Picture Books and Margaret Wise Brown


“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 jolt him with the unexpected and comfort him with the familiar; and perhaps to lift him for a few minutes from his own problems of shoe laces 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.” Margaret Wise Brown

This was 1935 and it was brand new stuff for picture books. Before Margaret Wise Brown, the picture book had been dominated by fairytales and fables. Margaret Wise Brown’s focus on a child’s every day life dignified children’s own lives and was a game changer–it changed children’s literature and the picture book for ever.

And it was fed by her work as a teacher at the progressive Bank Street Experimental School in New York City, where she listened to children and heard their stories and how they spoke.

It’s what makes her voice so distinctive. I love her titles: The Noisy Book, The Important Book, Another Important Book. They’re still fresh today. How radical they must have been then.

She was a pioneer. She fought for keeping big words in her books, refusing to dum down the language. She fought to get authors and illustrators proper royalties and fought to get the illustrator the same royalties as writer. (Before they had only received a flat fee.)

What would you spend your first royalty check on? She spent hers on a cart full of flowers. How wonderful. Then she invited all her friends over for a party to help her enjoy them. What style!


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