“The important thing about Margaret Wise Brown is that she wrote books.”
Mac Barnett, if you haven’t spent any time with him, is one of the most delightful children’s book authors of our time. If I summed him up in one insignificant word, I’d say “funny” because it mostly captures the breadth of his work, from his silly picture books to Wimpy-Kid readalike chapter books.
But in his biography of predecessor Margaret Wise Brown, he showcases a positively stunning simplicity of language, a thoughtful exploration of what it means to be an “important” person, and thoroughly original profile of an incredibly interesting woman.
In 42 pages, Barnett addresses what, to him, are the important facets of Brown’s brief but impactful life. He starts at her colorful childhood, where she navigated both an avid love of animals and a sensible attitude about their mortality. He next lands on the exuberant and to some, nonsensical reaction to receiving her first paycheck for her first children’s book. He showcases her colorful habits of skinny-dipping and tea-parties on the street and her love for both men and women. He ends the book with a plain but sweet explanation of her early demise. And within that, he explores how the world reacts to “strange” people who write “strange” books, and why people were so resistant to her particular brand of storytelling for so long.
Sarah Jacoby illustrates with soft, sweet paintings that evoke the feel of The Runaway Bunny while still keeping a distinct style. Lots of movement and life, very fitting to her subject.
Technically, the book is a marvel. Barnett’s choice of words are specific at each moment. And the themes on display are wonderful. It challenges children to think about how we judge people and how we judge books. The simple, straight-forward narration opens conversation to big and complicated ideas.
It also packs in one big belly laugh, very in tune to his brand of humor.
This book is Barnett’s masterpiece and it needs all the awards!