Margaret Wise Brown was a pioneer in the writing of books for children of nursery school age. She wrote over 100 books, including The Runaway Bunny, Goodnight Moon, Big Dog, Little Dog, and The Quiet Noisy Book, and was a creative force in the field of children’s literature. Her childhood was spent in Whitestone Landing on Long Island where she had many pets including thirty-odd rabbits and “one dog of her own plus six borrowed dogs.” Perhaps these many pets foretold her use of the animal heroes found in her books. Her family considered her a “family storyteller, trickster and daydreamer.” At Dana Hall she was know as “Tim” after the plant timothy because of the color of her long, golden, flowing hair. She was encouraged to write at Hollins College, but it was not until she enrolled in a teacher training program at the Bureau of Educational Experiments (also known as the Bank Street School) in New York, that she found her vocation as a writer of children’s stories. “Brownie,” as she was then known, became an editor at a small publishing company, William R. Scott, Inc. Not long after, she published her first book, When the Wind Blew, about an old woman whose toothache is cured by the warmth of a kitten against her face. Mr. Scott wrote, “The tremendous success of her books is due to a rare quality: sure emotional insight into the realities of a young child’s world bounded by the here and now. All of her books have an elusive quality that was Margaret Wise Brown… simplicity, directness, humor, unexpectedness, respect for the reader, and a sense of the importance of living.” Margaret felt that:
A book can make a child laugh or feel clear-and-happy-headed as he follows a simple rhythm to its logical end. It can jog him with the unexpected and comfort him with the familiar, lift him for a few minutes from his own problems of shoelaces that won’t tie and busy parents and mysterious clock-time, into the world of a bug or a bear or a bee or a boy living in the timeless world of story. If I’ve been lucky, I hope I have written a book simple enough to come near to that timeless world.
In 1952, Margaret traveled to Paris to celebrate the publication of Mister Dog in French. It was there that she died unexpectedly at the age of forty-two of an embolism that occurred during routine surgery.
From March 29 to July 10, 2005, The Eric Carle Museum of the Picture Book featured an exhibit entitled “Margaret Wise Brown and Her Illustrators.” Brown was “a pivotal figure in the evolution of the picture book” who “…championed the careers of a generation of illustrators; and, by cross-fertilizing ideas drawn from progressive education and the modernist avant-garde, transformed the picture book into a vibrant contemporary art form.” This exhibit showed the largest selection of art from Brown’s books ever assembled and included works by Clement Hurd, Leonard Weisgard, Garth Williams, Esphyr Slobodkina, and many others.
Many of Margaret Wise Brown’s books can be found in the Alumnae Author display cabinet in the Helen Temple Cooke Library.