When she died at the age of 42 in 1952, author Margaret Wise Brown left a legacy of more than 100 children's books, including the classics Goodnight Moon (which has sold 4 million copies since 1947) and Runaway Bunny (1942). What Brown's devoted fans didn't know was that she also left behind a collection of unpublished manuscripts for 73 other books. The author's sister, Roberta Brown Rauch, tried to sell some of the stories in 1957; when no publishers showed any interest, she kept paper-clipped bundles of the more than 500 typewritten pages in a cedar trunk, where they remained until Amy Gary, publisher of Montevallo, Ala.-based WaterMark Inc., rediscovered them earlier this year.
''I got really excited and jumped up and down,'' recalls Gary, a longtime fan of Brown, who had sold re-print rights to three of Brown's other books to Hyperion Books for Children, a Disney Publishing imprint.
Gary calls Brown's work remarkably ''forward-looking'' for its time, citing as examples manuscripts for The Sleepy Men, a bedtime tale for fathers to read to sons, Dirty Mary (''about a girl who really likes to be dirty''), He Heard Sea Shells by the Sea Shore (intended to be read while listening to a record of seashore sounds), and a pop-up book.
Gary, who is handling the sale of the stories to publishers, says some new Brown books could be in stores next year. Disney which plans to publish a collection of Brown's poetry found in the trunk and HarperCollins have expressed interest so far, she says. With 67 other possible new books (five of the stories are unfinished), Brown's forgotten manuscripts may be sleeping beauties but don't say good night to them yet.