Mac Barnett on Margaret Wise Brown
If you've known us for a little while, you probably know that we're just a little bit fond of Mac Barnett. From his laugh-out-loud school visits to engaging in-store events, it's clear that Mac has a knack for engaging with young readers and getting kids excited about books. His latest project pays tribute to another such author: The often imitated, rarely equalled Margaret Wise Brown. A gorgeous picture book biography, The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown has picked up rave reviews from just about everyone in the industry ahead of its May 21 release.
We're pleased to offer an exclusive pre-order campaign to support this wonderful book—if you reserve your copy of The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown on our website before May 16, we'll send you a first edition that's signed and personalized by Mac and signed by illustrator Sarah Jacoby. Check out our Q&A with Mac below, then click on the graphic at the bottom of the page to learn more about our pre-order offer.
What's the most surprising thing you learned about Margaret Wise Brown during the course of this book?
I knew the New York Public Library did not carry Goodnight Moon when it came out in 1947, but I was shocked that it didn't make it into their collection until 1973. 1973! Richard Nixon! Roger Moore! Roberta Flak!
Do you have a favorite book of hers? Or a new favorite that you discovered while working on this project?
The Little Fur Family isn’t my favorite Margaret Wise Brown story, but one of the treasures in my library is this rabbit-fur-clad first printing of TLFF, which my wife bought me for Christmas a few years ago. When you hold it in your hand, it doesn’t really register as a book. It seems more like some living thing, which at one point, I guess, it was.
We know you've been a fan of Margaret Wise Brown since you were young. Why is Margaret Wise Brown so important to you and to the reading world?
Why does Goodnight Moon endure, instead of being buried beneath the pile of rip-offs published since? I think the book's ubiquity blinds us to its strangeness. Brown captures the mystery and excitement of nighttime, and the fear and the darkness of bedtime. “Goodnight air.” “Goodnight nobody / Goodnight mush.” "Goodnight nothing." It’s a book that’s sensitive to a child’s experience of the world—an experience that’s different from many adults'. Goodnight Moon lives on because it is poetry. It is a poem for children. And that’s it: Margaret Wise Brown is one of the 20th century’s great writers, a poet of formidable talent, and she applied that talent to making artworks for children.
The narrative of this book provides many factual tidbits about Margaret's life, wrapped in playful language. Did you choose the facts and write around them, or did the subject and the craft develop together?
When we brought this book to Harper, my editor gave me a year to research and write this book. It took three. My editor was very nice about it. (Thanks, Alessandra!) The project didn’t really make sense to me until I stopped thinking about it as a picture book biography and started thinking about it as an essay about the life and work of a picture book writer, written in picture book form.
It’s clear that a lot of research went into this book. Can you tell us about your research process and where it took you?
One place research took me was to the library of the Bank Street College of Education, where Margaret Wise Brown matriculated to learn how to be a teacher, but ended up learning how to write children’s books instead. Lyndsey Wyckoff, Bank Street’s archivist, brought me Margaret Wise Brown’s student file. I sat at a table up there—outside it was a beautiful Manhattan spring afternoon—and I read the file, and I cried. It was one of the most intense and joyful days I’ve had as a writer. I loved one of Brown’s papers, “Writing for Five Year Olds,” written for a class when Brown was 29 and already so full of wisdom. But I think I’ll leave you with this little bit from Brown’s application to Bank Street.