Literary Daybook, May 23

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors

Published May 23, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On May 23, the liverwurst is still in the deli.
-- "Don't Buy the Liverwurst" (1962)
by Alan Sherman

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1910, Margaret Wise Brown was born. Although Brown died at age 42, she wrote over 100 children's books, including "The Runaway Bunny" (1942) and "Goodnight Moon" (1947). Brown's writing philosophy developed through her association with the "here-and-now" school of children's literature led by Lucy Sprague Mitchell. One of Mitchell's monographs on the world inhabited by Mollie, a typical 2-year-old at her experimental school, might be seen as a recipe for simply told, everyday stories like "Goodnight Moon":

"Sometimes Mollie's remarks are repeated over and over until they trail off into a rhythmic chant ... The stories that Mollie seems to enjoy (presumably because she understands them) are about Mollie and Mollie's emotional waverings between dependence and independence, her adventures with her own bed, her own dinner, her own blocks, her own places to sit, her own kitty ..."

As described by her biographer, Leonard Marcus ("Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon," 1992), Brown was dynamic, eccentric and childlike in spirit. Her relationships were certainly adventurous: dates with the Prince of Spain; a 10-year turmoil with Michael Strange (the poet-actress Blanche Oelrichs); a planned marriage to "Pebble" Rockefeller, age 26, when she was 42. The marriage remained theoretical, due to Brown's sudden and odd death: In an effort to show she had recovered from routine surgery, she kicked her leg can-can style, and died instantaneously from an embolism.

For the 50th anniversary of "Goodnight Moon," HarperCollins collected testimonials from the book's fans, among which was this story of the great green room's power:

"I have read 'Goodnight Moon' to my two sons since the oldest was born in 1980. When I was 42, I found out that I was going to have a daughter. 'Goodnight Moon' was Georgia's first and her favorite book. She kissed the kittens and waved to the moon. She begged all of us to read it to her, but it was our 10-year-old son, Walker, who was most often found sitting with her reading 'moon.' Georgia died in 1994 in an accident on her second birthday. 500 people crowded into the church to comfort us and to comfort each other. Walker, who has learning disabilities and has had a hard time learning to read, got up to read 'Goodnight Moon.' He was visibly nervous, but several pages in, he forgot all about the people crowded into the church and he read unhesitatingly from the heart. A friend sitting beside the children's librarian from our public library noticed her lips moving as she silently recited the words of this beloved book along with him. Later, we realized that she wasn't the only one ..."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

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