"In the great green room there was a telephone, and a red balloon" has signaled bedtime for countless children since the publication of Margaret Wise Brown's classic Goodnight Moon in 1947. Brown, who never had children of her own, nonetheless understood the intrigue of rhythm and rhyme for young children. From her days of early childhood education at Bank Street College in New York through her career as editor and author, until her untimely death in 1952, she was constantly writing stories and rhymes that appeal to young children.
Recently, her younger sister Roberta Brown Rauch has brought forth some of Brown's manuscripts that had never been published. Noted artist Susan Jeffers was invited to illustrate several of these for a book, and the result is the newly published Love Songs of the Little Bear. In the illustrator's note at the back, Jeffers describes how the title poem gave her the vision for "a young character, a family, and a setting." Following that poem, set "one morning in May," are three others that take Little Bear - and readers - through the seasons: "Green Song" (summer), "Song of Wind and Rain" (fall), and "Snow Song" (winter).
But this is not simply a visit to the calendar. The happy, loving relationship between mother and child, suggested so warmly on the cover, becomes the impetus for Little Bear's own exploration and pleasure in the natural world "where the little things creep . . . where the little bugs are all asleep." Jeffers' large, full-page pictures have many details that add to the enticing rhymes, such as a goose and a pig for playmates in the rain.
Even though Brown's poems had presumably not been sufficiently polished for publication, their unusual rhyming schemes are just right for a young child. She understood the lure of repetition of both phrase and sound. In the winter poem, "Snow, snow, slow, slow, in the soft fall of the snow," she has captured the feeling of quietness and rest. And it is the very feeling a child needs at bedtime!
One interesting note - we usually think of Brown in connection with rabbits because of Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. With the publication of Love Songs of the Little Bear, we'll have to change our thinking.
Etta Wilson loves little children and their books - any time of the year.