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June 1, 2016

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Margaret Wise Brown

In 1947 a picture book was published that would, believe it or not, change children’s books and bedtime routines forever. It sounds like an exaggeration, but if you quote the opening words of that nearly 70-year-old book, readers of all ages will be able to recite the pages that follow with ease.

In the great green room,

There was a telephone…

Of course the book is Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. When it was first published, some reviewers thought the book was calming and peaceful, while others thought it was overly sentimental. A few thousand copies sold and it stayed a relatively steady seller for the next few years. In the decades since, it has become a childhood staple. More than 4 million copies of the book have been sold and it’s been declared one of the best children’s books of all time by groups like the National Education Association and School Library Journal.

While Brown had been encouraged to write earlier in her college years, it was her time at Bank Street’s teacher education program that really cemented her skills as a children’s book writer. Her writing embodies the philosophy of the school’s founder—that children want to hear stories that reflect their own lives and experiences. Using that as a jumping-off point, she wrote poetic stories about animals, noises, community helpers, birthdays, and going to bed. Despite the decades that have passed and the changes in the world at large, it’s still easy to see how brilliantly her books embrace and celebrate the interests of the very young.

In addition to Goodnight Moon, Brown wrote and published more than a hundred stories during her lifetime. (She also left many more finished and unfinished manuscripts when she passed away at the age of 42.) Among other enduring favorites are The Runaway Bunny, Big Red Barn, and The Golden Egg Book—and under the pen name Golden MacDonald, she wrote the text for the Caldecott-winning book The Little Island.

And after all these years, it’s hard to imagine a child’s library without a lovingly worn copy of Goodnight Moon on the shelf. As you drop off to sleep tonight, whisper, “Goodnight room. Goodnight moon. Thank you to the author of Goodnight Moon.

 

 

Information about Margaret Wise Brown was gathered from:

  • Leonard S. Marcus, Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened By the Moon (1992)
  • Anita Silvey, Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac (2012)

 

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