This post contains affiliate links. Book Riot can earn a commission when you buy through these links.

I am always fascinated by women writers, especially those from the past. In pursuit of writing success at a time when it was all but forbidden, many of these women also tend to live life strictly on their own terms. As a result, these authors tend to be particularly unique people. Margaret Wise Brown is no exception.

Like many others, I was invited to read after reading Brown’s beloved Goodnight Moon. It was a happy surprise to discover that she and I were in the same college. The school drew on Brown’s success and focused primarily on Goodnight Moon with a theatrical adaptation of the picture book. But Margaret Wise Brown is much more than just Goodnight Moon. This became very clear when I read Amy Gary’s In The Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Courageous Life of Margaret Wise Brown. Drawing on interviews, diaries, articles and more, Amy Gary brings the author of The Runaway Bunny to life. Read on to find out more about the woman behind the site.

11 facts about Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon

Brown attended a historically female college

Hollins College (now Hollins University) in Roanoke, Virginia, was also home to Brown’s mother (and later Annie Dillard). Brown graduated in 1932, 90 years after the school originally started as Valley Union Seminary. At Hollins, Brown studied English and psychology, which later proved useful subjects in her work. She was also instrumental in creating the equestrian team and convinced the headmistress to add the program with the help of her legacy status and financial support from her family. The riding team is still a pride for Hollins to this day.

She was athletic

Hunting, fishing, swimming, running, boating, horseback riding – Brown did it all. Although Brown was motivated by her character at times, she loved being active. Through exercise, Brown was able to enjoy the outdoors, enjoying the great outdoors, and building social relationships. In the prologue to In the Great Green Room, Gary writes, “She could walk alone or run after the group in silence. Most of the time, however, she talked effortlessly for six or seven miles… ”At the time of her death, Brown was about to embark on a journey that would have given her need for physical activity ample space.

Her repetitive, rhythmic style was heavily influenced by Gertrude Stein

Brown was a deep admirer of the cultural influencer of her time and a close supporter of Gertrude Steins. When Brown was attending a lecture by Stein, she noticed that she was using repetition. It has both simplified and complexed the meaning. She also noticed Stein’s ability to convey complicated ideas with clear and direct language. Even without an auditor’s report, it is clear that Stein had a definite influence on Brown’s work, perhaps never more clearly than in her best-known book Goodnight Moon. Brown later helped bring Stein’s own children’s book, The World Is Round, to the shelves of young readers.

The kids are fine newsletter

Sign up to The Kids Are All Right for news and recommendations from the world of children’s and middle-class books.

Thanks for signing up! Keep an eye on your inbox.

With your registration you agree to our terms of use

Brown first worked as a teacher

With the inspiration of Gertrude Stein and her background in English and psychology, Brown went to work as a teacher when she was unable to make a stable income from just writing. She taught at Little Red Schoolhouse in New York City. By the end of the day she would be studying at Bank Street Experimental School. The lessons provided a great source of information on what caught children’s attention in a book, what vocabulary they had, and how they preferred to interact with a book.

She emphasized the importance of sensory details in her children’s books

Because of her growing and extensive knowledge of childhood development, Brown was somewhat revolutionary at consciously incorporating the senses into her stories. She felt that seeing the world through a child’s point of view was paramount. Brown made it possible for herself to be specific in her descriptions by visiting farms, docks, and other locations. Her attention to sensory detail is perhaps most evident in The Noisy Book, which arose from an idea about a dog walking around town blinded by an ash incident.

She had anti-Semitic views

Despite her amazement and appreciation for the world around her, Brown was not immune to anti-Jewish propaganda, which was particularly widespread during World War II. At dinner with a friend and creative colleague, Esphyr “Phyra” Slobodkina, she admitted that she struggled with her bias after discovering that Phyra was Jewish. While Brown felt guilty about the prejudices that entertained her – which she seemed to believe were being driven by the propaganda – and wanted to make amends, the damage was being done.

Her room was a real Goodnight Moon bedroom

Brown’s downstairs neighbor is an unlikely source of inspiration and inadvertently responsible for one of the most memorable rooms in fiction. Brown once dreamed of a room that contained the color scheme of her neighbor – “light green walls in the living room, accentuated by red furniture with a yellow border”. In describing the visual aspect she intended for Goodnight Moon, Brown remembered the decor and ended up using it in her own living space. Soon her apartment also had green and yellow walls and a red blanket for her bed. Even the fireplace in the fictional room was inspired by one that Brown maintained.

Goodnight Moon and The Dead Bird were both inspired by Brown’s own childhood experiences

Beyond the images of Goodnight Moon, Brown clearly drew from her childhood experiences for the words. As a regular bedtime ritual, Margaret and her sister Roberta said good night to their belongings. Brown later had a dream about it that sparked the idea for Goodnight Moon. Similarly, The Dead Bird fictionalized a time when Brown, her sister, and best friend discovered a dead bird. Brown decided that a funeral was necessary, and the three carried out the sad event with solemnity and ceremony.

She was robbed on a train to Rome

An avid travel lover, Brown has often saved up just to hit the streets. Brown traveled from Switzerland to Italy on a trip to meet her collaborator for her book Fox Eyes, Garth Williams. During the train ride, Margaret had the misfortune of sharing a compartment with a man of bad intentions. After chloroforming the writer, the man robbed her, leaving only – and fortunately – her diaries and manuscripts with him.

She had ties to the Carnegie and Rockefeller families

In addition to a longstanding association with the Barrymores of actor Drew Barrymore’s ancestors – more on that relationship in the next fact – Brown also rubbed his elbows with the Carnegies and Rockefellers. As a child, Brown and her sister enjoyed spending time on a farm owned by their cousin Dr. Marius Johnston, who married Nancy Carnegie (the daughter of industrialist Thomas Carnegie who was the brother of Andrew Carnegie of the Carnegie Library heir). At the Rockefellers, Brown became engaged to James “Pebble” Stillman Rockefeller Jr., whom she met as an adult at a dinner party. It wasn’t long before she realized that she had met him before. Brown was fifteen years his senior and had played with young Rockefeller as a child.

She had relationships with both men and women

While Rockefeller was Brown’s last relationship, her longest – and perhaps most tumultuous – was with writer Michael Strange. Strange, who took on a male name and dress style but never claimed to be transgender as we know today, was previously married to actor John Barrymore and had one child with him. Strange and Brown were in a near-constant battle with each other, including the involvement of Strange’s daughter Diana Barrymore, and the taboo on sharing their romance publicly didn’t help. The couple wrote encrypted messages to each other when separated and lived together for years. When Strange died tragically and restless of leukemia, Brown was by her side against the doctor’s orders. Brown later began dating Pebble Rockefeller, and before Strange, Brown had dated men.

Although Brown has authored many, many books, Goodnight Moon remains her best-known work. Brown tried to publish for adults but never caught on. The picture book’s enduring success comes despite a librarian’s attempt to crush it, and it remains a bedtime favorite to this day (save for the ironic attitude of this one rioter).

But their legacy is so much more than just one story. Their influence on the verbal design of children’s books is often overlooked, but is clearly massive. Although Brown died prematurely of a blood clot at the age of 42 after an appendicectomy (according to the biography, Wikipedia reports that an ovarian cyst was removed), she left logs and drawers full of script, only a few of which are discussed in Amy Gary’s book out of respect for privacy . We may see more new Margaret Wise Brown releases.

Find More Interesting Facts About Women In Literature with 10 Facts About Madame D’Aulnoy Who Made World Tales.