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A Treasure-Trove of Children’s Stories : Books: The discovery of unpublished tales and poems by Margaret Wise Brown will return the classic author to print with new works.

TMES STAFF WRITER

The pages in the cedar-lined trunk had grown yellow and brittle; some were marked by rust stains. The papers, held together with paper clips, had been stored for almost 40 years.

But it was no ordinary trunk. It was, in fact, a treasure trove of 72 unpublished manuscripts by Margaret Wise Brown, author of the children’s classics “Goodnight Moon,” “The Runaway Bunny” and close to 100 other titles written under a variety of names.

Sifting through the trunk in rural Vermont early this summer, publisher Amy Gary remembered that Roberta Brown Rauch was almost nonchalant about the cache of stories and poems by her sister, who died in 1952.

“By the way, here are some of Margaret’s works that she was working on when she died. Would you like to look at them?” she asked Gary.

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Gary, the head of WaterMark) Inc. in Montevallo, Ala., met Rauch three years ago when she contacted her about reissuing several of Brown’s out-of-print titles. The two women became friends--which led to Gary’s visit.

By children’s literary standards, the discovery was like finding unpublished works by William Shakespeare--or, as Amy Gary says her more contemporary-minded husband prefers to think of it, Ernest Hemingway.

“Goodnight Moon” is a classic work that has sold more than 4 million copies since it was published in 1947, five years before Margaret Wise Brown’s death at age 42. HarperCollins’ new board-book version of “Goodnight Moon” quickly appeared on the Publishers Weekly children’s best-seller list after it was published in June.

In Rauch’s cedar-lined trunk Gary found three more stories to fill out Brown’s “Noisy Book” series of short books for 2- and 3-year-old children that evoke the sound of the world around them. She also discovered “The Sleepy Men,” a bedtime story for fathers and sons in which a father relates a tale about the man-in-the-moon that turns out to be the father’s own boyhood adventures.

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“Every one of her stories has an element that is timeless,” Gary said. “They concern themes that always stay and stay.”

Some of the newly uncovered Brown stories predict later trends in children’s publishing. Long before such books appeared, for example, Brown suggested a pop-up device for one of her stories.

Brown also wanted to use animal photographs along with her words. That practice is often employed in children’s books today. But in 1950, when Brown suggested using photos to illustrate “The Secret,” a story about a little boy who goes to the zoo and shares a secret with the animals, Ursula Nordstrom, Brown’s editor at Harper & Row, wanted no part of it.

“No! It would hit the note too heavily. I am adamant. No!” Nordstrom penciled into the margin.

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Some of Brown’s newly discovered stories contain anachronisms that Gary said will require some creative editing. In “Happy the Hot Dog Man,” a group of New York children are given nickels to buy pickles--"as if a nickel today would buy anything from a street vendor in New York,” Gary said.

Liz Gordon, vice president and publisher at the Disney Publishing Group’s Hyperion Books for Children, said she was raised reading Brown’s Noisy Books, particularly “Muffin.” While celebrating the discovery, Gordon cautioned, “We do need to realize that because Margaret Wise Brown was so prolific, not everything was on a par. But in that wonderful hidden cache that Amy Gary has discovered, I am sure there are some jewels.”

Gordon said Hyperion has contracted with Gary’s company, WaterMark Inc., to publish a collection of Brown’s poetry.”

Gary said she was unable to estimate the collection’s value.

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