“Goodnight Moon” Is Gay: Margaret Wise Brown Was A Bisexual Badass, Y’all

Did you know that Goodnight Moonlike our beloved Baby-Sitter’s Club — was written by a queer woman? I know, me neither! But today The New York Post ran a review of Margaret Wise Brown’s new biography, In The Great Green Room, and the whole thing is just harrowing and delightful and best of all it talks about how Brown was bisexual and wrote the poem that inspired her most famous children’s book while pining for her longtime on-again/off-again girlfriend, Blanche Oelrichs (the acclaimed writer and playwright who went by the pen name Michael Strange).

During one breakup, as Brown recuperated from a broken heart and a surgical operation at her house in Maine that she lovingly referred to as “The Only House,” she wrote a poem about a girl who moved from the country to the city and to soothe herself imagined her old room. The poem became Goodnight Room. Years later, while back in Strange’s arms, the poem returned to her in a dream along with images of her downstairs neighbor’s apartment — its bright green walls, red furniture with yellow trim. The result was Goodnight Moon.

You should read the whole piece; its very good. Highlights include:

+ Brown was a supergenius who wrote her many, many, many beloved children’s books on, like, the back of a lift ticket on the way to the top of a mountain, or on the back of a receipt on a jaunt out to the grocery store.

+ She was such a supergenius that she spent her royalty checks on things like an entire truck of flowers because she knew her next idea/paycheck was just around the corner.

+ She didn’t love kids (though neither did Seuss or Dahl).

+ After her girlfriend died, she wrote of her: “One who has dared to be gloriously good and gloriously bad in one life. No limbo for her.”

+ Brown herself died like a queer TV character. No joke. She recovered from an emergency appendectomy and when the nurse told her she was free to go, she “kicked off her sheets with characteristic enthusiasm” and it knocked a blood clot loose in her leg which killed her that same day.

Goodnight Moon has sold millions and millions of copies, about 800,000 per year since the early ’90s. It makes everyone’s list of best children’s books. The New York Times was still extolling its virtues in an op-ed that ran just two years ago! Not bad for a 68-year-old picture book that started as a sad gay love poem.

It is wild how every woman on earth who’s been out there getting shit done all this time has also been out there being gay as a window. Or a great green room. Or two little kittens. Or a pair of rainbow mittens.

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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Heather has written 1718 articles for us.


      • I was gonna be a smart-ass in the comments and say someone was going to do this. Then decided, “Naw, I’ll be good and maybe I’ll be surprised.” First comment. Bam. :P

        • Joanna, didn’t we JUST have this conversation over on the A+ article? My god, people are so predictable.

        • Oops, just realized you don’t have A+. Either way, I was just talking about this with some other people on that article just this morning.

    • I’m bi, I know where you’re coming from (erasure sucks) but it’s good to remember that gay/lesbian are also adjectives that describe something same gender. Gay love poem just means it’s between two women.

      • That’s pretty much the definition of erasure, though.

        People using language in such a way that the only alternatives are “gay” or “straight” is a textbook example of erasure. The intent can be good—some people clearly feel that “gay” is inclusive of bisexuals, though that’s hardly the consensus—but erasure is still the effect the words have when they go out into the world. By this standard, a bisexual is always engaging in something that is either heterosexual or homosexual. Short of having multiple partners of different genders, there is nothing a bisexual can do that is an expression of bisexuality. Hardly anyone has to ever be confronted with the existence of non-monosexuals.

        Which is why I personally prefer to use terms like “same-sex” or “different-sex”. I don’t demand that everyone do the same, and I understand that there are situations where “same-sex” or “women who love women” are not useful substitutes for “lesbian” (e.g. SEO matters), but that’s my personal solution for it.

  1. I have such a long history with this book–the copy at my parents house is all weathered from the hundreds of bedtime readings and re-readings.

    I’ll have to call my mom up and tell her that my lesbianism was her fault after all.

  2. Ah, yes. Oddly, most people don’t know that the first draft actually read:

    …And a comb
    And a brush
    And a bowl full of mush
    whispering, “hush.”

  3. Aww, this is a cool new fact to break out at parties!

    Also, Heather, please never stop using “gay as a window”. It makes me so happy every time I read it.

    • “Gay as a window” just makes me think of tiny, enraged Emily Fitch ranting about her right to be gay and go down on Naomi as her mum is waxing a lady’s lady parts. <3

  4. No joke, this was my favorite book as a toddler. I’ve been told I used to yell at my grandpa when he tried to skip pages. And now I just told my mom about this story and she goes, “maybe that’s why you liked it so much.”

  5. y’all, she was the first famous person i knew who had my birthday & i loved goodnight moon so much growing up, lol, my root.

  6. My favorite has always been The Runaway Bunny, but I will look upon Goodnight Moon with a new appreciation. Thanks Heather.

  7. as a gay librarian, i… already knew this.

    i love making subtly themed queer author displays with goodnight moon and where the wild things are, throw some frog and toad in there. the theme could be best classic children’s books ever OR classic children’s books by queer authors (depending who asks).

  8. I don’t know this book and have mostly heard its name in the smooth Shivaree song from the soundtrack of Kill Bill, but will check it out!

  9. Would 100% watch a Margaret Wise Brown x Blanche Oelrichs Netflix original series.

    Also– “In a letter to her college alumni newspaper in 1945, she wrote derisively: ‘How many children have you? I have 50 books.’ ” <3 <3 <3

  10. I read this book to my kids every single night. It was my fave before I knew this, but this is icing on the cake.

  11. I’m reading a biography about her. I knew she was a bisexual, but the most important thing was she the first real picture book author. In her day, the medical people didn’t know that lying down for too long can cause blood clots. I didn’t know it either until I was dead for a few minutes after I jumped up ant went to get my hair done after being sick in bed for several days. It’s called a pulmonary embolism. If you get sick, get up and move.

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