Good night noises everywhere
from Goodnight Moon
by Margaret Wise Brown
pictures by Clement Hurd
Harper, 2016 [electronic resource]
I love picture books. I mean I really love them. I love the honest emotions they explore, the wisdom they illuminate, their humor, raucous and quiet, and the way a whole story unfolds between 32 pages. I love the way the pictures expand the text, and how the text plays with the pictures.
Well, in my twenty-five years as a children’s librarian, and since, I have read my share of picture books that made me stop and say, “How did *this* get published?” “Where was the editor?” “What could the author have been thinking?”
But, if I’m being honest, (of course I am!) most of what I read and shared with children was and still is excellent literature. Just like the short story or a novel or poetry, there is an art to a picture book, aside of course, from the illustration. But there is a craft, too. For the last several years, I have been studying that craft. I’ve learned about character development, story arcs, and the importance of point-of-view. I’ve studied and tried techniques for using dialogue, crafting plot points, and incorporating language play.
I’ve explored the importance of tapping into my (potential) readers’ emotions, widening their world view, and creating tension for the beautiful release it offers when done correctly, like breathing in and breathing out.
One of my favorite authors has always been, or at least since I found Goodnight Moon at the library when my girls were small, Margaret Wise Brown. She wrote beautifully simple, true stories that are a pleasure to read over and over.
In The Runaway Bunny, the book I gave each of my girls as they left for college, a little bunny has decided to run away from his mommy and his home. He poses different scenarios to his mother. She promises to help him make his dreams come true. My favorite pages go like this:
“If you become a sailboat and sail away from me,” said his mother,
“I will become the wind and blow you wherever you want to go.”
When I was still working, I was advised not to use The Runaway Bunny with groups of children. Every other spread in the book is black and white, and their attention would wander. “My” children loved the story, though. The colorful pictures show the mommy bunny’s dreams for her child. They contrast with the black and white illustrations depicting reality. The distinction was not lost on the storytime crowd, young as they were.
Almost every mother realizes she won’t be able to take care of her children for their whole lives. Reality holds many possibilities that make this statement true. But almost every mother wants her children to be happy. She wants to encourage them to dream impossible dreams and help them make those dreams come true.
Even though she freely admitted that she didn’t really like children, (https://www.npr.org/2017/01/22/510642518/goodnight-moon-author-margaret-wise-brown-was-no-old-lady-whispering-hush) Margaret really knew how to write for them, and their grown-ups, too. She published over 100 books in her short life. One day she was at her doctor’s office literally kicking up her heels to celebrate how well she was feeling, when she dislodged a blood clot and died almost instantly. She was only 42 years old.
Well past an average lifespan now, (Margaret would be 110 years old this coming Saturday, May 23, 2020), much of the world of children’s literature still mourns her untimely passing and celebrates her remarkable career.
Two biographies have been published pretty recently. In the Great Green Room by Amy Gary (Flatiron Books, 2017) tells a somewhat narrative tale of Margaret’s colorful life. Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon by Leonard S. Marcus (Beacon Press, 1992) is a more straightforward telling.
In 2019, HarperCollins published a picture book biography by Mac Barnett and Sarah Jacoby, The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown. The title refers to her Important Book and begins with a quote: “It did not seem important that any one wrote these stories. They were true. And it still doesn’t seem important! All this emphasis today on who writes what seems silly to me as far as children are concerned.”
But who writes the stories is indeed important. Children can grow up to be authors. And artists. And actors. And explorers, nurses, physicists, cosmologists, and cosmetologists. They need role models and teachers. And books where they can see themselves and find themselves.
As Mac Barnett reminds us in his 42 page book, there were many important things about Margaret Wise Brown, but the most important thing is, she wrote books for children.
And the important thing about that is, books help children dream.
Happy birthday, Margaret Wise Brown.
-—stay curious! (and dream big)