ONLY MARGARET: A Story About Margaret Wise Brown is written by Candice Ransom and illustrated by Nan Lawson. Is there a parent or child anywhere in America who does not know the most famous of Brown’s books, GOODNIGHT MOON? The story of its inspiration (a dream) is included in this thoughtful biographic profile, but I was more delighted by the background story of MY favorite of her many beloved titles, THE IMPORTANT BOOK.
Books for Young Readers, 2021
While seeking an identity/career, even with established success in writing for children and working in publishing, she longed to write something IMPORTANT, which she imagined must be for adults. But that reflection led her, as her musing often did, to examining and considering everyday objects and what was IMPORTANT about each. I’m often surprised to learn that many people are unaware of this title, and I urge everyone to read it. In a sense, it is a poetic parallel to her own remarkable life. She aimed to live each day with lightness and full attention, always seeking understanding of WHAT WAS IMPORTANT about everyday objects, what really mattered, what nature could teach her.
I found this story of Margaret herself to be more engaging than what I had learned before. She is so much more than a noticeably odd but likable woman with brilliant writing talent. Born in 1920, the same year as the passing of Halley’s Comet, the author effectively launches a premise that unfolds throughout her life: Margaret was rare, she sparkled and sought bright insights into everyday experiences. She was inspired by nature and children and viewing the world from new angles. The text never states this explicitly, but she lived a life of privilege and security, including travel and the luxury of discovering her own path over time without the necessity of providing safe shelter and food for herself.
Her mantra could well be: “to boldly go where no one has gone before”. She certainly did that in amusing anecdotal scenes, as a child and as an adult. The more important way in which this attitude changed the world was her decision to apply her impulse and talent for writing to the inspirations she found in the sparkling lives and language of children. When she determined she should write books for children, books with pictures, books that would sparkle and delight, there WAS no such career, and certainly none for a woman. Her success paved the way for the rich and ever-expanding universe of children’s literature today. The truth is that publishing is a business and making money is important. The economic reality of her success continues to be the origin of an entire branch of publishing today. Her talent, fame, and personality paved the way for careers and children's libraries and literary lives for generations past, present, and future.
A while back I reviewed THE IMPORTANT THING ABOUT MARGARET WISE BROWN, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Sarah Jacoby, published by Balzer & Bray in 2019. Its focus, too, was on the quirky, unpredictable nature Brown displayed throughout her short life. I enjoyed it very much, and particularly appreciated the scenes in which she applied her quirkiness and persistence to succeed in having her early books included in library collections.
I hope you’ll read ONLY MARGARET to your children, grandchildren, students, and story groups. The significance of Margaret Wise Brown in their lives, whether they know and love her books or not, is of historic IMPORTANCE. I would be great to also have the earlier profile available to read, as well as several of her better (and lesser) known titles. The reality of an adult still struggling to find her way in life, to satisfy her true calling makes this a valuable title to share with older readers, too, providng encouragement to consider forging new paths into a future they can imagine but don’t yet see in existence.