WASHINGTON — Margaret Wise Brown’s bedtime stories have been treasured by the young and old for generations. But what many don’t realize about the author who wrote “Goodnight Moon” and “The Runaway Bunny,” is that Brown penned more than books — she was also a songwriter.
“She wanted to change children’s music the way that she had changed children’s books,” says Amy Gary, author of a forthcoming biography on Brown.
When Brown died at the age of 42 in 1952, she left behind a trunk of unpublished manuscripts — and it wasn’t until the 1990s that these works were discovered by Gary and Brown’s sister.
“She opened up the trunk and there were just hundreds of papers,” Gary says. “She had music that she had written, she had all sorts of stories … I couldn’t believe that all these unpublished manuscripts were left behind.”
Before Brown published “Goodnight Moon” in 1947, fairy tales and fables were the most popular children’s books. But Brown thought little ones “would much rather read about their own lives than something that didn’t really exist,” Gary explains.
“That’s why ‘Goodnight Moon’ had the success it’s had for all these years. That is a timeless, universal thing. Children want to feel safe and secure as they go to bed.”
Brown, who signed on with Columbia Records two years before her death, took the same approach with her music. The songs and poems she wrote reflected a child’s everyday occurrences and observations.
Working with some of the world’s most well-known illustrators, Gary compiled 12 of Brown’s hidden poems into a new book, called “Goodnight Songs: A Celebration of the Seasons.” Musicians Emily Gary and Tom Proutt set each poem to an original score on the book’s accompanying CD.
Gary says like much of Brown’s work, the collection of poems all share the common theme of nature.
“Her mind never stopped working, and I think her hand never stopped writing. She had so much work she left behind,” says Gary, who estimates that about 50 books can be produced from all the undiscovered work in Brown’s trunk.
So be on the lookout for more classics from Brown.
“There are certainly other books on the horizon, and hopefully more music. “We’ve only begun to scratch the surface, I hope,” Gary says.