A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
MAY 23:

  • Happy birthday Susan Cooper (The Dark Is Rising series), Peter Parnall (Everybody Needs a Rock), Merle Peek (Mary Wore Her Red Dress and Henry Wore His Green Sneakers), and Jeanne Titherington (Pumpkin Pumpkin).
  • It’s the birth date of Scott O'Dell (1898-1989), Island of the Blue Dolphins, and Oliver Butterworth (1915-1990), The Enormous Egg.
  • Happy birthday to the New York Public Library, dedicated on this day in 1911. Read I’m Going to New York to Visit the Lionsby Margot Linn, illustrated by Tanya Roitman.
  • It’s World Turtle Day. Read Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss, The Turtle by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Preston McDaniels, and Old Turtle by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Cheng-Khee Chee.

Today marks the birthday of one of the greatest children’s book creators of the twentieth century, Margaret Wise Brown. Although she died suddenly of an embolism at the age of forty-two, Brown wrote more than one hundred books, including Runaway Bunny and her classic Goodnight Moon. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Brown grew up on Long Island and attended the Dana Hall School and Hollins College, where she was encouraged to write. The teacher-training program of Bank Street in New York would change her life.

Flourishing under the mentorship of Lucy Sprague Mitchell, founder of Bank Street, Brown began to study early childhood development and write stories for very young children. Mitchell believed that children under the age of six wanted stories that reflected the reality of their own lives. Brown embraced Mitchell’s ideals and crafted individual works of genius for babies, toddlers, and preliterate children.

For a period of time, Brown became an editor for William R. Scott, publishing books like Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina, Gertrude Stein’s The World is Round, and her own titles such as The Noisy Book. Eventually, with the publication of The Runaway Bunny in 1942, Brown began to write full time, penning one classic after another—The Color Kittens (1949), a Golden Book that deals with color theory, The Little Island (1946) [under the pseudonym of Golden MacDonald], and Mister Dog (1952).

Today Brown is best remembered for a book that took almost twenty years to establish itself as a classic, Goodnight Moon. Upon awakening one morning in 1945, she wrote down the entire text of the book, telephoned her editor, Ursula Nordstrom, and read the text. Nordstrom accepted it immediately for publication. In a melodic, rhythmic text a young bunny says goodnight to all the objects in the room.

Brown waited for Clement Hurd to return from the Pacific, where he was fighting in World War II, to work his illustration magic. She had loved his art for Runaway Bunny. But when she saw the first draft of the art, Brown hated it. Hurd portrayed an old white grandmother sitting in the chair, with a young black boy in bed. Brown insisted the story had always been about bunnies, and she wanted bunnies! Nordstrom backed her.

The resulting book seemed a bit unexciting and overpriced for most customers. Critics found it sentimental. However, in the end children established it as a classic. A few months ago, I read Goodnight Moon, over and over and over, to my two-year-old grandniece Ella Silvey. She had no intention of going to sleep; she just wanted to hear the text one more time. As I kept rereading, I once again realized what a pleasure it is to say these words aloud. A timeless book, almost like a child’s evening prayers, Goodnight Moon has lulled millions of children to sleep over the decades.

So happy birthday Margaret Wise Brown. You taught us, and still teach us, how to communicate to the youngest children. Although you had only a decade to devote yourself to writing, in that short time you truly made a difference in the lives of children everywhere.

Here’s a page from Goodnight Moon:

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Originally posted May 23, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Bedtime, Rabbits
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COMMENTS

  1. Jory Hearst says:

    I remember the moment in kindergarten when my teacher read Goodnight Moon aloud, and I realized that I wasn’t the only little person who had read this book at home… in fact, almost everyone in class seemed to know it well. This book creates such a sanctuary for the reader, or at least it did for me, and I could never fully regain that intimacy once I realized everyone else had that with Goodnight Moon, too. I don’t mean these comments to undermine the book — but instead to speak to this book’s power for me as a young reader, so powerful and unique was my relationship that it was hard to imagine sharing it.

  2. Sarah says:

    I have a number of Golden Books from when my dad was growing up and Color Kittens is one of them. I used to have my grandma read it to me again and again.

    In the last year I have been introduced to a number of Goodnight Moon spin-offs, from Michael Rex’s Goodnight Goon to online versions for both Star Wars and Dune. I think it speaks to the enduring nature of Brown’s title that there are niche versions popping up from fans.

  3. Michelle M. says:

    I love Goodnight Moon. It’s a timeless classic in my storytimes. Thanks for sharing the interesting history of Margaret Wise Brown

  4. Gail Terp says:

    When I adopted my son at age 3 1/2, this book, plus The Runaway Bunny, helped pave the way for creating a safe haven for the two of us. Thanks for the history.

  5. Darsa says:

    “almost like a child’s evening prayers” YES!

  6. I asked my mom to read me this book every single night… and, like your two-year-old grandniece, sometimes multiple times a night. Goodnight Moon was a staple of my childhood. :)

  7. Jude says:

    Goodnight Moon, Caps for Sale, The Runaway Bunny–all staples of my son’s first library. When I read him The Runaway Bunny the first time–he was two, he cried because he didn’t want to run away from his mama. I had to put that one on the shelf for a year until he was past the separation anxiety stage.

  8. Star says:

    Goodnight Moon is one of the most beautiful books ever. I always catch my breath on the “Goodnight nobody” page. Stunning.

  9. Ann WS says:

    As a child, my family’s very favorite Margaret Wise Brown book was Wait Till the Moon Is Full illustrated by Garth Williams. The gentle story of a baby raccoon who wants to see the night but who has to “wait till the moon is full” has lovely repetition as the mother goes about her daily work while answering the baby’s questions. Even now when we look at the moon we say it is a “raccoon’s whisker” or “raccoon’s fingernail.” The mother raccoon is wonderful, the pictures are great, especially the details like the little wheeled raccoon pull toy. The final scenes when the moon is full and the baby raccoon is playing in the moonlight with his new friends are absolutely delightful.

    The year my brother turned 25, he asked for the book to read to his (yet-to-be -born) children. I wouldn’t give up our family copy, so I tracked it down for him. Another generation now gazes at the moon with thoughts of a baby raccoon and how the moon is “as thin as the curve of a raccoon’s whisker.”

    As much as we have all read and loved Goodnight, Moon and The Runaway Bunny with our children and added their words to our family language (“Have a carrot, said the mother bunny.”), our family will always love Wait Till the Moon Is Full the best.

  10. suzi w. says:

    i don’t know if Goodnight Moon was read to me or not. My favorite bedtime story was Cinderella from the tall book of fairy tales. Again and again my dad would read it to me. But in my “second childhood” as I helped raise my siblings ten years younger than me, Goodnight Moon was a staple. This is when I first discovered that MWB had written other books, like Runaway Bunny.

    And this is why public libraries are SO important. As a girl, living overseas, I only had school libraries from grades 1 to 6, using my grandmother’s or great aunt’s library cards in the summers when we returned to the States. And I didn’t have young siblings until I was 10, so the cross pollination that happens with lots of kids in the house didn’t happen either. I think it was only when I started selling books at Barnes & Noble as a 23 year old that I realized how many books MWB had written.

    But wow, to know that she also published…she was a publisher writer before Charlotte Zolotow!! Very cool. Thanks Anita. I didn’t turn on the computer at all yesterday until the evening and I thought oh! I have to read about Goodnight Moon!

  11. Helen Frost says:

    As I’m sure you know, but others may not, Clement Hurd illustrated The World is Round. He gave me a copy as a wedding gift in 1983, and it’s one of my greatest treasures. This is the first time I realized that Margaret Wise Brown had edited/published it! Thank you, Anita, for making it even more special.

  12. Anita says:

    Helen: This is a wonderful detail. How/when did you meet Clement Hurd?

  13. Erin says:

    I just have to say that I always love metafictional details, so the copy of Runaway Bunny on the shelf in the bedroom in this illustration is a perfect detail. One classic book inside another!

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