How the Animals Bathe, appeared in a children's magazine. On the copyright page of the current edition we learn that "this version has a few slight changes . . . approved by Brown's estate." The brand-new pictures are big and bright and à la mode, combining an illustrative style influenced by 30's cartoons with some very modern techniques. The pages burst with color and a laminate overlay, which adds a wet shine to pictures of soap bubbles, water, mud, etc.
It works wonderfully well, more successfully in fact than the too-long story, in which a "big round mother," who looks a lot like a flowered sofa, is so busy doing the wash in a tub that she has no time to give her son a bath. It takes him nearly 32 pages to discover that little boys don't bathe the way birds, pigs, cats or horses do. If he's smart enough to walk around asking questions on his own, shouldn't he figure out soap and water a little faster?
Among Brown's talents as a writer are the musicality of her rhythms and an understated sweetness that speaks directly to her audience. In his biography of her, Awakened by the Moon, Leonard Marcus quotes her: "A good picture book can almost be whistled. . . . All have their own melodies behind the storytelling." As a child, she continually made up tunes. In her writings for children the words dance to music you can almost hear.
The illustrator Susan Jeffers chose four unpublished poems by Brown for Love Songs of the Little Bear. She has linked them together with common characters and settings. The lyrics read like spoken songs:
By the clear waters
One morning in May
A little bear was singing in words that seemed to say
It's a long time that
I'll love you
Never, never go away.
At times that fine line between sentiment and sentimentality, so crucial to Brown's best work, gets lost when Jeffers paints too many cuddly animals in ribbons and hats gamboling through greeting-card pages. But when Jeffers's scenes are neither too cute nor too sweet, they are just right: a mother and cub enter a house made interesting by its odd angles; winter is summed up by fine snow falling on tugboats that steam through gray water past snowy hills.
Mouse of My Heart is a big collection of Brown's work. The title, only slightly more embossed than embarrassing, is surrounded on the cover by lush flora and furry fauna that give it a look calculated to charm dear grandmas and elderly aunts. There are 56 pieces: poems, stories and one or two works of translation, gathered in 184 pages. About half of these have never been published before, some with apparent good reason.
Sure, there are persuasive lines and verses in the mixture, but a story like "Three Baby Kittens," so filled with a youthful appreciation of life, warm pie and friendship, requires a very light hand to illustrate its spirit. Loretta Krupinski's work, whether it is small and decorative or colorfully moody, is successful as long as she does not let an overdose of the cutes, to which this publisher seems prone, gum up the delicate emotion of a piece. Even the most talented artist is not always at the top of her form.
What Lorenz Hart referred to as "prolificacy" in a witty lyric only guarantees that a writer who writes a lot leaves her heirs more stuff, good, bad or indifferent, than someone who does not. A first-class publisher needs to use taste, self-control and expert proofreading when confronted with the leftovers of a star who sells. The proofreading is to guard against typos like the ones in "The Old Mill" and "The Sleepy Bears." A wrong word, or a few that are missing, just confuse the meanings of these stories. It isn't nice to confuse children. Life does that; picture books should not.
WHEN THE WIND BLEW (1937)
Horn Book Magazine (review date September-October 1937)
SOURCE: Review of When the Wind Blew, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Rosalie Slocum. Horn Book Magazine 13, no. 5 (September-October 1937): 283.
[When the Wind Blew is i]llustrated by Rosalie Slocum, in color and black and white. "Once there was an old, old lady, and she lived by the side of the ocean all by herself. . . . And she had seventeen cats and one little blue-grey kitten." A musical, flowing, repetitious picture-story book for little children. The pictures are thoroughly interesting in their blues and browns.
THE STREAMLINED PIG (1938)
Louise Seaman Bechtel (review date 19 November 1938)
SOURCE: Bechtel, Louise Seaman. Review of The Streamlined Pig, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Kurt Wiese. Saturday Review of Literature 19, no. 4 (19 November 1938): 18.
One of the few really American picture story books I have seen that has any charm is The Streamlined Pig. Miss Brown, of the Writers' Laboratory of the Bank Street Schools, is an author and an editor to be watched with interest. She knows well what sort of ridiculous pretending small children like. Here is nonsensical use of a penthouse child, a Missouri farm, lots of farm animals, a flood, a flock of airplanes. Mr. Wiese's delicate colors, so well printed, give the whole book a sunny magic.
NIGHT AND DAY (1942)
Alice M. Jordan (review date September-October 1942)
SOURCE: Jordan, Alice M. Review of Night and Day, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard. Horn Book Magazine 18, no. 5 (September-October 1942): 332.
[In Night and Day, c]hildlike pictures and text tell the story of two cats. The white cat loved the day and the sounds it brings, feet on the pavement, buzzing bees, the sizzling of food on the stove. She feared the night which the black cat loved. The night brings the moon and stars, the murmur of the wind, the cricket's chirp and other soft sounds. Fear of the night rises from Things That Never Were and children can learn, as the white cat did, not to have such fears. This is the point of the simple story.
THE HOUSE OF A HUNDRED WINDOWS (1945)
Alice M. Jordan (review date July-August 1945)
SOURCE: Jordan, Alice M. Review of The House of a Hundred Windows, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Robert de Veyrac. Horn Book Magazine 21, no. 4 (July-August 1945): 272.
Pictures by Robert de Veyrac and reproductions from famous modern painters. [The House of a Hundred Windows is a]n original and fascinating book designed to introduce young children to contemporary art by a novel method. "There lived a cat in a house of a hundred windows. He was so busy looking out of the windows that he never went outside." Then we look, with the cat, out of twelve of these windows upon widely diverse scenes, all drawn from the work of distinguished artists of today. The pictures, happily chosen for their action, as well as their beauty, are all without color.
LITTLE FUR FAMILY (1946)
Jennie D. Lindquist and Siri M. Andrews (review date September-October 1951)
SOURCE: Lindquist, Jennie D., and Siri M. Andrews. Review of Little Fur Family, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Garth Williams. Horn Book Magazine 27, no. 5 (September-October 1951): 319-20.
When [Little Fur Family ] was first published in 1946 it was a tiny book with a real fur jacket which children loved. Adults who objected to the unusual cover missed a heart-warming little story with lovely colored illustrations that seem even lovelier in the larger format. All pre-school children should be allowed to meet the "little fur family, warm as toast, smaller than most," who "lived in a warm wooden tree." The story has already been translated into several languages. I know a little girl who used to give the furcovered book to her kitten each night and he actually did sleep with it between his paws. Cats may not approve of the sturdy new cloth binding but librarians will.
THE IMPORTANT BOOK (1949)
Alice M. Jordan (review date July-August 1949)
SOURCE: Jordan, Alice M. Review of The Important Book, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard. Horn Book Magazine 25, no. 4 (July-August 1949): 284.
[In The Important Book, m]any pictures in soft colors, accompanied by large clear type, suggest to a young child what is the important point to notice about such different things as a spoon, a daisy, an apple or the snow. One can visualize a child of picture-book age anticipating the thought, and continuing the idea by making his own decisions about the important point in countless other objects. A fresh and stimulating book for young children.
TWO LITTLE TRAINS (1949)
Alice M. Jordan (review date November-December 1949)
SOURCE: Jordan, Alice M. Review of Two Little Trains, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Jean Charlot. Horn Book Magazine 25, no. 6 (November-December 1949): 525.
Railway stories are popular with the nursery age, and here is a happy association of author and artist [Two Little Trains ]. Margaret Wise Brown tells in short sentences, often with rhythmic phrasing, about a streamlined train and a little old train traveling west side by side. Jean Charlot's line drawings are modern and childlike, simple as children's own work, but skillful as only a gifted artist can make them. Some of the pictures are in color.
THE SUMMER NOISY BOOK (1951)
Jennie D. Lindquist and Virginia Haviland (review date February 1952)
SOURCE: Lindquist, Jennie D., and Virginia Haviland. Review of The Summer Noisy Book, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard. Horn Book Magazine 28, no. 1 (February 1952): 25.
Nursery school children never tire of Muffin, the little black dog [in The Summer Noisy Book ] who is so much interested in all the noises around him; and they love to guess what it is that he hears in the "Noisy Books" this author and artist have created about him. "Clippety Clop, Clippety Clop. . . . What
was that?" Guess first and then look at the next page to see if you are right. Horses, sheep, robins, kittens, all seemed familiar to Muffin; but the loudest summer noise of all, what could that be? Although this is the sixth "Noisy Book," it still has individuality and distinction both as to text and gay four-color pictures.
A CHILD'S GOOD MORNING BOOK (1952)
Jennie D. Lindquist and Virginia Haviland (review date December 1952)
SOURCE: Lindquist, Jennie D., and Virginia Haviland. Review of A Child's Good Morning Book, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Jean Charlot. Horn Book Magazine 28, no. 6 (December 1952): 396.
[A Child's Good Morning Book ] looks like a good morning—the full-page pictures of children and animals waking up as the sun rises are so bright and gay. When its companion volume, A Child's Good Night Book, first came out some years ago I liked it very much, but I was doubtful about the appeal Charlot's pictures would have for little children. I found many of them loving the book and feel sure this will please them too. Miss Brown's brief text has its usual warmth.
CHRISTMAS IN THE BARN (1952)
Jennie D. Lindquist and Virginia Haviland (review date December 1952)
SOURCE: Lindquist, Jennie D., and Virginia Haviland. Review of Christmas in the Barn, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Barbara Cooney. Horn Book Magazine 28, no. 6 (December 1952): 399.
[Christmas in the Barn features t]he nativity story presented in brief rhyming text with pictures which show what might well be a New England barn, with Mary dressed in a blue dress and scarlet hood, and the Baby Jesus sleeping snugly in a basket covered with a red and white patchwork quilt. Miss Cooney's animals are of course as perfect as they always are. We are accustomed to seeing her work only in black and white, and it is interesting to note how effectively she has used color on several of these pages.
WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? (1952)
Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 April 2004)
SOURCE: Review of Where Have You Been?, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. Kirkus Reviews 72, no. 7 (1 April 2004): 325.
The Dillons create an eldritch world for this philosophical rhyme [Where Have You Been? ], which was first published 50 years ago with misguidedly twee art by Barbara Cooney. An owl interviews a succession of creatures: "Little Old Cat / Little Old Cat / Where have you been? / To see this and that / Said the Little Old Cat / That's where I've been." Squirrel, Fish, Bird, Horse, Toad, and others—each shown running or swimming, traveling by often unusual means, or posing at a destination, accompanied by small, winged, green- or purple-skinned human figures—reply to Owl's queries in a similarly oblique vein. More polished than some of the fragmentary texts recently mined from Brown's archives, this combines soothing verbal and visual rhythms with a sense of mystery that will leave young readers or listeners spellbound.
YOUNG KANGAROO (1955)
Carolyn Phelan (review date 15 October 1993)
SOURCE: Phelan, Carolyn. Review of Young Kangaroo, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Jennifer Dewey. Booklist 90, no. 4 (15 October 1993): 450.
Ages 5-8. Long out of print, this newly illustrated book [Young Kangaroo ] tells the story of a little kangaroo, from just after his birth until he's old enough to hop out of his mother's pouch. While the text tells a tale of danger and loneliness and love, it also matter-of-factly tells a great deal about kangaroos and how they grow. With a keen understanding of what's important to children, Brown doesn't simply report on the joey's physical development, she re-creates sensory and emotional experiences that mirror those of children without making the young kangaroo into a little fur child. Dewey uses color pencils to create pleasing illustrations featuring softly shaded natural forms in spring greens and tawny browns. An interesting combination of fact and drama, this picture book would make an unusual but satisfying choice for reading aloud. A natural for primary grade classes studying kangaroos.
LITTLE DONKEY, CLOSE YOUR EYES (1995)
Carolyn Phelan (review date 15 November 1995)
SOURCE: Phelan, Carolyn. Review of Little Donkey, Close Your Eyes, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Ashley Wolff. Booklist 92, no. 6 (15 November 1995): 563.
Ages 2-5. Simple words and illustrations harmonize [in Little Donkey, Close Your Eyes ] to create a lullaby of a picture book. Brown's rhyming verses address one animal after another, observing them, then urging them to close their eyes as night falls. Though the text was copyrighted in 1959, this edition features appealing new artwork by Ashley Wolff. Strong, black lines form the structure for paintings in subtle colors. As in stained glass windows, the black outlines seem to intensify each hue. Well-composed and beautifully shaded, the artwork gives meaningful form to the words, as each little one finds the warmth of family love before going to sleep.
THE LITTLE SCARECROW BOY (1998)
Randy Cohen (review date 15 November 1998)
SOURCE: Cohen, Randy. "Oh Dad, Poor Dad." New York Times Book Review (15 November 1998): 54.
[In the following review, Cohen finds Brown's posthumously-published picture book The Little Scarecrow Boy to be a bit dated for today's more modern expressions of family structure.]
It is the duty of every loving parent to lie to his children. If they are to grow up confident, cheerful and eager for new experience, the young must believe that the world is a warm and welcoming place, an idea that is supportable only by tender and relentless deception. (There is, of course, ample time later for these strong, happy, self-assured creatures gradually to learn a darker truth.) And so it would be foolish to demand verisimilitude in picture books. But are the nonsensical ideas about fatherhood presented by these two the ideal lies for the formative years?
Written in the 1940's by Margaret Wise Brown, author of the immortal and soporific Goodnight Moon, The Little Scarecrow Boy is now a picture book, with illustrations by David Diaz, who won the Caldecott Medal for his dark illustrations for Smoky Night. The text presents a durable bit of mendacity: that fathers pass on to their sons the virile lore of a lifetime. The young hero yearns for a kind of Robert Bly manhood as a crow-fighting warrior. But it is only when the Scarecrow Boy learns the skills of his father that he can be a real man, albeit one stuffed with straw.
This idea is nostalgic, it is rural and it is false, or at best anachronistic. What paternal knowledge remains for us today—that of the corporate lawyer, the assistant professor of cultural studies, the Wall Street analyst? Even the modern farmer has little to leave beyond a practical grasp of Agriculture Department subsidies. How demoralizing for a modern dad to read this treacle aloud.
Happily, these are at least pretty lies. The Diaz illustrations are rich with summer cornfield colors—yellows, reds and oranges. Big, appealing scarecrow grins arc across the page. Younger children will most likely enjoy mimicking the Scarecrow Boy's six frightening faces. And older dads may find a small compensation in noticing that what ultimately drives off the crows may be not the boy's scary face No. 6 but the more mature glowering of the scarecrow dad standing behind his boy, explaining how to set the VCR. Well, O.K., maybe not the VCR.
And the stuffed mother? She's in the kitchen. While it may not be fair to judge the customs of the past by those of the present, there is something off-putting about gender roles so blithely assigned to piles of hay. The parents are referred to as "a scarecrow and his scarecrow wife." She's not even a straight-ahead scarecrow in her own right.
Exiled to the kitchen, Mrs. S. is at least visibly present; the mother in Jazper is long gone. Presumably she walked out on her loser insect husband, who seems to have no pride, no prospects and no property. Here's what we know about him: "Jazper and his dad lived together in a rented eggshell on the south side of Bugtown."
The roles of father and son are disturbingly reversed. It is young Jazper who reads to his dad, not the other way around. And when his dad is thrown out of work by an industrial mishap that we must infer stemmed from his own blundering ("'There was an accident at the tomato plant,' moaned his dad. 'I'll be out of work for weeks. Oh, how will we pay the rent?'"), it is Jazper who—school be damned—must now support this amiable incompetent.
In many ways, these books are opposites. The scarecrow father is rural and capable; Jazper's dad is urban and useless. The cornfield illustrations are big and simple: a rising summer sun takes up half a two-page spread. The Bugtown scene is dense with comic detail. Richard Egielski, who won the Caldecott Medal for his illustrations for the delightful Hey, Al, draws a busy Bugtown, where insect commuters ride a dragonfly bus and savvy bug builders make houses out of soda cups and old cans. His pictures are pleasantly reminiscent of Dave Fleischer's 1941 animated feature Hoppity Goes to Town, the adventures of a grasshopper in Bugville, a vacant lot only 45 inches from Broadway.
These, then, are our choices—a scarecrow dad with the phony omniscience of "Father Knows Best" or an insect dad played as the grinning sitcom boob of a later era. If we read these to our children, they may indeed grow up bold and buoyant, but we dads will be too morose to notice.
LOVE SONGS OF THE LITTLE BEAR (2001)
Catherine M. Andronik (review date May-June 2001)
SOURCE: Andronik, Catherine M. Review of Love Songs of the Little Bear, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Susan Jeffers. Library Talk 14, no. 3 (May-June 2001): 46.
This collection of four never-before-published poems [Love Songs of Little Bear ] by the late Margaret Wise Brown follows a young bear and his mother through the seasons of a year. The rhymes are soothing, gentle, and childlike in language and perspective and are indeed songs begging for simple tunes. The large illustrations, in palettes appropriate to each season, feature a chubby, curious bear cub (who has some resemblance to Rosemary Well's Max), an attentive mother bear who clearly delights in her child's discovery of the world (and, in the final poem, a homecoming father bear as well), and an assortment of animal friends. Like Brown's classic Goodnight Moon, the four poems that make up Love Songs of the Little Bear lend themselves perfectly to parent-child sharing and the creation of a new change-of-seasons family ritual. Highly Recommended.
MOUSE OF MY HEART: A TREASURY OF SENSE AND NONSENSE (2001)
Becky Rainey (review date September-October 2001)
SOURCE: Rainey, Becky. Review of Mouse of My Heart: A Treasury of Sense and Nonsense, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Loretta Krupinski. Library Talk 14, no. 4 (September-October 2001): 52.
This anthology [Mouse of My Heart: A Treasury of Sense and Nonsense ] contains 56 poems and stories, many previously unpublished, by Margaret Wise Brown. The entries are grouped by themes, such as Adventure, Love and Friendship, Bedtime, and For A Rainy Day. The illustrations are beautiful, perfectly complimenting the stories and poems. You will want to keep and share this volume for generations to come. An index, a table of contents, and an introduction by the author is included in this wonderful collection. Highly Recommended.
MY WORLD OF COLOR: RED, ORANGE, YELLOW, GREEN, BLUE (2001)
Holly T. Sneeringer (review date June 2002)
SOURCE: Sneeringer, Holly T. Review of My World of Color: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Loretta Krupinski. School Library Journal 48, no. 6 (June 2002): 88.
PreS-Gr. 1—[In My World of Color, y]oung readers are led through a bright blue door into a fantastical world where color is everything. Brown's endearing style is unmistakable in lines like, "Black as trees / Black as ink / Black as the night / Where the dark moles think." In this previously unpublished book, the author's lyrical prose is paired with Krupinski's cuddly creatures. Each spread highlights a color as children are led on a fun-filled excursion by mice in old-fashioned costume. The pacing, perfect for youngsters learning their colors, is achieved with repetition and rhyme, yet the detailed scenes are sure to encourage lingering. This combination is a tough trick to pull off, yet it is done nicely here. And though readers are never quite sure where they are, in time and place, they are always somewhere delightful. A concluding one-page summary of all the colors reminds children of what they have learned and how they can use the hues in their own world. There is one tiny glitch: the text begins before the title page, which takes away from the natural flow.
ROBIN'S ROOM (2001)
Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 April 2002)
SOURCE: Review of Robin's Room, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. Kirkus Reviews 70, no. 7 (1 April 2002): 487.
A timeless tale of creativity unfurled. While this posthumous publication [Robin's Room ] was written decades ago, it is unerringly relevant to today's child. Robin's parents are aghast at his rampant mischief-making; he commandeers the cat's toys, turns the tub into a garden, and paints wherever he chooses. At wit's end, his exasperated parents decide to give him his own room, which he promptly redecorates. "A child's room made by a child," marvels his mother, awestruck. What Robin unveils is a child's delight, catering to every conceivable creative outlet. However, Robin's piece de résistance is the massive clock on his wall, tracking his busy day with one key element missing. "From four o-clock to suppertime he painted a space. That was when he could do whatever he wanted to do all by himself alone in his room." Did this wise author foresee the modern-day dilemma of overscheduled children? Brown's offbeat tale of an eccentric, precocious child hones in on an essential issue: the need for some unstructured time, a time of freedom, to let imagination roam unfettered and to flourish. It is, however, the art that really makes this special. A perfect complement, the boldly colored illustrations, off-kiltered perspectives, and truly unique layout—which has readers turning the book upside-down to continue—are all a keen reflection of Robin's individuality and creativity. Filled with incredible options, this can't help but inspire young decorators who've outgrown the "great green room."
SAILOR BOY JIG (2002)
Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, Jason Britton, and Jeff Zaleski (review date 1 April 2002)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, Jason Britton, and Jeff Zaleski. Review of Sailor Boy Jig, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Dan Andreasen. Publishers Weekly 249, no. 13 (1 April 2002): 81.
This slim, posthumously published rhyme [Sailor Boy Jig ] occasions lighthearted oil paintings from Andreasen (By the Dawn's Early Light), who trades his customarily solemn, realistic style for something closer to cartoon. Giving new meaning to the phrase "sea dog," the main character is portrayed by Andreasen as a fully bipedal, chunky blue dog wearing sailor shirt and cap. Spending the day at sea, he enacts Brown's simple rhyme: "With a yo ho ho / and a bucket of fun, / here comes a sailor—/ the jig has begun." The "jig" centers around crescendos and decrescendos, e.g., "Dance Big / dance little / [here the type shrinks several point sizes] dance little / Dance Big." Eventually readers are tapped: "Now you are a sailor dancing a jig." Andreasen renders the main action in velvety, marine-hued oils and large rounded shapes; in the background, grinning suns and smiling buoys confer a nostalgic touch. Diminutive navy-blue line drawings in the margins show the dog's dance moves. In addition to his jigging, the pup is a skilled multi-tasker—as he steps and jumps, he also hooks a cheerful, plump fish and adopts it for a pet, then feeds it dinner. The pup's presence and charisma fuels the modest text—and issues an invitation to readers to get up and dance. Ages 2-5.
SHEEP DON'T COUNT SHEEP (2002)
Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 January 2003)
SOURCE: Review of Sheep Don't Count Sheep, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Benrei Huang. Kirkus Reviews 71, no. 1 (1 January 2003): 57.
Puffy as clouds and looking distinctly like cuddly toys, the sheep in this effective snooze-inducer [Sheep Don't Count Sheep ] loll in a rolling meadow strewn with exotic flowers and fairylike insects, but with skies and backgrounds that change with every turn of the page. The tale, enjoying its first stand-alone publication, features a little sheep who can't get to sleep until its mother suggests counting butterflies. It's sandwiched between verses (newly set to music) in which sound supercedes sense: "Sleep little lamb, and dream your dream / of things that are as things would seem." The result? A sugary bedtime read that comes off as more of a patchy assemblage of parts than an integrated whole. No writer is superior to Margaret Wise Brown for putting children to sleep, but this uninspired outing won't win her—or Huang, illustrator of Teresa Bateman's Hunting the Daddyo-saurus (2002) and dozens of other titles—any new fans.
THE FIERCE YELLOW PUMPKIN (2003)
Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 April 2003)
SOURCE: Review of The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Richard Egielski. Kirkus Reviews 71, no. 13 (1 April 2003): 907.
In a previously unpublished tale from Brown [The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin ] (whose newly unearthed early work is filling the shelves lately), a "fat little, round little, yellow little pumpkin" enviously regards a one-eyed scarecrow while growing into a "fiery orange-yellow pumpkin. The color of the surf"—whereupon three children carry it off to make it into a jack-o-lantern. Along with a trio of field mice, children can follow the pumpkin's development as seasons change in Egielski's ground-level scenes, then jump in surprise at coming face-to-face, in a spread-filling close-up, with a "terrific, terrible pumpkin," bearing a new zigzag grin: "Ho, ho, ho! / He, he, he! / Mice will run / when they see me!" The mice do indeed scamper off, but young audiences are more likely to stay put, ready for a repeat encounter with this long-buried episode.
Marcus, Leonard S. Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1992, 337 p.
Comprehensive critical biography of Brown and her literary career.
Moe, Christian H. "Margaret Wise Brown." In Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, pp. 140-42. Chicago, Ill.: St. James Press, 1989.
Critical biographical entry about Brown.
Adams, Bess Porter. "Walking along Alone: Literature for the Youngest." In About Books and Children: Historical Survey of Children's Literature, pp. 128-29. New York, N.Y.: Henry Holt and Company, 1953.
Offers a positive critical assessment of The Little Island and The Golden Egg Book.
Hoppe, Anne. "Half the Story: Text and Illustration in Picture Books." Horn Book Magazine 78, no. 1 (January-February 2002): 41-50.
Examines the importance of the intertextual relation between text and illustration in several children's books, including Brown's Goodnight Moon.
Marcus, Leonard S. "In the Great Green Room." In Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon, pp. 187-90. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1992.
Discusses Brown's most famous work, Goodnight Moon, reflecting upon the manner of its creation and its resulting impact on children's literature.
Additional coverage of Brown's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Children's Literature Review, Vol. 10; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 108, 136; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 78; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 22; Literature Resource Center ; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Eds. 1, 2; St. James Guide to Children's Writers, Vol. 5; Something about the Author, Vol. 100; and Yesterday's Authors of Books for Children, Vol. 2.
"Brown, Margaret Wise 1910-1952." Children's Literature Review. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/academic-and-educational-journals/brown-margaret-wise-1910-1952
"Brown, Margaret Wise 1910-1952." Children's Literature Review. . Retrieved October 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/academic-and-educational-journals/brown-margaret-wise-1910-1952
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