Offering a Frame to Put Experience In: Margaret Wise Brown Presents Ideas as Opportunities to Very Young Children

 

Peter Shea

May 17, 2004

 

Margaret Wise Brown’s books introduce basic ideas to beginning human beings. In this essay, I will discuss the picture books of Margaret Wise Brown as tools for provoking philosophic reflection in young children and as provocative meditations on the situation of the very young child and on the reflective work of the young child at a time when language is still new and fresh.  Some of her work concerns the most fundamental negotiation in personal philosophy, the negotiation of an attitude to the outside world, to those realities beyond one’s control, beyond one’s zone of comfort. This work places Margaret Wise Brown in the same conceptual territory as Descartes, in those early Meditations that take seriously the idea that a person could be totally alone, without company or a public world. Her writing makes her a colleague of Kant, in the sections of The Critique of Pure Reason that question the place of subjective, private consciousness in an objective and public world.

 

I am aware of the dangers of making grand and abstract claims about simple books. The ghost of Frederick Crews’ book The Pooh Perplex hovers before me. A sample from this delicious book:

 

To begin with, the reader is invited to peer more closely than is his wont at the opening chapter of Winnie the Pooh. What does he find? A story about a certain tree which proves irresistibly attractive to our hero, who conceives a certain passion for removing and eating something he finds upon it. With increasing pride in his ability to snatch the spoils without assistance, much less with official permission to touch this certain product, he climbs nearly to the top of the tree and – falls. (Italics mine.) Of course, once the lapsus has been acted through, it must repeat itself endlessly, at least until the Atonement comes. [1]

 

As satire on overextended, boring, useless readings of luminously clear texts, The Pooh Perplex has no equal. It has probably prevented some bad scholarship, especially in children’s literature; with respect to Margaret Wise Brown’s work, one finds in the indexes and bibliographies only a handful of substantial articles treating her books in any general or theoretical way. Crews might well take credit for this “needed hole in the literature.”

 

Surely, one must have a reason for doing general commentary on accessible, clear, and beloved texts: commentary is most often in place when texts depend heavily on an unfamiliar context, when they make use of difficult concepts, when they are undervalued by their natural audiences. I have two reasons for undertaking this perilous experiment. First, the commentary I want to give is in the spirit of some of Margaret Wise Brown’s stated intentions for her books. As I will try to show, Brown intends some of her books to shape the interactions between reader and child. The books are best seen as akin to musical compositions to be fully realized in performance; they come to fulfillment when they are re-read, and when the patterns of thought they model become regular games that parents and teachers play with young children. My commentary is in the spirit of performance notes -- to facilitate an authentic performance of these books.

 

Second, the heritage of Margaret Wise Brown is being eroded and diluted today in ways that require some scholarly resistance. One finds on the shelves of bookstores books under her name with illustrations by contemporary illustrators who work in a different spirit than those with whom Brown collaborated.  This seems important. Brown chose illustrators carefully, and she worked very closely  with her illustrators. To the extent that a children’s picture book is a fusion of picture and text, one has reason to doubt that the work now being marketed under Brown’s name is fully her own: one does not know whether she would approve its publication, were she alive today. Also, some of the books bearing her name were copyrighted after her death, based on unpublished manuscripts. One has no way of knowing the status of these unpublished manuscripts, or her view about their readiness for publication. Brown wrote quickly and revised manuscripts over sometimes as much as two years, testing them out on young children to get the language exactly right.  As Barbara Bader says, in her article, “A Lien on the World”: “We can never be certain just what a writer thought of a particular unpublished manuscript.  We can never be sure, especially in the case of a writer like Brown, who died suddenly, which ones she had set aside as unworthy, which she intended to polish, which she might have sent off in the next morning’s mail.”[2] 

 

With respect to, for example, philosophy manuscripts, responsible publishers would make clear distinctions between finished works and notes or drafts for future work; they would never present the notes as independent works on which the reputation of the philosopher should depend. But the late manuscripts of Margaret Wise Brown are presented in formats indistinguishable from those of the books she approved for publication. This makes it very difficult for a reader encountering her work for the first time to form any just estimate of her basic concerns or projects. It seems as if the publisher simply lacks any conception that it might be important to respect the basic concerns or projects of a picture book author: as long as the story is amusing, who cares how it is understood?  Funny little stories about rabbits don’t matter much.

 

The remedy for disrespect is respect: discussion that places Brown’s work as a contribution to important conversations and as a serious effort to be of service to children and adults. One needs to remind everybody that great cultures are built on little stories taken seriously: the parables of Jesus, the stories of the Hasidic rabbis, the anecdotes from the life of Confucius and the Buddha.   The cultural importance of a story has never depended on its length or complexity. I hope my remarks will contribute to a respectful re-evaluation of Brown’s lifework.

 

I will begin by describing my own introduction to Margaret Wise Brown’s writings, in the course of my involvement with the philosophy for children movement, to show how her purposes are similar to the purposes of this educational project. I will then discuss a selection of her works, to make clear how her books model philosophically interesting attitudes and relationships to the world and how they initiate interesting projects of investigation and discovery. Finally, I will relate this approach to Brown’s own educational background, her work at the Bank Street School, to show how her work is continuous with the Bank Street philosophy and yet different from that philosophy in some of its fundamental projects.

 

My Introduction to Margaret Wise Brown’s Work in the Context of Philosophy for Children

 

I was gradually introduced to Margaret Wise Brown’s work over  25 years of teaching philosophy to elementary school children. This introduction shaped my appreciation of her stories and my understanding of how they can be used by readers and discussion leaders. In the late 1970’s, I attended a professor-training workshop in philosophy for children led by Matthew Lipman, who had left a philosophy chair at Columbia some years earlier to write philosophy curriculum for school children. A small group of philosophers worked intensively for thirteen days, practicing a new approach to philosophy teaching: using simple stories as the starting point for philosophic discussions shaped by the interests and concerns of the participants. We worked through the entire curriculum of novels developed by Lipman  for use in elementary and secondary schools. It was an intellectual adventure that changed my approach to philosophy and to philosophy teaching; I became convinced that philosophy teaching could only succeed by provoking exploratory and self-critical discussions involving all the students in a common investigation – what Lipman called a “community of inquiry.”

 

When I finished the training, I worked for some years in colleges and in elementary schools to develop my skills as a discussion leader. I did short term demonstrations in elementary classrooms, conference presentations for philosophy professors, and workshops for parents. In most of these contexts, the discussion strategies of the philosophy for children movement were the central focus, rather than the Lipman curriculum of stories and exercises. Parents and teachers were seeking new ways of interacting with their children, but were generally not eager to adopt a curriculum. For this reason, my workshops drew  heavily on a tradition of philosophic inquiry with children that developed parallel to Matthew Lipman’s efforts, the work of Gareth Matthews at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Matthews pioneered the use of children’s books as the starting point for philosophic discussion, in various ways: by introducing “read to a child” exercises into his classes, by recounting his conversations around children’s stories in his book Philosophy and the Young Child, by producing a philosophy curriculum series based on children’s stories, the Wise Owl curriculum, and by writing the column “Thinking in Stories” for the philosophy for children publication Thinking. I drew on all of this work, and on conversations with Matthews, to shape a “reading kit” of stories for classroom and demonstration uses.

 

Arnold Lobel’s “Frog and Toad” books were initially  the mainstays of my philosophy library, because they were motivated by recognizable philosophical perplexities,  and they inspired recognizable philosophic conversations. In “Dragons and Giants,” for example, the heroes read about knights fighting dragons and are moved to ask whether they also are brave, like the knights in the story. This question prompts a kind of moral experiment, a climb up a dangerous mountain, during which Frog and Toad  persevere in the face of terrible danger, despite frequent fearful breakdowns and panic attacks. The puzzles raised by the story are old puzzles: philosophers have been arguing about bravery since the time of Plato and Aristotle: about whether bravery can be manifested in everyday life as well as in traditional heroic contexts, whether bravery can coexist with fear, whether foolhardy adventures – like, perhaps, climbing a dangerous mountain for no practical reason – count as instances of bravery. These traditional questions, and many more, arise with regularity in response to this story; “Dragons and Giants” is the most reliable tool I know for provoking and displaying coherent philosophic inquiry to beginners.

 

As I expanded my repertoire, and especially as I began working, with younger children, I encountered two works by Margaret Wise Brown that were clearly powerful for eliciting discussion, but in different ways than Lobel’s pieces:  Goodnight Moon and The Important Book. Both of these provoked passionate, coherent, interesting conversation, but the results were harder to connect to standard philosophic questions than the conversations responding to Lobel’s stories. Children and adults recognized, for example, that going to sleep evokes both fear and perplexity in people: one blinks out of normal existence for a eight hours. Somehow, the ritual in Goodnight Moon seemed to be an appropriate response to that anxiety and to that perplexity, and people tried to give some account of why this response is so fitting and so comforting.  It seemed that Brown was tapping a different kind of philosophic energy.  Perhaps she was engaging in a different level of reflection on human life and on the world.

 

My initial exposure to the work of Margaret Wise Brown was very late and very peculiar. I encountered her books as devices for starting philosophic conversations, at a point in my career in which I was ransacking my bookshelves for stories to use in the classroom. I had just been trained in a teaching discipline that took the teacher’s role to be that of inspiring and maintaining freestanding student conversations, independent of the teacher, in which important aspects of human life are explored using argument and imagination.  

 

When, after many years of using Brown’s work in the classroom, I finally had time to think about her place within the canon of philosophically provocative children’s literature, I came across this statement, from an article she wrote for The Book of Knowledge about creative writing for very young children. Brown is commenting on jacket copy from one of her books.

 

“This book hopes to touch their imaginings and to suggest further imaginings in the realm of a child’s reality.”

 

That last line still interests me. What did I mean? “To touch their imaginings and to suggest further imaginings, in the realm of a child’s reality.” I think I meant that a child’s story is only a stepping stone into the world that a real story can open up for him. In some stories you give facts, tools for a child’s imagination to go further on. In some stories you give a very young child a form to put his own observations into – as in The Noisy Books or The Important Book published by Harpers. In some stories you have the luck to charm him into a good story that for a few moments seems real to him. But it is in the child that the story continues and, fusing with memory, can even become part of him.[3]

 

“A child’s story is only a stepping stone into the world that a real story can open up for him.” I take this to mean something like this: a child’s story introduces the child to the world in a way that allows him or her to go further, to have his or her own adventures with the world, in directions suggested by the story. Given my experience with the philosophy for children curriculum and strategy, I found this statement very exciting: Brown seemed to want her books to be used in something like the way that Lipman and Matthews suggest stories might be used philosophically: as provocations for reflection on the world and for adventures in the world. In philosophy for children discussions, stories prompt freely chosen but structured investigations of the world. Brown seems to be saying here that some of her stories are written with just that purpose in mind.

 

Brown wrote another summary statement in that article, in a somewhat different mood:

 

A book should try to accomplish something more than just to repeat a child’s own experiences. One would hope rather to make a child laugh or feel clear and happy-headed as he follows a simple rhythm to its logical end, to jog him with the unexpected and comfort him with the familiar: and perhaps to 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.[4]

 

The emphasis in this statement is on comfort, diversion, escape, amusement  -- and surely those emphases are also important in Brown’s work. As one surveys the critical response to her books through the years, however, using the fine collection made by the Children’s Literature Review, one finds that reviewers have taken their cue about how to read her books largely from this sort of statement. They evaluate the stories for their appeal, their amusement value, their wit and poetry: the editor’s summary statement captures most of the reviews quoted:

 

Written from a child’s perspective, Brown’s books convey the warmth of maternal love, the need for independence, and an appreciation of nature. Her texts, with their reassuring themes, instinctive rhythm, and comfortable repetition of phrases and ideas, continue to delight children three decades after her death.[5]

 

But Brown’s other purpose – the purpose of making a story into a stepping stone to a real story in the real world – is seldom acknowledged, though it seems to me an equally strong element in Brown’s work. (Lois Palmer does acknowledge this strain in Brown’s work in her review of A Child’s Goodnight Book: “Entertainment is basic, of course, but along with that go the enlarging of horizons, the translation of impressions into ideas, the linking of the child with the outside world.”[6] But apart from Palmer, one might think from the reviews cited in the Children’s Literature Review that entertainment, comfort, and amusement constituted Brown’s entire project.)  In this essay, I will follow the direction suggested by Brown’s remarks about her books as “stepping stones;” I will try to sketch out the kinds of intellectual adventures initiated by the encounter with her picture books.

 

“Forms” and “Tools” in Some of Margaret Wise Brown’s Picture Books

 

In this section, I will discuss a selection of Margaret Wise Brown’s stories, trying to understand them as illuminating the delicate relationship between self and non-self, familiar and strange, outside and inside – as  helping children to see their options as they confront the world beyond their zone of comfort and control. Brown invites children to take forays into unfamiliar territory. The books discussed below present this invitation in various different ways.

 

Let us consider first the books which Brown identifies in her article on creative writing for young children as “giving a very young child a form to put his own observations into” – the “Noisy Books” and The Important Book.

 

The “Noisy Books” contain questions. In the original “Noisy Book,” for example, Muffin, a dog with a bandage over his eyes, hears sounds: the readers are asked to identify them. The story also describes sounds, e.g. “the sound of a horse galloping”, and the readers are invited to say what the sound is. And finally, the story asks whether a person could hear a particular sound, like snow falling or grass growing. All of these questions require a lively interaction between the child and the person reading the story, and all invite controversy: has the reader made the sound accurately, can one hear morning come or the snow fall?

 

The “Noisy Books” reflect a fact of everybody’s life, and of children’s lives especially: some things are immediately present, and other things are present – represented, from offstage. Often, the things that are fully in front of us take up all our minds, and we don’t notice the “representations” of other things that give our world depth and expanse. The “Noisy Books” put Muffin into various strange states: being blindfolded, in a crate on a train, confined to a room, states in which his immediate surroundings are boring or oppressive. He is forced to notice how the outside world is represented by sounds – and in the course of realizing that, he comes to realize that he is within a larger world than his immediate surroundings. The basic mental act modeled in these books is the act of imagining concretely the world as bigger than it at first seems, especially when it seems small and confining. That is not a trivial action. If children carry forward the pattern in these books, alone or in the company of their parents, being alert for signs of a larger world than the one they most readily perceive, that is a profound change of mind.

 

It is also a move in the direction of mental health. The oddity of the “Noisy Books” is that Muffin is placed in circumstances which, in any other children’s writer’s work, would be used to evoke pity: the poor dog can’t see. The poor dog is shut up in a crate on a train. The poor dog has to stay inside. But the books take a quick right turn into a different attitude altogether: “But Muffin could hear!” In that sentence, in that shift of emphasis, is a telling example of the kind of conceptual possibility that Margaret Wise Brown offers children, in many different ways, in her writing.

 

The Important Book consists of a series of lists, of which this is one example:

 

     The important thing about rain is

     That it is wet.

It falls out of the sky,

And it sounds like rain,

And makes things shiny,

And does not taste like anything

And is the color of air.

But the important thing about rain

Is that it is wet.[7]

 

One reviewer commented: “The dogmatic text is a disappointment. If only Margaret Wise Brown had written questions instead of flat statements.”[8] But this comment misses the point. This book works as a form to put experience in – that is, it provides rules for ongoing interactions far beyond the scope of the book.. The book is an effort to pick a fight with the listener. Any rule one might formulate about how Brown is choosing her important things is violated somewhere in the book. She is pretty clearly trying to provoke the listener into disagreeing, and so to draw the listener into the game of saying about things what “the important thing” is. As a new idea about organizing experience, this is very powerful. All kinds of intellectual endeavors have their beginnings in this kind of opinion. Brown is trying to give her listeners, at a very age, the idea of having such opinions playfully and of discussing such opinions with others.

 

The basic message of The Important Book isn’t all that different from the message of The Noisy Book. In The Noisy Book, Brown suggests that there may be “representations” of the broader world always around us which we generally ignore, until someone puts a bandage over our eyes or forces us to stay in our room. In The Important Book, Brown suggests that the experience that is immediately in front of us may have complexities which we generally ignore: the various aspects of things come to us independent and equal, but they may properly stand in some sort of hierarchy. Some things may be “the important things.” We can only notice this by asking the right question, by paying a special sort of attention.

 

Let us think for a minute about how a child would go on into a real story from these two children’s stories – to pick up Brown’s language from her article. A child who had taken The Noisy Book to heart would constantly be listening – and by extension looking and sniffing – for signs of things offstage, beyond the center of consciousness. He or she would constantly be aware that the world in front of him or her is part of a much larger world. The game of asking: what is that noise, and what noise would that thing make, carried forward, leads straight to science, straight to the sort of probing consciousness that can find endless interest in almost anything. The game is simple, but the basic idea is powerful.

 

Similarly, the person who had taken The Important Book to heart would have learned to ask the question, “What’s important here?” and to entertain a variety of answers to that question. The game of asking the question, and fighting over the answers, leads straight to a hundred kinds of thinking about the world: aesthetic thought, practical thought, religious thought. Once one has the basic question, one may stumble into all sorts of different frameworks for answering it.

 

It is important to remember that these books are seldom read by children alone. They are read to them by parents, and often read over and over. They provide the parents with openings for activities to help children feel comfortable in a world that is larger than the familiar space around them and more complicated than they at first think.

 

If this line of thought accurately portrays Brown’s intentions, then she is being modest when she talks about giving a child “a form to put his observations into.” She is in attempting is to initiate a child into ways of thinking about the world, ways of easily moving beyond immediate experience into a richer and more complex world.

 

This way of reading Brown’s purposes makes sense of quite a number of her books, in addition to the ones she mentions in the Book of Knowledge article.

Think of the connection between the Noisy Books and a book very different in tone, The Dead Bird. Brown tells a sad story: a bird has died. The children find it while it is still warm. They respond in an unusual way to that sadness: they want to be adult about it, that is, to try out the forms that adults have invented for addressing death. And so they bury the bird in a beautiful and kind way, and they sing a song that seems to them very beautiful, and they mark a place for the bird and return to it every day, “until they forget.” Like Muffin in The Noisy Book , these children have taken a right turn aside from brute misery, this time toward culture. They have gotten the idea that somewhere in the things that grown-ups do there is a way of coping with this sad event. They are not just alone and helpless, a bunch of children confronted with death for the first time. They have tried something: to reach out to their culture for a way of shaping their feelings and giving those feelings beautiful and appropriate expression. Again, if one thinks of this book as a first step, as modeling a way of responding, as a story that leads children into their own real stories, one is struck by the importance of the suggestion. There are many realities that people encounter which are initially too big for them: pain, violence, remorse, sexual desire – and they face the choice of going it alone or seeking out cultural resources for managing and channeling and transforming their feelings and impulses. In the same way that The Important Book gives children a form to put their observations in, The Dead Bird suggests that there are forms to put feelings in, that one can move beyond simple feeling to something better and richer.

 

Think about the most familiar of Brown’s books, Goodnight Moon, a book about going to sleep, for very young children. One way to understand this story is to think of it as directed toward the child who does not want to go to sleep, who is still afraid that going to sleep means leaving – and perhaps losing – all the  things he loves, all the things that give him comfort and security. The book reassures him on this point: as the light dims, everything is still there, just dim. The comfortable and rich world in which he lives endures around him. But then there’s the mouse. The mouse stays in the room, but it moves around, and this sets up a game of “find the mouse” between the reader and the child. At the end, when the little rabbit is asleep, the mouse is looking out the window, very much awake. The world has not come to a halt when the rabbit goes to sleep. It is not simply waiting for him to wake up. The world is alive, and therefore unpredictable, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The world is predictable enough, safe enough.

 

The idea behind this story, the frame for sorting experience here, is perhaps the most basic one of all, the idea of the world as independent of the person, as going on when the person is asleep, as having a mind of its own even, like the mouse. And the story shows children a way of feeling happy about that: the world outside them holds them up, keeps them safe, does good and beautiful things apart from them: the mouse watches the stars, while the rabbit sleeps. This is a very big idea, in very simple frame: one can approve of the world apart from oneself. One kind of religion starts with this idea.

 

Something similar is happening in Brown’s The Big Fur Secret. The story is about a boy who goes to the zoo. As soon as he enters the zoo, all of the animals know he has a secret. He looks at the animals for awhile, and then watches the people watching the animals, making up silly stories about them: the giraffe is mad at you because you spilled your milk – that kind of story. And the boy knows that that all of these stories aren’t true, because, as we learn on the last page, animals don’t talk. That is the great fur secret. Extended, it is a very big secret indeed: things aren’t the way we make them up. Animals, and other things in the world, have a life of their own. And knowing that changes the way one looks at everything, makes one a different person.

 

Margaret Wise Brown as Teacher: Her Relationship to the Bank Street School

 

One fruitful way of understanding the philosophic depths of Margaret Wise Brown’s approach to writing for children is to place her work in the context of her own training as a teacher and writer, in classrooms and the writer’s workshop of the Lucy Sprague Mitchell’s Bank Street School. Brown absorbed many of Mitchell’s ideas about working with children:  the emphasis on children’s  language as expression and play, the commitment to studying children’s experience and taking it seriously, the ideal of developing writing for children in dialogue with children. Leonard Marcus characterizes Brown’s debt to Bank Street this way, “Bumble Bugs and Elephants (1938), The Little Fireman (1938), A Child's Good Night Book (1943), They All Saw It (1944), and Where Have You Been (1952) are among the many books in which, sentence by sentence or stanza by stanza, Brown presented young children with simple, gamelike structures in which to frame their own rhymes, thoughts, and perceptions.  In thus extending to readers an invitation not to hold solemnly to the author's word as final, but instead to ring their own variations on the printed text, these books epitomized the Bank Street view that children were best approached as full collaborators in learning.[9]

 

Marcus also attempts to characterize the difference between Brown’s approach and Mitchell’s: “Mitchell had based her model of here and now development on the outlines of the child's changing capacity for cognition and perception. Brown's first published book, When the Wind Blew (1937), a melancholy tale about an old woman living by herself, signaled its author's interest in exploring the emotional realm as well. In The Runaway Bunny, Little Fur Family, The Little Island (published under the name of Golden MacDonald, 1946, Wait  Till the Moon is Full(1948), and Mister Dog (1952), Brown fashioned poignant tales of the shifting balance of the child's deep-seated yearnings for security and independence. And in books like Little Fur Family, The Little Island, Fox Eyes (1951), and The Dark Wood of the Golden Birds (1950), she took further exception with here-and-now orthodoxy through her whole-hearted embrace of fairy-tale elements of magic and mystery.[10]

 

One might account for this difference in a different way: the Bank Street school operated at the level of education, of making students aware of facts and relationships within the world. Margaret Wise Brown operates, in many of her books at least, at a more philosophical and thus fundamental level: the ideas she brings into circulation are ideas about how to imagine living in a world at all, ideas about the basic attitudes one can take toward experience. These points are preliminary to any particular learning about the world.

 

Here is an example that might make the point. In her autobiography, Lucy Sprague Mitchell discusses a lesson she did about islands:

 

I asked two children to draw an island on the board. The first one drew a wiggly round object. The second child objected, “That doesn’t look like an island,” and she drew some uneven hills and valleys running down on both ends to a straight line for water. I asked the first child where he was when he saw his island. “Up above,” came promptly. To the same question, the second child replied with equal promptness, “In a boat.” “Good,” I said, and meant it. “Now both of you draw your island as a fish would see it.” The children knew that the island must go down to the bottom of the sea. But how?  They finally anchored their islands with a straight line going down to another straight line – the bottom of the harbor. In a big box, we made a relief map out of cement using a pilot map as base. Then we poured in water. The tops of hills became islands. The deep valley where the dredger had been working became the main channel.[11]

 

This is inspired conventional teaching. It conveys a geographic fact in an unforgettable way.

 

It is instructive to compare this lesson with Brown’s treatment of an apparently similar topic in The Little Island. That book begins with a discussion of an island as a self-contained world, with its own inhabitants and visitors, its own seasons and changes, its own variety of appearance and mood.

 

Then the kitten comes and puts the island in its place: "This little island is as little as Big is Big." And the island replies, "So are you." And the kitten jumps into the air, declaring himself to be "a little fur Island in the air."  But then he continues, "But I am part of this big world. My feet are on it." "So am I," said the little Island. The kitten doesn't believe this and asks a fish: "How is an island part of the land." The fish tells her she must take it on faith.  "And the fish told the kitten how all land is one land under the sea. The cat’s eyes were shining with the secret of it. And because he loved secrets, he believed." [12]

 

The same geographic point that Mitchell is making in her lesson figures also into Brown’s treatment: she is giving the children facts to think with. But the fact is told in the context of conveying an image of independent and separate existence as both real and somehow not the whole story. The island can be understood as separate, as like a world in itself, with all the elements that any place has. And yet it is also part of something bigger, connected to something bigger in secret and comforting ways. The last part of the book discusses the storms and seasons sweeping over the island; the island remains stable through all this change, a part of the world.

 

One way to think about the relationship between Mitchell’s lesson and Brown’s lesson is this: in order for Mitchell’s geography to really get a grip on students, they must come to see their individual stories as bound up with those of their family, their neighbors, the landforms and the waterways. As long as they see themselves as fundamentally independent of anything outside them, all geography teaching will remain a mass of distant and vaguely interesting fact – however well they learn it. It is only when they adopt an attitude that allows them to take history and geography and all the general treatments of the world seriously as being also about them that they can really be impressed by these matters. And that change of attitude, more basic than any absorbed fact, is what Margaret Wise Brown is offering children as a possibility, as an opportunity. 


Bibliography

 

Antler, Joyce. Lucy Sprague Mitchell: The Making of a Modern Woman. New York and London: Yale University Press, 1987.

 

Bader, Barbara. American Picture Books from Noah’s Ark to the Beast Within. New York: Macmillan, 1976.

 

Bader, Barbara. “A Lien on the World.” New York Times Book Review. 9 November 1980: 50, 66-7.

 

Bechtel, Louise Seaman. “Margaret Wise Brown: Laureate of the Nursery.”  Horn Book. 34 (1958): 173-186.

 

Brown, Margaret Wise. The Big Fur Secret. New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1944.

 

 __________ Black and White. New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1944.

 

__________ Country Noisy Book. New York: W.R. Scott, 1940. – The Dead Bird. New York: W. R. Scott, 1958.

 

__________ The First Story. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1947.

 

__________ The Fish with the Deep Sea Smile. New York: E.P. Dutton and Company, 1948.

 

__________ Goodnight Moon. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1947.

 

__________ The House of a Hundred Windows. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1945.

__________ The Important Book. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1949.

 

__________ Little Chicken. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1943.

 

__________ The Little Farmer. New York: W. R. Scott, 1948.

 

__________ The Little Fisherman: A Fish Story. New York: W. R. Scott, 1945.

 

__________ The Little Fur Family. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1946.

 

__________ The Little Island. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1946.

 

__________ Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1952.

 

__________ My World. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1949.

 

__________ The Noisy Book. New York: W. R. Scott, 1939.

 

__________ The Polite Penguin. New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1941.

 

__________ The Runaway Bunny. New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1942.

 

__________ Two Little Trains. New York: W. R. Scott, 1949

 

__________ Wait Till the Moon is Full. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1948. –

 

__________ When the Wind Blew. New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1937.

 

__________ Wonderful Story Book . New York: Simon and Schuster, 1941.

 

__________ “Creative Writing for Very Young Children.” The Book of Knowledge Annual. 1951: 77-81.

 

Brown, Margaret Wise, and Mary Phelps. “Lucy Sprague Mitchell.” Horn Book  13 (1937):.158-163.

 

Crews, Frederick. The Pooh Perplex: A Freshman Casebook. New York: E.P. Dutton,1963.

 

Darling, Frances C. “Review of The Important Book.” The Christian Science Monitor 14 November 1939: 10.


Eads, Martha Greene. “Unwitting Redemption in Margaret Edson's Wit.” Christianity and Literature 51 (2002), 241-54.

 

Estes, Angela M. “Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by You Know Who.”
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___________  Here and Now Story Book. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1921.

 

__________ Two Lives:The Story of Wesley Clair Mitchell and Myself. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1953.

 

Palmer, Lois. “Review of A Child’s Goodnight Book.” New York Times Book Review. 28 November 1943: 20.

 

Rahn, Suzanne. “Cat-Quest: A Symbolic Animal in Margaret Wise Brown.”
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Stanton, Joseph. “'Goodnight Nobody': Comfort and the Vast Dark in the Picture-Poems of Margaret Wise Brown and Her Collaborators.”. The Lion and the Unicorn: A Critical Journal of Children's Literature14 (1990): 66-76.

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Susina, Jan. “Children's Reading, Repetition, and Rereading: Gertrude Stein, Margaret Wise Brown, and Goodnight Moon.” Second Thoughts: Focus on Rereading. Ed. David Galef. Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 1998. 115-25...
 
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[1] Frederick Crews, The Pooh Perplex, (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1963) 55-56.

[2] Barbara Bader, “A Lien on the World,” New York Times Book Review November 9, 1980: 66-67.

[3] Margaret Wise Brown, “Creative Writing for Very Young Children,” The Book of Knowledge Annual 1951: 80.

[4] Brown 81.

[5] “Margaret Wise Brown,” Children’s Literature Review, 1986: 37.

[6] Lois Palmer, “Review of A Child’s Goodnight Book,” New York Times Book Review November 28, 1943: 20.

[7] Margaret Wise Brown, The Important Book (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1949).

[8] Frances C. Darling, “Review of The Important Book, The Christian Science Monitor, 14 September 1939: 10.

[9] Leonard Marcus, “Margaret Wise Brown,” Children’s Books and Their Creators, ed by Anita Silvey (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1995) 96.

[10] Marcus, 97.

[11] Lucy Sprague Mitchell, Two Lives: The Story of Wesley Clair Mitchell and Myself, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1953) 423.

[12] Margaret Wise Brown, The Little Island, (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1946).