Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Golden MacDonald/ Leonard Weisgard, picture book extraordinaires

We are great lovers of picture books. It is always so exciting to stumble across a gem of a book. My latest trip to the library I was so excited to find Red Light, Green Light by Golden Mac Donald, Illustrated by the sublime Leonard Weisgard. It has been long out of print, and the copy we borrowed has that musty smell, and the smooth pages of a book which has been handled over and over and had its pages turned again and again . On every page of illustration, somewhere is a little green light and a little red light. The story follows a little town from dawn until dusk, and such characters as a little mouse, a jeep, a boy, and a cat. There is a wonderful cadence, which repeats "Green light they did go. Red light they didn't. Red light. Stop. Green light. Go." My children have loved to read along adding their own "Stop!" and "Go!"

Golden MacDonald is one of the pseudonyms for Margret Wise Brown of Goodnight Moon fame. The books written by her under this name target slightly older children, often interspersing pages of just illustration, with text. Many of them are illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, most notably The Little Island which won the Caldecott award. The Little Island contains one of my favorite passages in all of children's literature:

"So the kitten caught a fish. 'Answer me this or I'll eat you up,' said the kitten. 'How is an Island a part of the land?' 'Come with me,' said the fish, 'down into the dark secret places of the sea and I will show you.' 'I can't swim,' said the cat. 'Show me another way or I'll eat you up.' 'Then you must take it on faith what I tell you,' said the fish 'What's that?' said the cat--'Faith.' 'To believe what I tell you about what you don't know,' said the fish. And the fish told the kitten how all land is one land under the sea. The cat's eyes were shining with the secret of it. And because he loved secrets he believed. And he let the fish go."

Another worthy addition to the Golden MacDonald/ Leonard Wiesgard collection is the book: Whistle for the Train. For any who have poured over Margret Wise Brown's The Train to Timbuctoo or Virginia Lee Burton's Choo Choo, this book is an essential. Whistle for the Train is full of train pictures and train sounds put together in a simply stunning combination. This is also out of print- but available used or at the library.

And as I was writing this entry, my 8 year old daughter pulled out The Important Book, which is another fabulous collaboration by these two- though Margret Wise Brown is writing under her own name. The text is worked into the illustrations, and focuses on the essence of things in a way towards which children are so naturally drawn. It has a repetitive structure, which my children then carry over to their own observations of their world, their favorite things. My oldest daughter's favorite page as an example:
"The important thing about an apple is that it is round. It is red. You bite it, and it is white inside, and the juice splashes in your face, and it tastes like an apple, and it falls off a tree. But the important thing about an apple is that it is round."

For further information on Leonard Weisgard:
click here

For further information about Margaret Wise Brown (Golden MacDonald):
click here


  1. I love Margaret Wise Brown. I have not read all of these titles though- off to put them on reserve at the library!

  2. Great post. I loves me some book talk!