At times a book interests you because of specific things you find fascinating. Other titles will be chosen because of references made by readers you admire. Regardless of the reason, on a sunny spring morning you are likely to find yourself sitting down with a book you're eager to read.
You look at the dust jacket. You remove the jacket to look at the book case. You find yourself smiling at the title, verso and dedication pages. The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown (Balzar + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, May 21, 2019) written by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Sarah Jacoby is a book which fills every one of those previous qualifying remarks. It is guaranteed to shift your thoughts on Margaret Wise Brown, and the art of making books as it increases your respect for creators Mac Barnett and Sarah Jacoby.
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.
Within the same narrative we learn Margaret Wise Brown wrote more than one hundred books, we also are told other books are written by other people which makes perfect sense. We are asked to think about writers as living, breathing people rather than characters in a book. They share real-life experiences with us, some similar and some more peculiar than our own.
These musings are followed by a series of questions and answers, purely conversational in tone, about what might be important about Margaret Wise Brown. Regardless of your age or level of curiosity or knowledge of this author, you will find something you probably did not know. Did you know that Margaret Wise Brown's favorite dog, Crispin's Crispian, bit lots of people?
You will be astounded at the number of pets she had as a child, particularly rabbits, and how she paid tribute (if that is what it was) when one rabbit's life ends. We are told it is significant to realize that this book and the books Margaret Wise Brown wrote depict life to children in all its aspects, even if they might seem odd. We are offered ideas about Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny and Little Fur Family. We are given examples of what some people might consider unusual about Margaret Wise Brown and what some people might find extraordinarily wonderful about her.
We are reminded of the value of every book even if the people who write them might be perceived as strange or their content is considered strange. Following this short discussion, we become acquainted with children's librarian Anne Carroll Moore of the New York Public Library, of her constant companion, NK, and her attitude about the books penned by Margaret Wise Brown. (Who knew this?) We are privy to the actions of Margaret Wise Brown and her editor Ursula Nordstrom during a notable tea party at the New York Public Library.
We, without hesitation, turn the pages until we discover or remember, depending on the reader, how Margaret Wise Brown died at an early age. What remains is a beautiful discourse on the twists and turns of our lives and the telling of stories and their importance when the strangeness of one becomes the strangeness of the other. We come full circle with a single sentence.
The words, sentences and paragraphs written by Mac Barnett in this book are done so after meticulous research and with intention. This is evident in his first three sentences (and with every word written thereafter). His repetition of the number 42 is powerful and the use of the word important reflects on the title of this book, Margaret Wise Brown's books and the actual definition of the word important.
In his writing of this book, he employs a technique of stating simple truths, wondering about those truths and combining this with questions and some answers. At times we ask ourselves is the author telling this story or are we telling it as readers? It's an astounding feeling which grows as the pages are turned. Margaret Wise Brown's life is depicted in Mac Barnett's words as if she had written it herself. Here is a passage.
Now it's true that Margaret Wise Brown wrote strange books.
In her books, you would turn a 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?
Readers will find it hard not to gasp for the first of many times when they remove and open the dust jacket. The sky and clouds, and grass extend from the left flap edge to the right flap edge. What readers can't see are rabbits, tucked in the grass to the left of the spine and on the right flap. Margaret Wise Brown running after Crispin's Crispian mirrors her lively spirit to perfection.
On the book case the sky and clouds indicate in shades of peach, pink and yellow, the day is coming to a close. The scene extends across the back and the front, edge to edge. Now Margaret Wise Brown is lying on her stomach in the grass on the right. Some of her body crosses the spine to the left. She is facing her beloved dog who, at rest, is facing her. A single rabbit appears between them. Other rabbits watch them from the left.
A pale, muted green covers the opening and closing endpapers. On the title, verso and dedication pages Margaret Wise Brown is chasing after Crispin's Crispian again. A portion of her body is running off the title page. He has stopped on the dedication page to look back at her. The illustrations rendered in watercolor, Nupastel, and Photoshop throughout this book by Sarah Jacoby are a marvelous pictorial presentation and extension of the text.
Rabbits subtly appear, almost silently, in a floral image, a field and woodland scene or as children with their rabbit librarian during a storytime featuring this book and other important books. The details in Sarah Jacoby's work are intricate among her softly colored artwork. Watch the rabbit listeners during the storytime. Pay attention to the hands on the clock in the library.
Some of Sarah Jacoby's pictures are framed with borders, others span to the pages' edges, and some are small vignettes grouped together. Her pacing is deliberate. Among the delicate hues, line work, picture sizes and pacing, there is a spirit of joy and of a life lived completely.
One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture. From left to right crossing the gutter is a wagon pulled by a gray horse. The wagon is overflowing with flowers of all shapes, sizes and colors. You can see the surprise on the seller's face when Margaret Wise Brown asks to purchase the entire cart. Her dog is crouched ready to run next to the cart. I particularly love this picture because it portrays a strange and beautiful moment in her life; it's a moment to treasure.
The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown written by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Sarah Jacoby is a stunning, brilliant portrait of a remarkable woman's life. When you get to the end of the book, you will immediately pause unable to believe the wonder you hold in your hands. Then you will read it again and again and again. It is a very important book! On the verso page is a list of sources by books, articles and collections consulted. I highly recommend this book for your personal and professional collections.
To learn more about Mac Barnett and Sarah Jacoby and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. You can view Sarah's blog from her website. Mac Barnett has accounts on Instagram and Twitter. Sarah Jacoby has accounts on Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter. There is an outstanding blog devoted to the development of this book, here. At the publisher's website you can view interior images. There are exceptional interviews with Mac Barnett and Sarah Jacoby at Blue Willow Book Shop here and here, and at author, blogger and teacher librarian Travis Jonker's 100 Scope Notes at School Library Journal. Sarah Jacoby is interviewed by author, blogger and teacher librarian Carter Higgins at Design Of The Picture Book and by Dylan Teut, director of the Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival, on his blog, Mile High Reading.
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to discover the other titles selected this week by those participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.