May 23 is Margaret Wise Brown’s birthday. In this episode we look at some of the many great books she wrote that have entertained children for three generations.
Books Discussed in This Episode:
Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids.
This coming Sunday is Margaret Wise Brown’s birthday, so I thought I would dedicate this whole episode to her and her books. Margaret Wise Brown was born in 1910 and died in 1952. She lived kind of a wild and crazy life, but in her lifetime of only 42 years, she wrote over 100 children’s books. And some of them have been published recently for the first time. She’s most well-known for her Goodnight Moon book and the sequel to that My World and The Runaway Bunny, but she has so many books, and many of her books are quirky and very interesting. I promise I’m not going to cover all 100 books in this episode, but I did pick out some of hers that are my favorites.
Good Night Moon is where the little bunny doesn’t want to go to sleep. So he’s saying goodnight to everything, including the moon and the stars and the pictures on the walls and trying to avoid going to sleep. The odd thing about the book is that it refers to his mom or grandma who’s sitting in the rocking chair is the old lady, which is just bizarre. But other than that, the book is quite sweet and very nice for reading before bedtime.
My World is this same little bunny in the same little house. It’s comparing his comb to his dad’s comb, his pajamas to his dad’s pajamas and his little toy bunny’s pajamas. One of the common characteristics of Brown’s books are that she gives children autonomy and also helps them realize that they are important. So that’s kind of a cool part of her books. And that’s quite often a theme in her books.
Another one is she celebrates family. She celebrates the seasons and nature. Many of her books have a Christian undertone to them. The characters may pray in the story. Those kinds of themes run through almost all of her books. And that is true for My World. It honors the family and gives the child kind of his own identity and autonomy.
Now The Runaway Bunny is another one of her best known books. And in this one, the bunny is going to run away, and we all have had those moments when our kids are being really just terrible that they’re threatening to run away and they just don’t like us or whatever. This book is showing that in this little bunny; he wants to run away and his mom says, “If you run away, then I will run after you.” And he’s like, “Well, if you run after me, I’m going to turn into a trout and go into the river.” And she’s like, if you do that, I’m going to do this. And so everything he says he’s going to do, she’s coming after him and is not going to let him go. And so I love this book, even though the child is being a little bit of a stinker, it’s a really great book to show a parent’s unconditional love that loves the child, even when they’re being a stinker.
The other books, the ones that I first knew of hers were actually The Important Book. And this one we used when I was teaching elementary school to talk about how to write paragraphs, to emphasize sensory details, and to think of the main idea. I’m going to read a little bit of this one. “The important thing about a spoon is that you eat with it. It’s like a little shovel. You hold it in your hand. You can put it in your mouth. It isn’t flat, it’s hollow, and it spoons things up. But the important thing about a spoon is that you eat with it.” Each of the pages deals with a common everyday item, which I like because it helps kids to be more observant to the things around them. And then she chooses what’s the most important thing about this item? I think it’s fun to also have the kids think about, “Well, is that the most important thing about a spoon? Well, I think for a spoon, maybe that is the most important thing, but for a Daisy on the very next page, it says the important thing about a Daisy is that it is white. It is yellow in the middle. It has long white, pedals, and bees sit on it. It has a ticklish smell. It grows in green fields ,and there are always lots of daisies. But the important thing about a daisy is that it is white.” We could ask the kids. “Do you think that’s the most important thing about a daisy?” Because I don’t think that’s the most important thing about a daisy. I think the most important thing about a daisy is that it helps feed the bees maybe, or that it makes the world more beautiful or, you know, whatever they could come up with their own ideas. The next page is “The important thing about grass is that it is green. It grows and is tender with a sweet grassy smell. But the important thing about grass is that it is green.” Now as a child, the important thing about grass is that you can roll around in it and run and have a great time. Or maybe the most important thing about grass is that it’s showing us it’s summer or spring. But what’s fun about this book is that it helps you to see how to kind of craft a paragraph, to bring in sensory details, but then to focus on what is our main point, what is our topic sentence? So I actually like to use this book with your second grade through fourth grade students, to help them with their writing almost more than just using it as a storybook. And you can do that with a lot of her books.
She has a few that deal with sensory detail. If you’re dealing with writing descriptive paragraphs, you can use The Noon Balloon or The Big Red Barn. They both have a lot of sensory details. If you’re talking about onomatopoeia, a lot of her books have onomatopoeia in them.
She also has, which has just recently come out Another Important Book. I love this one. This one talks about what’s most important about the child at a certain age. And so it’s talking about child development. This one is really cute and very well done.
Then she has several books, like I said about families. There’s one called All the Families. And this shows what different families do throughout the day–it talks about these different animal families and what they do throughout the day.
And then she also has Little Fur Family, and it’s a little bear family. And they go through their day and what they do. So several of her books deal with family.
Then she has some books that are about seasons and one of her books is called–It depends which version you get; it’s the same book–One is Sunshine and Snowballs. And it’s also published under the title, A Song for All Seasons. It’s the same book, and it’s a really nicely done book. It goes through the seasons of the year and helps the children identify the seasons. It’s really pretty and really nicely done and quite beautiful.
And then she has some other story books that, again, deal with a child’s identity and autonomy. The Little Island is about an Island, but it’s also talking about how we’re all connected and we’re all part of the earth. We’re all part of the world. Even though it’s a little Island surrounded by water, underneath the water, everything is connected and we are islands and we are connected to each other. And so that’s kind of the theme of that little book. And it’s a quirky little book. It was written of course, a long time ago. And so there’s one part in the book where the cat is talking to a fish. And if the fish doesn’t answer the cat’s question, she’s going to eat it or kill it, it says. And so, you know, we wouldn’t put that in a book today. So there are things like that in some of her books, but I tried to choose ones that don’t have too much of that, but the little Island does have that one phrase in it.
And then The Seven Little Postmen is a really old book of hers. It was published back in her lifetime, and it is really cute. It’s about a little boy who writes a letter to his grandmother, and he has a secret in it. And so he seals it with wax, so no one can open it. And it goes through the process of how a letter gets from one point to another point. And so there’s seven little postmen who help it get to the place it’s supposed to go. So you could use this in talking about process and how you go through chronologically in order of the steps of something happening. But it also is a very cute story about a little grandson and his grandmother. I like this book. It’s really cute.
And two of her books that I really liked too, are Around the World We Go, and The Moon Shines Down. Both of these take you around the world and talk about different cultures. Around the World We Go talks about different languages. We’re learning the things we do not know. I love that. I like the way it admits that we don’t understand everything. We don’t know everything. When we go around the world, we learn things we didn’t know we didn’t know. It’s kind of cool. And then The Moon Shines Down shows how the moon shines down on every land in every country. And it kind of goes through some of the things we might see in those countries. It’s a children’s picture book, so it’s very short and doesn’t give, you know, a lot of detail or anything, but it’s really cute as you travel around the world. And the moon sees me and I see the moon. And in each of those countries they thank God for the moon.
The Find It Book has allusion to all the different nursery rhymes. And in each picture, the child is looking for something that’s in the picture. It’s really cute. So like we’re looking for Little Bo Peep’s lost sheep. And then we’re looking for the wolf in sheep’s clothing. In one of the pictures we’re looking for the mouse that ran up the clock. On each page of the book, the child is looking for something in the picture that goes along with that nursery rhyme.
Color Kittens is one of her classic books as well. And this one, you get to mix colors. The kittens paint everything, and mix colors. And they’re trying to make green. And they keep mixing colors, and they don’t make green. They make purple. They make orange. They make pink. And then finally they mix the right two colors and get green, almost by accident, it says.
And then most recently she’s had two books published that are her poetry, and they have done these really nicely to be very special books because instead of having just one illustrator for the entire book, they have taken several illustrators and let them illustrate her different poems. One is called Goodnight Songs, and one is A Celebration of Seasons. And these are really nice. It’s just her poetry that they’ve only found in recent years.
And one of her really sweet books is Wish Upon a Dream. This one talks about each of the animals and what they might be dreaming about–what they might be wishing for. And then it kind of leaves it to where the children can sleep and dream and wish for what they want. It’s just very lyrical.
Now, one of her books, they have two different versions of the same book. It’s called Two Little Trains. And one is like a high speed rail train. And one is a little chug chug, old-fashioned train, and they’re both going West. And so it starts out talking about how they’re a little bit different, but then they both go to the same places. And it’s a cute story. It’s one that children would love because of the rhythm and the lyricism of it. But one of the versions of the book is more modernized in the pictures. Oh, and there’s a lot of onomatopoeia in these too–in this book. But one of the versions of the story has more modern illustrations and the more modern illustrations are done by Leo and Diane Dillman. And it was published in 2001. The other one has more classic illustrations, but it actually was published in 2020. The one that’s more classically illustrated that was published in 2020 is illustrated by Greg Pizzoli. I prefer this one personally, but the cool thing about the other one that is quite unique is that throughout the pictures, you have the pictures of the trains, and then it shows a picture of a toy train. And so when the trains are going through the rain, you actually see a toy train on the edge of the tub with the shower, and it’s getting rained on from the shower. So you kind of get the feeling that a child is actually playing and imagining these two trains going West. And so that part is really kind of cool about this one that is illustrated by the Dillons. I don’t know which one to recommend because they both have really cute qualities and are unique in their own ways. So you would have to kind of look at the pictures online and see which one you prefer. I’ll put the cover art of both in the show notes. So you can kind of look at those.
If you have a favorite book, I haven’t mentioned of hers, please put it in the blog comments so that we can see what your favorite book is of her books. She has written so many. Many of hers were published as Little Golden Books.
Today for our devotional. I was thinking of the scripture from Psalm 139, but I want to start actually with Margaret Wise Brown’s book, The Runaway Bunny and what it says at the beginning of it. It says, “Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away. So he said to his mother, ‘I am running away.’ ‘If you run away,’ said his mother, ‘I will run after you, for you are my little bunny.’ ‘If you run after me,’ said the little bunny, ‘I will become a fish in a trout stream, and I will swim away from you.’ ‘If you become a fish in a trout stream,’ said his mother, ‘I will become a fishermen. And I will fish for you.'” And so in each of the pages of this book, the bunny says he’s going to run away. And the mommy bunny makes a way to find him, to bring him home in the same way. When we look at Psalm 139 in the Easy-to-Read Version, it says, “Lord, you have tested me. So you know all about me. You know, when I sit down and when I get up. You know my thoughts from far away. You know where I go and where I lie down. You know everything I do. Lord, you know what I want to say even before the words leave my mouth. You are all around me–in front of me and behind me. I feel your hand on my shoulder. I am amazed at what you know, it is too much for me to understand. Your spirit is everywhere I go. I cannot escape your presence. If I go up to heaven, you will be there. If I go down to the place of death, you will be there. If I go East where the sun rises or go to live in the West, beyond the sea, even there, you will take my hand and lead me. Your strong right hand will protect me. Suppose I wanted to hide from you and said, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me. The day will change to night and cover me.’ Even the darkness is not dark to you. The night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are the same. You formed me the way I think and feel. You put me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because you made me in such a wonderful way. I know how amazing that was.”
And in this, we see that we cannot go away from God’s presence in the same way that the runaway bunny was trying to run away from his mom. Sometimes we try to run away from God. We don’t want to listen to what He says. We want to do what we want to do. And we all can have those selfish times and those self-serving times in our lives, God says He pursues us–that He doesn’t let us go. Jesus tells us, in Matthew 18, the story of the lost sheep. And it says in verse 10, “Be careful. Don’t think these little children are not important. I tell you that these children have angels in heaven. And those angels are always with my father in heaven. If a man has 100 sheep, but one of the sheep is lost, what will he do? He will leave the other 99 sheep on the hill and go to look for the lost sheep, right? And if he finds the lost sheep, he is happier about that one sheep than about the 99 sheep that were never lost. I can assure you in the same way, your father in heaven does not want any of these little children to be lost.” God doesn’t want any of us to be lost. He will pursue each of us. He wants each of us to be His child and to be with Him in a relationship. And that’s what we call becoming a Christian. When we believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and we turn away from our sin and ask Him to forgive us and help us to live a right life with Him, then we are His child, and He takes care of us. He walks with us and we are always with him. And no matter where we try to go, he finds us. And He is with us. We can never go away from His presence. He always sees us. He always hears us, and He always knows us. And that is a wonderful gift that God has given us. It’s a wonderful promise to know that He is always with us, and He will never leave us. And just like the runaway bunny was trying to run away from his mom, her love would pursue him wherever he went. God is always with us.
Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. I hope these books spark many wonderful conversations and fun times with the children in your life. I try to find books that will bless you and your kids. I also try to provide materials that will help you as you teach and disciple your children. Most of these materials are free on my website. Some are only available to those on my mailing list. You can sign up for my mailing list on my website at TerrieHellardBrown.com. Remember if I didn’t mention one of Margaret Wise Brown books that is one of your favorites, please comment in the blog comments and let us know what your favorite Margaret Wise Brown book is.
Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.
Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.
Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.
For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com
Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.
Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.