Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon

Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon

by Leonard S. Marcus

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Margaret Wise Brown, the author of Goodnight Moon and dozens of other children's classics, all but invented the picture book as we know it today. Combining poetic instinct with a profound empathy for small children, she knew of a child's need for security, love, and a sense of being at home in the worldand she brought that unique tenderness to the page.



Margaret Wise Brown, the author of Goodnight Moon and dozens of other children's classics, all but invented the picture book as we know it today. Combining poetic instinct with a profound empathy for small children, she knew of a child's need for security, love, and a sense of being at home in the worldand she brought that unique tenderness to the page.

Yet these were comforts that eluded her. Brown's youthful presence and professional successas an editor, bestselling author, and self-styled impresariomasked an insecurity that left her restless and vulnerable. In this moving biography, Marcus portrays Brown's complex character and her tragic, seesaw life. Her literary achievement and groundbreaking discoveries about small children's emotional needs were offset by tormented romances including a passionate relationship with Michael Strange, the celebrity socialite once married to John Barrymore.

Editorial Reviews

Maurice Sendak
More than a finely etched, honest portrait of an artist, Margaret Wise Brown is an exciting, fast-paced glimpse into the very beginnings of the golden age of children's book publishing in America. Leonard Marcus has restored Brown to her rightful place as both pioneer and poet.
The New York Times
An absorbing biography.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Brown (1910-1952) wrote some 100 children's books informed by her acute insights into their world. Among her classics, Goodnight Moon excited deep curiosity in Marcus, children's book reviewer for Parenting magazine, when he first read the ``concrete yet mystifying'' book. Thus motivated, he spent nearly 10 years researching Brown's life to produce this not altogether satisfying biography of an author who helped raise children's book writing to an art form. But those in the field will be interested, nevertheless, for a host of major figures are met here, including children's book editors Ursula Nordstrom and Charlotte Zolotow, illustrators Clement Hurd, Garth Williams and H. A. Rey. And there's much valuable background material on those who influenced Brown's writing, including Lucy Sprague Mitchell of Manhattan's Bank Street School and Anne Carroll Moore of the New York Public Library. Brown, however, remains in essence unknown: Why, for example, did she allow herself to be demeaned in a long relationship—a lesbian affair?—with self-promoting, overbearing socialite Michael Strange, former wife of actor John Barrymore? After that relationship ended, Brown fell happily in love with and became engaged to James Rockefeller, but she died of an embolism before they wed. Photos not seen by PW. (Feb.)
Children's Literature
Here is an author who has, over the years, become a writer I trust. I look forward to each new book he publishes, savoring the consistencies I have come to count on and appreciating the new risks he takes. I count on Leonard Marcus for depth and fresh perspective. He has written two astounding biographies of prominent people in the children's book world¾editor Ursula Nordstrom in Dear Genius and author Margaret Wise Brown in Awakened by the Moon. After reading his latest book I know that part of his depth comes from an interviewing prowess that is integral to his work. A long- term children's book editor for Parenting magazine, Marcus has an obvious passion for and understanding of the genre. He combines all these talents in his new book. 1999, Quill, $14.00. Ages 9 to 12. Reviewer: Susie Wilde

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
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Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.87(h) x 0.83(d)
1340L (what's this?)

Read an Excerpt

In an autobiographic sketch prepared for her publishers, Margaret Wise Brown once described her earliest childhood memories. Among them were images of a "city street with high iron gates, a red brick church at the end of the street and the sound of boats on the river"; a recollection of the "painful shy animal dignity with which a child stretches to conform to a strange adult social politeness"; thoughts about death, dreaming, "mysterious clock time," and aging; and a "problem of aesthetics I hadwhy wasnt an airedales {sic} face beautiful, if it was beautiful to me?"

As a child, a favorite pastime of hers was to make up little tunes, to set poems she composed to old melodies, and to croon traditional songs like "Dixie"an anthem which beguiled her in part through a misunderstanding: "I thought Dixie Land and Sandy Bottom were two little girls. I envied them and cherished them, as a child does imaginary playmates, and I never understood why Dixie Land kept looking away, but that was just the way she was."

As the author of more than fifty books, Margaret later observed that memory, the ultimate source of her creative work, is a "wild and private place," a place to which "we return truly only by accident"—the writers inspiration—"as in a dream or a song," or by "beaten paths"—the writers craft. Whatever the method or the path, she was convinced that "as you write, memory will come out in its true form."

The iron gates were those along Milton Street, in the then fashionable section of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where Robert and Maude Brown had settled as a newly married couple from Kirk-wood, Missouri, and where five years later, on May 23, 1910, their secondchild, Margaret, was born.

Once a bucolic East River village within easy reach of Manhattan, Greenpoint by the turn of the century had been transformed into an "American Birmingham," a worthy rival to Englands industrial leviathan in the variety and quantity of its manufactures and in the declining quality of its air. Robert and Maude Brown, like many of their neighbors, had come to live there largely out of convenience. In 1905, with the promise of a secure future ahead of him in a business that was partly family owned, Robert had moved east to work for the American Manufacturing Company, makers of rope, cordage, and bagging. A short, impatient man, Margarets father possessed a shrewdly matter-of-fact view of life and a brilliant mind for mechanical problems. In due course he rose to be-come his companys treasurer and vice president.

By 1912, Robert and Maude were the parents of three healthy children, all of them born on Milton Street. Benjamin Gratz, Jr., named for Roberts father, was nearly two years old when Margaret was born; Roberta, the youngest, arrived when Margaret was not quite two.

It would hardly be noteworthy that an ambitious young company man like Robert Brown was a conservative Republican but for the fact that his own father, the Honorable B. Gratz Brown of Missouri, had been one of the nations most progressive political leaders during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. An ardent opponent of slavery, B. Gratz Brown served Missouri as a United States senator and as governor, and in 1872 he ran unsuccessfully for the vice presidency on the Liberal Republican and Democratic tickets, both headed by Horace Greeley.According to a family anecdote that bears on their relationship, father and son (the boy was not more than nine) were riding one day in an open carriage. Young Robert, having noticed a black person in the street, made some casual remark about "that nigger," whereupon the elder Brown slapped him hard across the face in a -show of his utter contempt for bigotry.6 In later life, Margarets father turned petulant at the merest approving reference to any progressive political cause. While Maude Brown deferred completely to Robert in matters of politics, each of their three children reacted differently: mechanically inclined Gratz by wholeheartedly embracing his fathers views and professional interests, intellectually acute Roberta by veering in the opposite direction to become a vigorous Roosevelt Democrat, and Margaret, the family daydreamer, by becoming more or less apolitical—indifferent to it all.

Copyright © 1999 by Leonard S. Marcus

What People are saying about this

Eric Carle
Leonard Marcus… has masterfully written about a fascinating woman who in her short life changed literature for the very young. I was thoroughly enchanted.
—(Eric Carle)

Meet the Author

Leonard S. Marcus is a historian, biographer, and critic whose many books include Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon; Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom; and Storied City. In addition, he has been Parenting magazine's children's book reviewer since 1987. This is his first picture book. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Amy Schwartz, and their son, Jacob.

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