The Quiet Noisy Book: A Little-Known Vintage Gem by Margaret Wise Brown
A tender celebration of curiosity, presence, and attentiveness to the world in its most delicate and delightful details.
By Maria Popova
Update 2017: The book has been reissued, hooray.
During our recent JCCSF conversation about the ethos behind Brain Pickings, Alexis Madrigal — one of the finest writers and finest fathers I know — mentioned a little-known, out-of-print vintage children’s book by Goodnight Moon author Margaret Wise Brown (May 23, 1910–November 13, 1952), with which his little boy had fallen in love. Having tracked down a surviving copy, I wholeheartedly concur that The Quiet Noisy Book (public library) is indeed a miraculously marvelous treasure. Illustrated by the inimitable Leonard Weisgard — who created one of the earliest color illustrations for Alice in Wonderland — the subtle sweetness of the story unfolds with a distinct mid-century aesthetic of primary colors and bold graphics.
We meet “Muffin, the little dog who heard everything” and who is awakened in the middle of the night by “a very quiet noise.” As Muffin sets out to find the source of the quiet noise, a tender and imaginative guessing game ensues — a celebration of curiosity, presence, and attentiveness to the world in its most delicate and delightful details.
It was a wheel turning halfway round.
It was an alarm clock springing to ring.
It was a butterfly unfolding his wings.
It was the milkman whispering to his horse.
It was a new leaf uncurling.
It was the flies opening their million-cornered eyes.
It was all the flowers blooming on that day.
It was the sound of an early bird catching a worm.
It was the sound of the dew rising up to the sun.
It was a balloon about to pop.
It was a man about to think.
It was a slow fig ripening.
As we await some enterprising publisher to take profitable pity on this vintage gem and bring it back into print, The Quiet Noisy Book is well worth the used-book hunt or a trip to the library. Complement it with the contemporary counterpart The Quiet Book and this cinematic celebration of sound, then revisit the very differently wonderful out-of-print treasure The Magic Box.
Published November 4, 2015