Book Article

A Trunkful of Treasures

Margaret Wise Brown's manuscripts -- A treasure trove of old books showed up earlier this year

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 What Brown's devoted fans didn't know was that she also left behind a collection of unpublished manuscripts for 73 other books.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.

Originally posted Oct 18, 1991 Published in issue #88 Oct 18, 1991 Order article reprints