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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

In the Great Green Room

The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown

Amy Gary

Flatiron Books





Once upon a summertime

A bug was crawling on a vine

A butterfly lit on a daisy

While a little bee

Buzzed himself crazy in a wild pink rose

And a child ran through the wet green grass

In his bare feet and wiggled his toes

The Unpublished Works of Margaret Wise Brown

The moon and sky over Brooklyn, New York, was bathed in the golden hue of an aurora borealis in the early morning hours of May 23. Sheet lightning to the south and east illuminated the shifting rays in a staccato dance of light. As the rising sun diminished the auroral lights, panic rose in the house of Bruce and Maude Brown. The baby they had been expecting more than two weeks earlier was now arriving in a rush. But the doctor was nowhere to be found.

Bruce was seriously ill with malaria contracted on a recent business trip and could be of little help. His nurse and Maude’s mother prepared, as best they could, to deliver the baby. Anna, their stern Irish nanny, paced the downstairs entry with the Brown’s two-year-old son, Gratz, waiting for the doctor to arrive. Maude’s screams in the final throes of labor were heard throughout the house and out the open door as the doctor dashed in. He bounded up the stairs, rolling his shirtsleeves as he climbed, reaching the bedside just in time to deliver the baby girl. He held her up for her mother to see, his cuff links still dangling from his sleeves.

That night, the sky was again ablaze with gold, green, and blue of the borealis that illuminated another celestial phenomenon. The earth’s shadow slowly stole the light of the full moon in a total lunar eclipse. It seemed as if the heavens were putting on a show to welcome the little girl Maude named Margaret Wise Brown.

*   *   *

Four years later, Maude Brown pressed Bruce for them to move from Brooklyn to Long Island. She found the walls of their neighborhood claustrophobic and believed the abundant nature Long Island offered would be good for their children. Bruce was reluctant to leave their formidable home on a hill. From there he could see the East River, and their house was a short walk to the docks and American Manufacturing Company’s warehouse, where he worked.

It was his job to travel to distant lands to purchase hemp and jute that were loaded onto massive cargo ships like the ones that streamed up and down the East River. Day and night, tiny tugs twirled about in the river, leading those large boats into port or out to sea. The whistles of the ships often drifted up the hill to the open windows of the Browns’ home. Transients from the docks, too, sometimes wandered into their neighborhood. The brick walls and wrought iron fences that lined the yards and streets silently declared that those people weren’t welcome. Even the cathedral at the end of their road appeared hostile instead of hospitable. Its imposing red doors cast a fortresslike air over the neighborhood.

The day Margaret and Gratz came home with a stranger, Bruce changed his mind about moving. The children were playing in their neighborhood park when they saw the man lying on the grass, looking up at the sky. They asked him what he was doing. He said that the sky’s shade of deep blue reminded him of his beloved homeland, Ireland. They delightedly told him that they, too, were Irish, so he shared captivating tales of the land he had left behind. The children invited him home for lunch, certain that their parents, who were quite proud of their Irish heritage, would want to meet this fellow countryman. Maude was gracious to the obviously impoverished man who sheepishly joined them at the table. Margaret and Gratz were not chastised for bringing the stranger home, but it wasn’t long before the Browns bought a sprawling home in Beechhurst on Long Island.

On the day of their move, Margaret sat in the back of the family’s open-air car with her grandmother as her father drove out of Brooklyn toward their new home on Long Island. She was named after this grandmother, a jolly Welsh woman with a beautiful singing voice. Margaret adored her and her lovely, lilting accent that sounded like music. She was much kinder than Margaret’s nanny, Anna, who dunked the little girl’s head under cold water every time she held her breath until she turned blue or threw a temper tantrum. Anna’s treatment had no lasting effect on Margaret’s innate stubborn streak. She liked the feeling of cold water on her face.

As the Browns left Brooklyn, they drove past the skyscrapers of New York City. When the veil on her grandmother’s hat billowed like a streamer behind their car, Margaret felt like they were in a parade. Once they reached Long Island, they rolled slowly past opulent mansions lining the coast and then rode inland toward fields and hills topped by towering trees. Bruce turned the car into the long dirt driveway of their new home. On either side of the car, tall green grass stretched out as far as Margaret could see. It looked like they were in the middle of a bright green ocean. When the car stopped in front of the newly built house, Margaret leaped from the car and ran straight into the meadow. The grass was higher than her head, and it felt like she were running through a wild green forest. It was the freest, happiest moment of her life.


Copyright © 2016 by Amy Gary