Monday, January 6, 2020

#MockNewbery: The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown (spoilers)

For the month of January, I will be participating in Heavy Medal's Mock Newbery Award discussion and voting. You can follow along with the whole process here. I hosted a Mock Newbery Club at school this past semester, and my students and I are eager to see which books come out on top. The Heavy Medal team has chosen a slate of 15 contenders that we will be discussing this month. I will be sharing my thoughts here as well as on their site. (Click here to see all Mock Newbery posts.)

* Spoiler Alert *

All Mock Newbery posts assume you have read the book.

The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown

The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Sarah Jacoby is a 42-page picture book (echoing the 42 years of her short life). I shared this book with both fifth grade classes during our library time in December, and many students had fond memories of Margaret Wise Brown's picture books. (I read aloud Goodnight Moon to them without once looking at the pages, since the toddler is also a big fan.)


Since Last Stop on Market Street won the 2016 Newbery, folks have stopped automatically throwing picture books into the "Caldecott-only" pile, but it's still an uphill battle. The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown is a concise, quirky book with a fascinating voice and style. An early example is the question-and-answer format near the beginning, and I love how Barnett added in such kid-perfect questions.
Did she have a dog?
She had lots.
What was her favorite dog's name?
His name was Crispin's Crispin.
Was he a good boy?
She thought so, but he bit lots of people.
Is any of this important?
Why do you ask?
What is important about Margaret Wise Brown?

The style of the book is a perfect fit with the style of the subject and of her own books as well. The interpretation of the theme of one's life is a lofty goal and is achieved in an interesting and still informative way. There are also many connections for the reader to ponder between a story of someone else's life and the impact it might have on their own.

Final quote, as food for thought:

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.


For a very short book (42 pages), there is perhaps an over-abundance of attention paid to the "antagonist" - Anne Carroll Moore. She appears on page 20 and carries through until page 37, which is a significant portion of the story. I'd be curious to know what had to be cut to make so much room for her.

My final complaint is the one I always make about picture book biographies - the lack of backmatter. While I liked the stylistic idea of making a 42-page book about her 42-years-long life, backmatter is a big deal for teacher and librarian readers. It helps fill in the sources, expand the story, and explain some of the author's choices. It can also highlight small details (like how the line about lives ending "as fast as you kick your leg in the air" references Margaret Wise Brown's untimely death from a blood clot released when she kicked her leg to show her doctors she was feeling fine). It's not a critical point relative to the Newbery criteria, but it is one that irks me nonetheless.

What do you think about the book? Do you have a top contender (or several) for this year's Newbery? (Click here for all my Mock Newbery posts.)

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