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Reading My Library

Monday, January 17, 2011

Margaret Wise Brown

We own a few Margaret Wise Brown books and I was vaguely familiar with her style. What I did not realize was exactly how prolific a writer Brown was until I hit the "Bro" section of the library and discovered two sections of books by this one woman! (I guess I'd compare her with Jan Brett in terms of how much she produced and the variety which spilled forth from her pen.)

Whenever I see a long list of titles out of any particular author or illustrator, I like to get to know them a least a little bit better. Gleaning information online - primarily from this Margaret Wise Brown website - I discovered the following things about her:

* She was born in 1910 and died suddenly at the age of 42 in 1952 of an embolism. (I had to look up what that was, exactly.)

* At the time of her death she was engaged to be married to "Pebbles" Rockafeller. Before becoming engaged to ol' Pebbles though, she apparently carried on a number of relationships with various men, including the then Prince of Spain. I wouldn't say that she was exactly old-fashioned about relationships.

* Her parents divorced when she was younger and she had a very difficult relationship with both.

* She seemed very much to have enjoyed "the good life." She enjoyed tossing money about for the sake of entertaining both herself and her friends. With her first royalty check, she purchased an entire flower cart's supply of flowers and threw a big party for her friends.

* At the time she began her writing career, the primary source of stories for children was fairy tales and fables. Margaret believed that children would be interested in reading about young people just like themselves - stories set in a more contemporary setting. This approach to storytelling was termed the "here and now" philosophy. Brown was a great proponent of it and wrote hundreds and hundreds of contemporary stories.

* She wrote so many books, in fact, that she created several nom de plumes so that people would not become weary of seeing the name Margaret Wise Brown. Apparently she worked with six different publishers to produce her works and wrote under the following names, including her own: Golden MacDonald, Juniper Sage, Kaintuck Brown and Timothy Hay.

* Brown argued fiercely for royalities and against flat fees and payments, both for herself and for her illustrators.

* She never had children of her own. It is speculated that she didn't altogether enjoy the company of children, although they were her target audience.

* Brown did, however, assign the rights of royalties to several of her books - including Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny, to Albert Clarke. Albert was the son of a neighbor and was 9 years old when Brown died.

* At the time of her death, Brown left behind 70 unpublished manuscripts. Her sister, Roberta Brown Rauch, tried unsuccessfully to sell the manuscripts and ended up putting them in a trunk. These manuscripts were rediscovered in 1991 and since then there has been a push to have them published.

I can't say I'm very fond of her personal and private life. I find it somewhat amazing, actually, that she wrote for children. In some ways, it just seems a little - odd. She didn't seem the overly responsible type who would be the kind of steady role model you'd want for your child. Certainly she had an amazing career though and was a very curious character in her own right. I suppose she had a knack and the library shelves are quite loaded down with her efforts!

This week I'll be highlighting some of her titles that were unfamiliar to me and perhaps to you also. Then again, I just sat up and took notice of her and I'm guessing you might know a thing or two more than myself!

For more information on Brown, check out these sources:

Margaret Wise Brown website
Margaret Wise Brown Wikipedia source
Margaret Wise Brown fanpage


  1. Hmm...I'm glad for her books, though her personal life does leave much to be desired, especially as a role model.

    With some of her books, they have the same rhythm, though not all of them. We have a few, and have borrowed a few, but certainly haven't read all of them. We do tend to like them, though. Goodnight Moon was the first book Evan asked for by name (Moon).

  2. I think authors are often the wrong place to look for role models for little kids. And anyone who wrote Runaway Bunny knew about the dark side of children.

    I read the biography on her web page, and I have to say I was a bit disappointed -- it wasn't nearly as lurid as I expected. What did she do that you disapprove of? Was it the affair with the attorney?

  3. Interesting! I guess I don't really think of authors as people to be emulated, but rather just people who are gifted but often have their own problems or "issues.". MWB isn't my favorite, although I do think Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny are brilliantly illustrated. The rest of what I've read have mostly been so-so.

    Oh--and we love Big Red Barn.

  4. I know people that knew MWB and through them, I know that MWB was a free spirited and bright woman that was just beginning to know herself, when she tragically died. She was among a group of authors that started the "picture book" industry. She was brilliant at knowing who was the right illustrator for her stories and was allowed to choose them and work with them to create her books. Personally, I do not think that anything that has been published posthumously is really a book by MWB. A child's best role model are parents. When I child is old enough to read biographies then they will have the foundation of their good upbringing to judge others for themselves.

  5. Why on earth should an author be a role model? Many of the best authors in the history of children's literature have had emotional and personal problems, and this is often what makes their work so very good and interesting. Often they are writing for themselves, not children - the child within, if you like. I speak from experience here, as a published illustrator who does not have children, nor am I especially fond of them, yet I create picture books that children love. I think I'm a fairly good role model, but I hope that my books are just judged on their own merit, not by a misguided idea that all creators of children' books should be some kind of angels or even people who like children. Creativity comes out in all kinds of ways. A few classic authors from the UK who had plenty of 'issues' and sometimes not especially laudable lives - Alison Uttley (Little Grey Rabbit), Enid Blyton, Kenneth Graham (Wind in the Willows) E.Nesbit. Beatrix Potter was childless, as is, I believe, your own Maurice Sendak. I don't find it 'amazing' that any of them created marvellous books for children, the world would be a poorer place without them. It's the books which count.