Margaret Wise Brown
Margaret Wise Brown (May 23, 1910 – November 13, 1952) was a prolific American author and editor of children’s books, best known for Goodnight Moon (1947) and The Runaway Bunny (1942). She grew up in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, the middle of three children of a couple whose marriage was unhappy.
Margaret graduated from Hollins College in Virginia in 1932 with a B.A. in English. She began teaching at the progressive Bank Street School in New York City, and within a few years began writing books for children. Her first was When the Wind Blew, published in 1937 by Harper & Bros. One of Margaret’s literary influences was Gertrude Stein. In fact, when she herself became an editor, she recruited Ms. Stein to write The World is Round.
From the introduction to Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon by Leonard Marcus, Quill Books, an imprint of William Morris & Company © 1992:
A contemporary of Ludwig Bemelmans, Robert McCloskey, Virginia Lee Burton, and Dr. Seuss, Margaret Wise Brown was one of the central figures of a period now considered the golden age of the American picture book, the years spanning the post-Depression thirties and the postwar baby boom forties and fifties.
Bemelmans and the others began as visual artists who became authors as it were, in order to have material to illustrate. In contrast, Margaret Wise Brown was a picture-book writer from the start, the first such writer, as Barbara Bader has remarked in her splendid American Picturebooks, “to be recognized in her own right. The first, too, to make the writing of picture books and art.”
Margaret Wise Brown, photo by Consuelo Kanaga
Within the children’s book world of that immensely fruitful era, Margaret also occupied a unique place as an inspired author for the very youngest, a group of children for whom few had even thought to write before; and no author before or since has manage so well to shape books that complete what Margaret herself once called the “natural impulse to amuse and delight and comfort small children.”
Steeped in the moderns and trained Lucy Sprague Mitchell’s progressive Bank Street school, she incorporated insights from these and other vital contemporary sources into a tireless personal campaign to make the picture book new. For a time she was a highly innovative juvenile book editor, and throughout her career she played impresario to the entire field, taking pleasure in discovering or furthering the careers of illustrators and writers.
As she became increasingly successful, she used her growing influence to fight for juvenile authors and illustrators rights in their dealings with publishers. Widely respected by her colleagues, she lived see her books become extremely popular.
Goodnight Moon has been translated into numerous languages
and has been in print for decades
She lived flamboyantly, like to say she dreamt her books (sometimes, apparently, she did). But there was no dark secret to her death; she died of a blood clot following a routine operation. Margaret, always something of a fatalist, it that often remarked the becoming a children’s author had been an accident of sorts. Her early death, sad as it was, simply happened.
Margaret herself could be exasperating. She could also be a generous and charming and affirming friend. But most of all, she never pretended to more knowledge or self-knowledge send were properly hers. She never gave up on growing up. Not least of all for that reason, she was among the most memorable of people. ( — Leonard Marcus)
Margaret Wise Brown was bisexual and never married. In 1952 she met met James Stillman Rockefeller Jr., and they became engaged. Later that year, she was in Nice, France for a book tour and she died quite unexpectedly from an embolism (blood clot). Though only 42 when she died, she had written more than one hundred books.
Goodnight Moon remains one of the most famous children’s picture books of all times. A number of manuscripts were discovered after her death and gradually a number of them were published.
MWB wrote more than one hundred books; this is but a tiny fraction and lists her best known:
- When the Wind Blew (illustrated by Rosalie Slocum, 1937)
- The Noisy Book (series, all illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, 1939 – 1951)
- The Runaway Bunny (illustrated by Clement Hurd, 1942)
- Goodnight Moon (illustrated by Clement Hurd, 1947)
- The Important Book (illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, 1949)
- The Color Kittens illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen, 1949)
- Mister Dog (illustrated by Garth Williams, 1952)
- Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon by Leonard Marcus (1992)
- In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bad Life of Margaret Wise Brown by Amy Gary (2017)
Articles, News, Etc.
- Goodnight Moon Author was No Old Lady Whispering Hush
- Margaret Wise Brown Prize in Children’s Literature
- A New Phase of Goodnight Moon?
- The Restless Life of Margaret Wise Brown
- ‘Goodnight Songs’ Collects Never-Seen Margaret Wise Brown Works
- Anne Gary’s In the Great Green Room
- Goodnight Moon Author Was a Bisexual Rebel Who Didn’t Like Kids
- MWB papers at Westerly Library, Westerly, RI
- MWB papers, 1938-1960 at Hollins University, Roanoke, VA
*This post contains affiliate links. If the product is purchased by linking through this review, The Literary Ladies Guide receives a modest commission, which helps maintain our site and helps it to continue growing!