Margaret Wise Brown

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Margaret Wise Brown
Margaret Wise Brown by Consuelo Kanaga, 82.65.1833 01.jpg
Margaret Wise Brown by Consuelo Kanaga Brooklyn Museum
BornMay 23, 1910
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
DiedNovember 13, 1952(1952-11-13) (aged 42)
Nice, France
Pen nameTimothy Hay
Golden MacDonald
Juniper Sage (with Edith Thacher Hurd )
OccupationWriter, editor
Education Dana Hall School, 1928
Alma mater Hollins College, 1932
Genre Children's literature
Notable works
Partner Blanche Oelrichs
James Stillman 'Pebble' Rockefeller Jr.

Margaret Wise Brown (May 23, 1910 – November 13, 1952) was an American writer of children's books, including Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny , both illustrated by Clement Hurd. She has been called "the laureate of the nursery" for her achievements. [1]


Life and career

Brown was born in Brooklyn, New York, the middle child of three of Maude Margaret (Johnson) and Robert Bruce Brown. [2] [3] She was the granddaughter of politician Benjamin Gratz Brown. Her parents suffered from an unhappy marriage. She was initially raised in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighborhood, and in 1923, attended Chateau Brilliantmont boarding school in Lausanne, Switzerland, [4] [5] while her parents were living in India and Canterbury, Connecticut. In 1925, she attended The Kew-Forest School. [6] She began attending Dana Hall School in Wellesley, Massachusetts, in 1926, where she did well in athletics. After graduation in 1928, Brown went on to Hollins College in Roanoke, Virginia.

Brown was a lifelong avid beagler and was noted for her ability to keep pace, on foot, with the hounds. [7]

Following her graduation with a B.A. in English [2] from Hollins in 1932, Brown worked as a teacher and also studied art. While working at the Bank Street Experimental School in New York City she started writing books for children. Bank Street promoted a new approach to children's education and literature, emphasizing the real world and the "here and now." [8] This philosophy influenced Brown's work; she was also inspired by the poet Gertrude Stein, whose literary style influenced Brown's own writing. [8]

Brown's first published children's book was When the Wind Blew, published in 1937 by Harper & Brothers. Impressed by Brown's "here and now" style, W. R. Scott hired her as his first editor in 1938. [9] Through Scott, she published the Noisy Book series among others. As editor at Scott, one of Brown's first projects was to recruit contemporary authors to write children's books for the company. Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck neglected to respond, but Brown's hero Gertrude Stein [8] accepted the offer. Stein's book The World is Round [10] was illustrated by Clement Hurd, who had previously teamed with Brown on W. R. Scott's Bumble Bugs and Elephants, considered "perhaps the first modern board book for babies." [11] Brown and Hurd later teamed on the children's book classics The Runaway Bunny and Goodnight Moon , published by Harper. In addition to publishing a number of Brown's books, under her editorship W. R. Scott published Edith Thacher Hurd's first book, Hurry Hurry, and Esphyr Slobodkina's classic Caps for Sale .

From 1944 to 1946, Doubleday published three picture books written by Brown under the pseudonym "Golden MacDonald" (coopted from her friend's handyman [7] ) and illustrated by Leonard Weisgard. (Weisgard was a runner-up for the Caldecott Medal in 1946, and he won the 1947 Medal, for Little Lost Lamb and The Little Island . Two more of their collaborations appeared in 1953 and 1956, after Brown's death.)The Little Fisherman, illustrated by Dahlov Ipcar, was published in 1945. The Little Fur Family, illustrated by Garth Williams, was published in 1946. Early in the 1950s she wrote several books for the Little Golden Books series, including The Color Kittens , Mister Dog, and Scuppers The Sailor Dog.

Personal life and death

While at Hollins she was briefly engaged. [12] She dated, for some time, an unknown "good, quiet man from Virginia", [13] had a long-running affair with William Gaston, [14] [15] and had a summer romance with Preston Schoyer. [16] In the summer of 1940 Brown began a long-term relationship with Blanche Oelrichs (nom de plume Michael Strange), poet/playwright, actress, and the former wife of John Barrymore. The relationship, which began as a mentoring one, eventually became romantic, and included co-habiting at 10 Gracie Square in Manhattan beginning in 1943. [17] As a studio, they used Cobble Court, a wooden house later moved to Charles Street. Oelrichs, who was 20 years Brown's senior, died in 1950.

Brown went by various nicknames in different circles of friends. To her Dana School and Hollins friends she was "Tim", as her hair was the color of timothy hay. [18] To Bank Street friends she was "Brownie". [19] To William Gaston she was "Goldie", in keeping with the use of Golden MacDonald as author of The Little Island. [15]

In 1952, Brown met James Stillman 'Pebble' Rockefeller Jr. at a party, and they became engaged. Later that year, while on a book tour in Nice, France, she died at 42 of an embolism, shortly after surgery for an ovarian cyst. Kicking up her leg to show her nurses how well she was feeling caused a blood clot that had formed in her leg to dislodge and travel to her heart. [20]

By the time of Brown's death, she had authored well over one hundred books. Her ashes were scattered at her island home, "The Only House", in Vinalhaven, Maine. [20]


Brown bequeathed the royalties to many of her books including Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny to Albert Clarke, the son of a neighbor who was nine years old when she died. In 2000, reporter Joshua Prager detailed in The Wall Street Journal the troubled life of Mr. Clarke, who has squandered the millions of dollars the books have earned him and who believes that Brown was his mother, a claim others dismiss. [21]

Brown left behind over 70 unpublished manuscripts. After unsuccessfully trying to sell them, her sister Roberta Brown Rauch kept them in a cedar trunk for decades. In 1991, her future biographer Amy Gary of WaterMark Inc., rediscovered the paper-clipped bundles, more than 500 typewritten pages in all, and set about getting the stories published. [22]

Many of Brown's books have been re-issued with new illustrations decades after their original publication. Many more of her books are still in print with the original illustrations. Her books have been translated into several languages; biographies on Brown for children have been written by Leonard S. Marcus (Harper Paperbacks, 1999), Jill C. Wheeler (Checkerboard Books, 2006) and Amy Gary (Flatiron Books, 2017). [23] There is a Freudian analysis of her "classic series" of bunny books by Claudia H. Pearson, Have a Carrot (Look Again Press, 2010). [24]

A fictional version of Brown occurs in Sarah Jio's 2014 novel Goodnight June. In the book a series of letters between Brown and the character Ruby Crain are used to show how Crain's friendship with Brown and her Seattle, Washington bookstore were influential in the writing of Goodnight Moon .

Selected works

Big Red Barn (reissue), illustrated by Felicia Bond Big Red Barn, illustrated by Felicia Bond, children's book illustrator.jpeg
Big Red Barn (reissue), illustrated by Felicia Bond

During her lifetime, Brown essentially had four publishers: Harper & Brothers, W. R. Scott, Doubleday, and Little Golden Books. The books written for Doubleday were published under the pseudonym "Golden MacDonald". All were unpaged picture books illustrated by Leonard Weisgard. Two appeared after her death.

Published posthumously

‡ Published as by "Golden MacDonald."

See also

Related Research Articles

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Goodnight Moon is an American children's book written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd. It was published on September 3, 1947, and is a highly acclaimed bedtime story. It features a bunny saying "good night" to everything around: "Goodnight room. Goodnight moon. Goodnight cow jumping over the moon. Goodnight light, and the red balloon ...".

Little Golden Books childrens book series

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Clement Hurd American childrens book illustrator

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<i>The Little Island</i> (book) book by Margaret Wise Brown

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<i>Little Fur Family</i> book by Margaret Wise Brown

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  2. 1 2 "Margaret Wise Brown". de Grummond Children's Literature Collection. University of Southern Mississippi. June 2003. Retrieved 2013-06-25. With Biographical Sketch.
  3. Marcus 20-21.
  4. Mainiero, 254.
  5. Marcus, 21
  6. 1 2 Gary, Amy (2016). The Great Green Room: The Brilliant Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown. Flatiron Books. p. 139. ISBN   978-1-25006536-0.
  7. 1 2 3 Fernando, Anne E. "IN THE GREAT GREEN ROOM: MARGARET WISE BROWN AND MODERNISM," Public Books (November 17, 2015). Accessed May 2, 2016.
  9. Popova, Maria. "7 (More) Obscure Children’s Books by Famous “Adult” Lit Authors," BrainPickings (July 25, 2011).
  10. Leonard S. Marcus (1997). "Meet Clement Hurd". Enter the World of Margaret Wise Brown. HarperCollins Children's. Retrieved 2014-10-01. Apparently citing Marcus's book, Dear Genius, The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom.
  11. Marcus, 32.
  12. Marcus, 77.
  13. Marcus, 97–98, 114, 136.
  14. 1 2 Gaston, 152.
  15. Marcus, 147–48.
  16. Marcus, pp. 167–78, 251.
  17. Marcus, 23.
  18. Marcus, 62.
  19. 1 2 "Biography of Margaret Wise Brown" (Long Bio)". Margaret Wise Brown: writer of songs and nonsense. Archived from the original on 2001-04-12. Retrieved 2012-07-06.
  20. Prager, Joshua. "Runaway Money: A Children's Classic, A 9-Year-Old-Boy And a Fateful Bequest – For Albert Clarke, the Rise Of 'Goodnight Moon' Is No Storybook Romance – Broken Homes, Broken Noses". The Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2000. Retrieved 2016-03-21.
  21. "Pop Culture News: A Trunkful of Treasures: Margaret Wise Brown's Manuscripts". Entertainment Weekly #88 (Oct. 18, 1991). Retrieved 2008-11-23.
  22. "Never Grow Up: The wild, jubilant life of Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon". The Slate Book review. Retrieved 14 Jan 2017.
  23. Have a Carrot: Oedipal Theory and Symbolism in Margaret Wise Brown's Runaway Bunny Trilogy. Birmingham, AL: Look Again Press. 2010. ISBN   978-1-4524-5500-6.