In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown
“If the measure of a good life story is the longing it leaves in the reader to have known its subject, this one more than succeeds,” said Meghan Cox Gurdon in The Wall Street Journal. Margaret Wise Brown, whose children’s books became bedtime staples for millions, comes across in Amy Gary’s portrayal as winningly witty, resourceful, and adventurous. Within her 42-year lifetime, she had many romances, never married, and wrote more than 100 children’s books, among them such classics as Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. If you know those books, you probably can imagine yourself how lively Brown’s mind was, because “there’s a lightness in her verse, a natural and seemingly accidental beauty that echoes the way children think and speak.”
What interests Gary most is her subject’s personal life, said Karen MacPherson in The Washington Post. A senator’s granddaughter and a bit of a maverick, Brown moved to Greenwich Village in the 1930s after she finished college and jilted her first fiancé. She was working at a progressive teacher’s college when she wrote her first children’s book, and ideas came to her easily, sometimes even out on a ski slope. Because two concurrent affairs— one with a married man, the other with John Barrymore’s androgynous ex-wife—occupied much of Brown’s romantic life, “a page-turner of a biography” is nearly guaranteed. Unfortunately, though, much of the drama is told from Brown’s perspective without clear reference to the diary passages or letters that would justify such a tactic.
In some ways, Brown never did grow up, said Laura Miller in Slate.com. At 42, she finally met a man—a young Rockefeller no less—who adored her and was pledging a happy future. But then Brown was hospitalized for a routine appendectomy, and in answer to a nurse who asked how she felt, Brown gave a cheerful, cancan-like kick that dislodged a blood clot and killed her almost instantly. “It was both a shocking demise and somehow perfectly in keeping with the verve with which she lived.”