Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Garth WIlliams and Margaret Wise Brown's Heartbreaking Forgotten Masterpiece: Three Little Animals (First Edition, 1956)

In the canon of early children's literature, very few occupy a position as that of Margaret Wise Brown, whose ubiquitous Goodnight Moon is an essential gift for all new parents. But many of her other classic works are still in print and quite popular. Our favorites are her collaborations with illustrator Garth Williams (who also drew the Little House covers, Charlotte's Web, and Stuart Little), including Little Fur Family (the "furry" edition was an important part of bedtime around here for years) and Mister Dog.

When we found this book a few years ago, I immediately knew it was something special: a Brown/Williams collaboration we'd never heard about featuring the same sort of indeterminate "fur animals" as Little Fur Family? But I didn't know exactly how special this book was until I opened it. Inside, there was a full-page inscription stating that the book was found in Wellesley in 1975 and given to a little girl named Emily Adele Needham in 1983:

The most interesting part is obviously the description of Margaret Wise "Bunny" Brown: "In N.Y.C. and at Stonybrook Farm we knew & loved Margaret Wise Brown. All of her friends called her 'Bunny'. but she did not look like a bunny, at all. She was tall & smart & sophisticated. She loved to sit in a rocking chair, with children piled on her lap. They all sang together."

This anecdote certainly differs from  the one in her "official" biography on

The author who wrote so prolifically and beautifully for children, never had any children of her own. One illustrator claimed she liked children in theory, but in person it was a different story. This was only partly true, since there were individual children she enjoyed. One such child often visited her and exchanged his thoughts on her works. He was named in her will to receive royalties on many of her works, including Runaway Bunny and Goodnight Moon.

I like the former story better.

Three Little Animals is one of my favorite children's books.  It is a beautifully-illustrated, perfectly-paced tale about the importance of being true to yourself. The book was out-of-print in 1983 when it was given to the recipient in the inscription, and it remains out of print today. I am sharing it here in its entirely because I believe this book should not be lost or forgotten, and deserves to be appreciated as much as some of Williams and "Bunny's" other works:

The look on the face of "The Littlest One" in this crowd scene is so incredible:

I love the line "Only gorillas and people have heels":

I love this moment when the fur animals finally recognize each other:

This page is just so magical, words and picture:

Isn't it a shame that Harper hasn't kept this book in print?