Thursday, April 27, 2017

In The Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown

My narrative runs like this: I fell in love with reading and art with the Little Golden Books and discovered the great classics with Classics Illustrated Comic Books.

Little Golden Books were inexpensive, readily available, and mass produced; that meant even on a meager budget Mom could splurge and buy them for me. I loved the stories and the illustrations and spent many an hour pouring over them.

Margaret Wise Brown wrote books enjoyed by generations of children and parents. Reading In The Great Green Room by Amy Gary I learned about the iconic author of some of my favorite Golden Books and who also wrote our son's beloved baby books Goodnight, Moon and The Runaway Bunny.

Author Amy Gary hit a gold mine when she contacted Margaret's sister and discovered a hidden hoard of unpublished manuscripts left behind after the author's death.

I learned about the influences on Margaret's work based on her daily life. As girls, Margaret and her sister would say goodnight to everything in their bedroom, memorialized in Goodnight, Moon. Their father's library was painted grass green, and she later painted her room green.

Margaret's illustrators incorporated Margaret's world into her books. Clem Hurd based the fireplace in Goodnight, Moon on the one at Margaret's rented NYC writing retreat Cobble Court. Leonard Weisgard's illustrations for Little Island is based on the view from Margaret's Maine retreat, the Only House.

Margaret had a creative mind brimming with outside the box ideas. She revolutionized children's literature and book publishing. Margaret was insistent on putting writing first in her life. She fell in love many times with the men who were unsuitable matches. Margaret's love life was unhappy, and her great loves failed her in the end, including Michael Strange, the beautiful society woman who was a suffragette, poet, and actress. Just when she had met a man whose zest for life matched her own, Margaret unexpectedly died.

I enjoyed learning about the inspiration behind Margaret's books. For instance, Mr. Dog is the story of her own Kerry Blue Terrier, Crispin's Crispian.
The beginning of Mr. Dog by Margaret Wise Brown
illustrated by Garth Williams. From my collection.
The dog's name was inspired by Shakespeare's Henry V:
"And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, From this day to the ending of the world,But we in it shall be remember'd; We few, we happy few, we band of brothers..."
The Golden Egg Book was a larger book giving illustrator Leonard Weisgard lovely space to fill. Margaret brought him a collection of wildflowers to use in the art. He was allergic and the next day his eyes were swollen shut!

The Golden Egg Book by Margaret Wise Brown
illustrated by Leonard Weisgard. From my collection.
I also love Margaret's story Little Pussycat, with pictures by Weisgard. The kitten is so small the garden denizens tower like a forest filled with magical creatures.

My son's favorite Golden Books included Margaret's Things I Like, illustrated by Garth Williams. He was enchanted by the dog on the hill.

Margaret's stories included books that appeal to boys as well as girls. The Train to Timbuctoo, with illustrations by Art Seiden, is a joy to read aloud. 

Margaret's books about men at work include The Little Fat Policeman was written by Margaret and Edith Thacher Hurd, wife of illustrator Clement Hurd who did the art for Runaway Bunny and Goodnight, Moon. Alice and Martin Provensen provided the art for the Policeman. Margaret and Edith also wrote Five Little Firemen and Seven Little Postmen with art by Tibor Gergerly. Their book Two Little Miners was illustrated by Richard Scary--his first book.

Each chapter beings with one of Margaret's verses or songs. There is a lovely section of photographs, notes, index, and sources included. My one complaint about this biography is that I would have loved an index of Margaret's books by year and publisher.

I have written about the Little Golden Books before, celebrating their 75th anniversary, and about the book Everything I Need To Know I Learned From A Little Golden Books by Diane Muldrow.

In The Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown
Amy Gary
Flatiron Books
ISBN: 978-1-250-06536-0

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