Woman: Margaret Wise Brown

Margaret Wise BrownName: Margaret Wise Brown

Dates: 1910-1952 (May 23)

Place of Birth: Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Why is she interesting?

Margaret Wise Brown was the author of a large number of picture books for children. Her most famous work is likely Goodnight Moon. She studied at the famous Bank Street Experimental School in New York City where she learned about many new and unconventional ways of teaching. Many of her books were clearly inspired by her work at Bank Street. Margaret was clearly innovative in her own right, however, since after a while she began to develop new types of picture books and experimented with styles that clearly are not compatible with the Bank Street philosophy. She wrote The Little Island, which was awarded the Caldecott Award in 1947.

Margaret’s life was as unconventional as her books. She lived for a time with a flamboyant woman poet who may or may not have been a lesbian, she bought a cute little cottage hidden in the middle of a city, and she always kept dogs (usually kerry blue terriers). She hunted rabbits on foot in elaborate Long Island contests where the winner was the first to reach the prey with the hunting dogs (hardly a lady’s type of entertainment for the time).

Margaret died at the age of 42. She suffered from appendicitis while on a book tour in France. She recovered quickly. Unfortunately she did a can-can kick to show her doctor how much better she was feeling and promptly died of an embolism. Her death shocked everyone, especially her friends and publishers.

Why do I admire her?

I admire Margaret Wise Brown for a number of reasons. I admire her life and her willingness to take risks. I wish that I could shrug off other people’s opinions the way she seems to have been able to do. She was a strong, independent woman who managed to live her own very unconventional life.

I also wish I had a fraction of Margaret Wise Brown’s creativity and innovation. Some of her books are absolutely brilliant! Her noisy books are unlike anything that had ever been done before in picture books. I know that Goodnight Moon is her most famous book, and it is certainly an amazingly well-done book, but I was always even more impressed with the lay-out and story of Runaway Bunny. Some of her construction ideas are even more brilliant. The first edition of The Little Fur Family was originally covered in real rabbit fur. Brown was one of the first people (perhaps the first) to produce books made entirely out of soft fabric. She came up with a book that was never produced where four separate quadrants are bound such that they can be read in any order desired as the book is turned. Her ideas were always completely fresh and all her own.

Margaret Wise Brown was just so creative and such a passionate woman. She had independence and strength that are rare in anyone, but particularly impressive in a woman who lived in the first half of the twentieth century when independence was a less than desired quality in an affluent young woman. I live in a time when independence is perfectly ok in a woman, but I can’t do half the things that she did. I really admire that strength and independence! It’s amazing. And creativity like that is uncommon in anyone and greatly admired.

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