We only have two books by Margaret Wise Brown: Goodnight Moon and The Big Red Barn. However, on the basis of those alone, I have become a fan. Of course I remember Goodnight Moon from my own childhood, but thirty years and a couple of English Lit degrees later, reading it feels a bit different. I still like to search for the mouse in each of the pictures, but now I also really appreciate the beautiful choices it makes, saying goodnight to both the tangible and the abstract: nobody, stars, air. It’s like a serenity poem. I also love the sense of sweeping grandeur she and illustrator Felicia Bond give the pastoral landscape in The Big Red Barn. There’s a bit where she’s listing out some of the denizens of the farm and what they’re doing; the page ends with “And a field mouse was born”, leading to a two-page splash devoted to the simple words, “In a field of corn.” The drawing takes us deep within a forest of cornstalks, towering like redwoods around a tiny group of mice. It’s lovely. I also love the ending to that book: all the animals go to sleep, “While the moon sailed high / In the dark night sky.”
Where our other children’s books feel like doggerel at best, Brown’s are poetry.