I just finished reading In the Great Green Room by Amy Gary, and I am just blown away! It was a fascinating read.
The subject of this biography is the popular children’s book author, Margaret Wise Brown. She is probably best known for her book, Goodnight Moon. This talented children’s author had an uncanny understanding of how a child’s mind works; she knew how to best write for , both, the learning and enjoyment of children. In his book titled Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as Adults, Bruce Handy describes her Goodnight Moon book as a transcendent masterpiece. Wow!
Besides being a gifted children’s author, Margaret was a fascinating person. She was fun, a little wild, and intensely loving.
After reading In the Great Green Room, I think I may love Margaret herself as much as I love her books. She was everything I had hoped she would be – witty, charming, caring, and imaginative. She bought quirky homes and gave them quirky names – names like Cobble Court and the Only House. She took her friends’ children on imaginative adventures to look for fairies living in the wilderness of Maine. She had a jolly sense of humor, and she loved others with great intensity.
While I was delighted with Margaret, I also felt very sad for this whimsical woman who wrote children’s stories about animals and islands and little windup toys. She never quite outgrew some of the hurts from her childhood.
If she had written a children’s book about her own life, I imagine she would have written herself as an orphaned kitten. This kitten would be cute, playful and curious. But it would also desperately search for love and look for a mama cat to care for it. Her character would be vulnerable, and it would struggle to figure out how to use its claws for self protection.
In real life, Margaret often sought love from partners that seemed either unwilling or unable to fully reciprocate her strong attachment. Her first serious romantic attachments did not fulfill her longing to be loved and cared for. And like the orphan kitten I imagine her as, she didn’t know to protect her heart from the hurtful barbs of these partners. It wasn’t until the end of her short story that she seemed to find the love she so desperately wanted.
Yes, this In the Great Green Room by Amy Gary was a great read. It was both heartwarming and heart wrenching. I loved getting to know the person behind the beloved children’s stories. But I also enjoyed discovering the places and events that inspired Margaret’s books.
Ten Fun Facts
Fun Fact #1: As children, Margaret Wise Brown and her sister used to say goodnight to all of their belongings just like the little bunny does in Goodnight Moon.
Fun Facts #2: Margaret loved the great green room pictured in Goodnight Moon so much that she incorporated its colors into her own bedroom as an adult. She painted the walls green and yellow, and added a red cover to her bed.
Fun Fact #3: The fireplace in Goodnight Moon is modeled after Margaret’s real fireplace in her Cobble Court home.
Fun Fact #4: Margaret and some of her friends had a funny tradition of declaring any day to be Christmas and would throw an impromptu party to celebrate. This group of friends jokingly referred to themselves as the Birdbrain Club.
Fun Fact #5: A French ballad called Les Metamorphoses set Margaret’s mind in motion and later inspired one of her most popular books. She liked the “if you, then I” element of the ballad, and she toyed with this concept in her mind until it was eventually used to write The Runaway Bunny.
Fun Fact #6: Her book titled The Little Island was inspired by a small island seen from a window in the Only House in Maine. Margaret could see the island while sitting at her writing desk.
Fun Fact #7: Margaret had interesting ways of conducting research for her children’s books. In one instance, she stayed the night inside of a barn so that she could better understand the night time experiences of farm animals. That night, she unintentionally fell asleep on a stack of hay. She and a farmhand had a terrible fright the next morning when he (unaware of her presence) narrowly missed spearing her with his pitch fork as he went about his early morning chores.
Fun Fact #8: Margaret often wrote stories to deal with her own grief or to help others in their time of grief. When Margaret’s partner lost a son named Robin, Margaret wrote a book titled Robin’s House. For her dying friend, she wrote a story titled The Dark Wood of the Golden Birds about a boy who goes to the other side of a forest and is forever changed by the beauty found on the “other side.”
Fun Fact #9: As a wedding gift for her boat-loving fiancé, she wrote a book titled The Sailor Dog which had been inspired by the pair’s shared experience of trying to help salvage a shrimper’s sinking ship.
Fun Fact #10: An excerpt from her book, The Little Island, is included on her memorial marker in Maine. It reads “Nights and Days came and passed and summer and winter and the sun and the wind and the rain. And it was good to be a little Island. A part of the world and a world of its own all surrounded by the bright blue sea.”
Favorite Books by Margaret
Our family has enjoyed many of the books written by Margaret Wise Brown. Here are our two favorites:
Goodnight Moon – This classic children’s book has been loved by generations of children. The concept is relatable and clever. The rhyming prose has a pleasant rhythm. The bright pictures are simple, and yet, they include just the right amount of interesting details. And personally, I like the story’s short length. Despite being such a short read, the story is very satisfying… and this, to me, makes it an ideal bedtime story. We have read this book so many times over the years that I have the entire thing memorized.
The Runaway Bunny – I picked up this book from the library after hearing about it in Amy Gary’s biography, and my little girl was instantly delighted with it. It quickly became her favorite book. My sweet little homebody daughter seems to take comfort in the books concept that mom will always be there for the child no matter what. She also delights in the imaginative illustrations drawn by Clement Hurd (who also illustrated Good Night Moon). My little girl who adores look-and-find books loves to point out all the clever ways the mother bunny and little bunny transform within their imaginary game of runaway and chase. Can you guess what book my little girl will find under the Christmas tree this year?
Other Margaret Wise Brown books we like include My World, North South East West, Big Red Barn, and The Quiet Noisy Book.
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Maybe it will sound overly romanticized when I say this, but I think the world is truly a better place because of Margaret Wise Brown’s contributions. Her books have sparked the interest and curiosity of generations of children. Her books have helped countless parents lull their children to sweet dreams at bedtime. Her books have found a special place in the hearts of millions of people. And if you read the In the Great Green Room biography, I bet you will find a special place in your heart for the author herself as well.
And so, in closing, I will leave you with this epitaph found on her memorial marker near the Only House in Maine:
“You gave us all so much. A chance to love. A place to rest. A window into living.”
Do you have a favorite book by Margaret Wise Brown?
As always, any opinions stated in this post are completely my own.