The authors featured in our exhibit American Voices represent the evolution and flourishing of American writing. Writers of the 1600s and 1700s borrowed forms and themes from Europe, applying them to New World settings and issues. Then, over the course of the 1800s, a new, democratic style emerged, rooted in the way Americans talked and thought. Previously underrepresented voices began to be heard, culminating with an explosion of perspectives in the modern era. Taken together, this rich literary heritage reflects America in all of its complexity: its energy, hope, conflict, disillusionment, and creativity.
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Margaret Wise Brown
Margaret Wise Brown authored more than 100 innovative picture books, including The Runaway Bunny (1942) and Goodnight Moon (1947). Brown had studied at the progressive Bank Street School, which believed that the most effective learning stemmed from the “here-and-now”—the everyday experiences of young children. She added subtle mystery and dreaminess to the here-and-now approach, resulting in compelling lyrical rhymes and narratives that demand to be read aloud.
Brown was also influenced by modernists like Gertrude Stein. In fact, Brown helped Stein publish her own children’s book: The World Is Round (1939). Brown also championed the artists with whom she worked, including Clement Hurd, Garth Williams, Esphyr Slobodkina, and Leonard Weisgard.
“A book can make a child laugh or feel clear-and-happy-headed as he follows a simple rhythm to its logical end. It can jog him 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 story. If I’ve been lucky, I hope I have written a book simple enough to come near to that timeless world.”—Margaret Wise Brown, “Creative Writing for Very Young Children,” from “The Book of Knowledge Annual” (1951)
“Margaret Wise Brown’s approach to children’s literature was so bravely unsentimental. Her books have an underlying emotional tautness and honesty about them that is both salutary and rare. They express a clear-eyed respect for the young that both children and adults immediately recognize.” — Leonard S. Marcus, Children’s Book Historian, Writer, Critic
Learn more about Brown’s writing, her impact on children’s literature publishing, and her enduring legacy on our podcast Nation of Writers. In this episode, we are joined by writer and editor Amy Gary. In 1990, Gary discovered unpublished manuscripts and songs from Margaret Wise Brown tucked away in a trunk in the attic of Brown’s sister’s barn. Since then, Gary has cataloged, edited, and researched all of Brown’s writings. She has worked with several publishers to publish more than 100 of those manuscripts, which include bestsellers and Caldecott nominees. Gary’s work on Brown has been covered in Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly, and on NPR. Her biography on Brown, In the Great Green Room, was published by Flatiron Books, a division of Macmillan, and was named a best book of the year when it was published.