“In The Great Green Room”
(The Freeman) - January 5, 2017 - 12:00am


One cold winter day in January 1991, Amy Gary, the owner of a small publishing company, struck gold in a living room in Vermont. The sister of the late children’s author Margaret Wise Brown showed Gary a trunk brimming with unpublished material – songs, music scores, stories and poems. From that moment on, Gary’s life changed, as she explains: “For over 25 years, I’ve tried to live inside the wildly imaginative mind of Margaret Wise Brown.” Her latest contribution to Brown’s legacy is the fascinating biography “In the Great Green Room.”

Brown, who wrote more than 100 children’s books, is best known for two beloved classics, “Goodnight Moon” and “The Runaway Bunny.” Yet her personal life was the antithesis of those soothing bedtime tales, filled with drama, exuberance and, at times, sorrow and loneliness. Gary’s account captures Brown’s life in vivid, novel-like details and descriptions.


The glamorous children’s writer was certainly a study in contrasts. The woman who wrote about furry bunnies and other animals was a hunter – this book describes one such hare hunt with hounds. She was also wildly fun and inventive, throwing parties and leading a group of editors and writers in a self-proclaimed “Birdbrain Club.”


Born in 1910 and raised in a privileged background, she was educated at exclusive boarding schools in Switzerland and New England; however, she failed freshman English at Hollins College. Despite her success as a children’s writer, she longed to write more “serious” adult literature, but couldn’t.


Brown desperately tried to avoid the unhappiness she saw in her own parents’ marriage, and yet for most of her life, her love life was a shambles. While summering on the Maine coast she adored, she fell in love with a well-known womanizer who refused to marry her. She also loved and moved in with a woman 20 years her senior, the former wife of John Barrymore, who was often condescending toward Brown’s work. Finally, she found love with James Stillman Rockefeller Jr. (who writes a captivating foreword), a kind, energetic soul about 15 years her junior. They were about to be married when Brown tragically died at age 42, suffering an embolism after having an appendectomy in France.

For children’s literature buffs and fans of intriguing biographies, “In the Great Green Room” is a must-read.

Reviewed by Alice Cary


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