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Goodnight Songs

Goodnight Songs and The Quiet Noisy Board Book by Margaret Wise Brown

Ann Uppington

Ask any parent if they remember Margaret Wise Brown’s The Runaway Bunny, Goodnight Moon or The Little Red Barn and you bet they will recall at least one of these books they read as children. Battered copies get handed down through the generations, rediscovered or bought anew. Goodnight Songs published in 2014 we predict will be one of those special books that adults and children will delight in, remember and pass on.

The author, Margaret Wise Brown died tragically at the age of 42 in 1952 after an appendectomy in France. She was on a book tour and had been writing poetry, working on a collection of songs for children’s record company and collaborating with a number of singer songwriters, including Rosemary Clooney and Burl Ives.

Margaret was interested in song and the music of words, as she had observed that small children often sing to themselves, composing thoughts and using fragments of speech they have heard or made up. Singing and speech often go hand in hand for the young child but as the child gets older there is a separation and the singing declines and words take over. Margaret wanted to keep this door to the singing world of words or the “poetry” of sound open as long as possible.
Over 23 years after Margaret’s death Amy Gary visited Margaret’s sister, Roberta Raunch on her farm in Vermont and was shown a cedar trunk full of unpublished work. Amy Gary became the future editor of Margaret Wise Brown’s estate and is responsible for the publishing of Goodnight Songs. The book has 12 song/poems in all, nine at least were found in the cedar trunk. Twelve well-known artists were each given a song to illustrate. Tom Proutt and Emily Gary composed and played the music on the accompanying CD, so that parents and children can sing together, turning the pages before tucking up to sleep.

Listen to the soft sounds of Mouse Prayer. Ask your child, can you can hear the fiddle in ‘Goat on the Moon, the slide trombone making slow sleepy sounds in “Sleep like a Rabbit, sleep like a bear, Sleep like an old cat under the chair,” and hear the penny whistle and cello in Song to Estyn and the long notes of bass harmonica [like a fog horn] in The Secret Song,”Who saw the petals Drop from a rose? I said the spider, But nobody knows.”

Our second Margaret Wise Brown book was just republished on June 27, 2017. It is a vintage board book originally published in 1950, called The Quiet Noisy Board Book, illustrated by the Caldicott gold medalist, Leonard Weisgard. This delightful and whimsical book is the story of “Muffin, the little dog

who heard everything”. Muffin is woken in the middle of the night by “a very quiet noise” and sets out on an adventure to find the source of the quiet noise. The book is a guessing game -was it a fish breathing or a grasshopper sneezing or perhaps the elephant tiptoeing down stairs? The book is about listening to the real and imaginary world around that we hardly noticed but is always there.


In the introduction to Goodnight Songs, Amy Gary quotes the author’s words” One can but hope to make a child laugh or feel clear and happy-headed as he follows the simple rhythm to its logical end. It can jog him with the unexpected and comfort him with the familiar, lift him for a few minutes from his own problems with shoelaces 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 a story’.

This joy and magic of books: their words, images and music infuse Margaret Wise Brown’s work and is her gift to us.


Author’s note -2017 has been a big year for admirers of Margaret Wise Brown. Amy Gary’s biography, “In the Great Green Room”, was recently published and also “The Runaway Bunny: A 75th Anniversary Retrospective” with an illustrated afterword by Leonard S. Marcus.


Goodnight Songs was published by Sterling books in March 2014, $17.95 recommended for 3-6 year olds.


Amy Gary’s biography of Margaret Wise Brown, “In the Great Green Room”, published by Flatiron $26.99.
The Runaway Bunny: A 75th Anniversary Retrospective”, HarperCollins, 64 pages, $19.99.

The Quiet Noisy Board Book, Harper Festival, $6.99 and on Amazon $6.49 recommended for 1-5 year olds.