This Day In Literary History
On May 23rd, 1910, the famous American children's book writer Margaret Wise Brown was born in Brooklyn, New York. The second of three children, she and her siblings suffered from their parents' rotten marriage. When Margaret had the opportunity to go to boarding school, she readily accepted.
Margaret graduated from Hollins College in 1932 with an English degree. She became a teacher, and in her spare time, an art student. But her true passion was writing, and she decided to write children's books. Her first, When the Wind Blew, was published in 1937.
Margaret Wise Brown would author dozens of children's books and work with different illustrators. Her most famous illustrator was Clement Hurd, who drew the pictures for her most famous book, a classic first published in 1947.
Goodnight Moon featured a story in the form of a rhyming poem which told of a bunny's unusual bedtime ritual: saying goodnight to various objects in his room. The story takes place entirely in the bedroom, and the incredibly detailed illustrations change slightly from page to page.
The subtle but noticeable changes in the same basic images were deliberately included so that the attentive child (or adult) reading the book would catch them.
The changes included socks that disappear, different numbers of books on the bookshelf, different stripes on the bunny's nightshirt, and the hands on the two clocks moving.
The gentle story and unforgettable pictures would make Goodnight Moon an all-time favorite. Parents still read it to their young children at bedtime. The book would be adapted for cable TV in 1999 as part of the animated HBO special, Goodnight Moon and Other Sleepytime Tales.
Over the years, new editions of Goodnight Moon would be published with different illustrations, but the original edition, with Clement Hurd's memorable illustrations, is still in print. The most recent edition was digitally altered for being politically incorrect.
Unlike other classic children's books where the text or illustrations were cut or altered, it was the photograph of Hurd that was digitally altered to remove the cigarette he held, leaving his fingers extended, but holding nothing.
Other classic children's books by Margaret Wise Brown include The Little Island (1946), which won a Caldecott Honor recognition, and Little Lost Lamb (1947), which won the Caldecott Medal. She also wrote several books for the famous Little Golden Books line.
The extremely prolific Brown would write dozens of children's books. She once claimed that every morning, she would wake up with a "head full of stories" that she had to put on paper. She fought hard for royalties at a time when most publishers would only pay writers a flat fee for their manuscripts.
As a writer, she employed a pioneering "here and now" philosophy, believing that children would rather read stories based on their own lives than read fairy tales and fables.
Brown enjoyed a flamboyant personal life. An early feminist and openly bisexual, she once dated Prince Juan Carlos of Spain. Later, she began a relationship with poet, playwright, and actress Blanche Oelrichs.
Oelrichs was best known by her pen name, Michael Strange, and most famous for being the ex-wife of legendary actor John Barrymore, who had starred in her play, Clair de Lune.
In 1952, after her relationship with Oelrichs had ended, Margaret met John Stillman "Pebbles" Rockefeller Jr. at a party and it was love at first sight.
They became engaged, but sadly, while on a book promotional tour in France, she died suddenly from a pulmonary embolism - a complication from emergency surgery for an ovarian cyst. She was 42 years old.
After Brown's death, her will revealed that she had bequeathed the royalties for many of her books to Albert Clarke, a neighbor boy who was nine years old when she died. Clarke was a troubled boy who grew up to be a troubled adult. He squandered the millions he made from Brown's royalties.
Clarke once claimed that he was Brown's illegitimate son, a claim that was widely dismissed. However, since Brown was cremated and her ashes scattered in the sea near her home in Maine, the claim couldn't be disproved by a blood test.
Brown's sister, Roberta Brown Rauch, later discovered a cache of over 70 unpublished manuscripts that Margaret had written. Unable to get them published, Roberta kept them in a cedar trunk for decades. They were rediscovered by Amy Gary of the publishing firm WaterMark, Inc. in 1991.
Quote Of The Day
“In this modern world where activity is stressed almost to the point of mania, quietness as a childhood need is too often overlooked. Yet a child's need for quietness is the same today as it has always been - it may even be greater - for quietness is an essential part of all awareness. In quiet times and sleepy times a child can dwell in thoughts of his own, and in songs and stories of his own.” - Margaret Wise Brown
Today's video features the animated adaptation of Margaret Wise Brown's classic children's book, Goodnight Moon - narrated by Susan Sarandon. Enjoy!