“Goodnight Moon,” by Margaret Wise Brown, may be the most recognizable children’s bedtime book in America. With its bold green, red, blue, and yellow illustrations by Clement Hurd, the whimsical story has seen many children to sleep. More than 14 million copies of the book have been sold since it was published in 1947.
The book begins, “In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of … the cow jumping over the moon.” This isn’t a story with a plot, but instead is the description of a bedtime ritual told through the eyes of a child, written by a woman who never really grew up herself.
Margaret Wise Brown was born in New York City in 1910 and died in 1952 at only 42 years old from complications from a surgical procedure. Brown never married or had children of her own but lived a life full of a magical reality.
She acted like a character in her own storybook: She spent her first earnings as an author on an entire flower cart full of flowers. In a Paris hotel, she brought giant orange trees and live birds into her room. On the island of Vinalhaven, Maine, she had a house she called “The Only House” where she kept a nightstand outside with a mirror nailed to a tree and stored eggs and butter in her well. Once she gave an illustrator two puppies to use as models but the pups licked off all the paint on the newly created paper illustrations!
There were times of frustration, but Brown wrote prolifically, with over 100 children’s books published in her lifetime. Many stories she would dream and then quickly write down in the mornings. Among her most well known books are “The Runaway Bunny” (1942), “Little Fur Family” (1946),“The Color Kittens” (1949), and “Big Red Barn” (1956). She wrote an additional 70 manuscripts, which went unpublished.
“Brownie,” as she was known to friends, had a gift for understanding a child’s thoughts and concerns and wrote about the common place with child-like wonder. She loved to create rhythm in her stories by using rhyming words and repeating word patterns. She often builds anticipation by leaving off the last word of a sentence so you have to turn the page to find out how it ends.
Margaret Wise Brown was a champion for reading to children. In her own words, “[A book] can jog [a child] 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 a story.”