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Sonderbooks Book Review of

The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown

by Mac Barnett

illustrated by Sarah Jacoby

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The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown

by Mac Barnett
illustrated by Sarah Jacoby

Review posted July 5, 2019.
Balzer + Bray, 2019. 42 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 29, 2019, from a library book
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 Children's Nonfiction Picture Books

This is not your typical picture book biography. Since the author is Mac Barnett, I shouldn’t have expected typical. But the cover and art looked so lovely and sedate, I didn’t notice the author was Mac Barnett until the text started getting unusual.

Here’s the beginning of the book:

Margaret Wise Brown lived for 42 years.
This book is 42 pages long.
You can’t fit somebody’s life into 42 pages,
so I am just going to tell you some important things.

The important thing about Margaret Wise Brown is that she wrote books.

Mac Barnett begins giving facts about Margaret Wise Brown with this introduction:

It can be odd to imagine the lives of the people who write the books you read,
like running into your teacher at the supermarket.
But authors are people.
They are born and they die.
They make jokes and mistakes.
They fall in love and they fall in love again.
They go to the supermarket to buy tomatoes,
which they keep in the bottom drawers of their refrigerators,
even though tomatoes should stay out on the counter.
But which of these things is important? And to whom?

Then he gives facts about her life, including that she fell in love with a woman named Michael and a man named Pebble (no more details than that, though it certainly got me curious). Then he tells about her childhood and many pets.

I like the summaries of her most well-known books:

This is a story about a rabbit.
The rabbit must go to bed,
and he takes a long time
saying goodnight to everything.
Nobody knows why he says goodnight
to all this stuff –
his socks and some mush and even the air –
but I have an idea.
I think it is because he is afraid to go to sleep.
Have you read this book?
Do you know what I mean?

This is a story about a rabbit.
He is trying to escape from his mother.
But his mother just won’t let him get away.
(Maybe that is why he is trying
to escape from her.)

The author tells us about some strange things Margaret Wise Brown did. And about some strange things in her books:

Now it’s true that Margaret Wise Brown wrote strange books.
In her books, you would turn the page
and the story would suddenly change.
Sometimes a duck would appear for no reason.
And the narrator would often stop telling the story
and ask the reader a question.
Now isn’t that a strange thing to do?

Some people,
when they see something strange,
become bothered.
These people build worlds that make perfect sense,
even if that means ignoring many strange things
around them.

Now here is something I believe.
(I know there are only 23 pages left in this book,
but it’s important.)
No good book is loved by everyone,
and any good book is bound to bother somebody.
Because every good book is at least a little bit strange,
and there are some people who do not
like strange things in their worlds.

He goes from that discussion to telling about Anne Carroll Moore of the New York Public Library. He tells about some strange things she did, without commenting that they are strange. She stamped Margaret Wise Brown’s books with “NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PURCHASE BY EXPERT.” This meant they were kept out of the New York Public Library and many other libraries. Then he goes on to tell what Margaret Wise Brown did when she herself was kept out of the New York Public Library.

This book is a strange book. And here’s what the author has to say about that:

Lives are strange.
And there are people who do not like strange stories,
especially in books for children.
But sometimes you find a book that feels as strange as life does.
These books feel true.
These books are important.
Margaret Wise Brown wrote books like this,
and she wrote them for children,
because she believed children deserve important books.

If you like strange but informative books for children, this is a good one.