As you look up to the sky, taking in the fireworks this 4th of July holiday, a famous phrase from a famous book may come to mind. Goodnight moon.
I'm excited to feature the author who put those words to paper. My latest Kidlit Great is the prolific, legendary American author Margaret Wise Brown.
Whether you have 10 picture books in your house, or 100, chances are very good that you have Goodnight Moon. The timeless classic has sold an astounding 48 million copies, at the rate of about 800,000 new copies a year, in recent years.
Goodnight Moon never quite makes it back to the bookshelf in our house. It's more of a nightstand fixture. Like a comb. Or a brush. Or a bowl full of mush.
Brown wrote another wildly popular (and oft-imitated) picture book - The Runaway Bunny, a sweet tale that demonstrates no matter how rebellious a child may be, a parent's love is bigger, more clever and more persistent. (Both Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny are illustrated by visionary artist Clement Hurd.)
Our family has gotten so much joy out of the Kidlit Greats blog series (authors recently featured include William Steig and Maurice Sendak). It's especially fun going beyond an author's most well-known titles and into the "deep tracks" of their oeuvre.
In preparation for this post, we attempted to borrow all of the Margaret Wise Brown books on the shelves of Geneva Public Library. Oh my word. Not possible!
In Brown's short life, she wrote more than 100 picture books. (Sadly, she died at age 42 of an embolism after suffering from appendicitis.) GPLD had dozens of Brown's titles. We checked out as many as we could carry. Here's the bounty we managed to get home... in two canvas book bags.
The Brown titles we read generally fell into two categories - traditional tales and poignant poems. We fell head-over-heels with examples of each. Here are the books we loved, and what we loved about them:
The Golden Egg Book (published 1947)
The Golden Egg Book is a precious and ornery tale about a soft little bunny who discovers a mysterious egg. What could be inside? A boy? Another bunny? An elephant? A mouse? Brown has such a talent for addressing her young readers' questions just as they are having them and enabling her protagonists to problem solve exactly as a child would.
The bunny does everything he can to rouse whatever is inside the egg. He starts off with gentle nudges and then progressively gets pretty aggressive, rolling the egg down a hill and throwing a rock at it.
One of my favorite parts is Brown's description of the bunny's rock strategy: But because he was only a little bunny, it was a very little rock and he didn't throw it very hard and the egg didn't break. The logic is so innocent, and the run-on phrasing feels exactly as how a child would recount such an escapade.
Ultimately the bunny gets sleepy from his tiring investigation. The second he dozes off, the egg cracks and out comes a duckling - an animal that's never seen anything but the inside of an egg. His curiosities about the bunny mirror the scenes of the bunny and the egg. Watching these two fuzzies duke it out is the epitome of cuteness. (My daughters loved their silly tit-for-tat.)
Curiosity and friendship are at the heart of this book, two themes very apropos for children making their way into new situations virtually every day. Margaret Wise Brown is widely heralded as a writer who truly understood a child's psyche, and this is clearly evident in The Golden Egg Book, part of the Golden Book collection (specifically a Big Little Golden Book).
The Important Book (published 1949)
In The Important Book, a striking and witty delight, Brown distills the meanings of ever-present nouns through poetry. Each poem begins the same way: "The important thing about a ___ is that it is ___. " Brown's descriptions are succinct but loaded with vivid sensory detail. The apple is a great example of this style. (You bite it, and it is white inside, and the juice splashes in your face).
The aesthetic of this book, illustrated by Leonard Wisegard, completely wowed me. The spreads alternate between vibrant full-color illustrations, such as the apple above, and the grass below...
... and noir black-and-whites.
You'll notice that the typeface changes frequently too. As a result, each noun is prescribed it's own unique personality.
When you're a child, each day is filled with discovery, and often you're inundated with information. Sometimes, kids just want to know: What is important? Brown cuts through the clutter and provides the basics, but her descriptions aren't limiting. The simplicity and clarity actually add depth and new meaning to each word.
While reading The Important Book, Brown's Noisy Book series came on my radar, solidifying our next literary adventure: Requesting the following books via interlibrary loan...
- The Noisy Book
- The Country Noisy Book
- The Seashore Noisy Book
- The Indoor Noisy Book
- The Winter Noisy Book
- The Quiet Noisy Book
And especially relevant for what remains of the current season...