Saturday, July 13, 2019

Should biographies include an author's stereotypical thinking? Case in point: Barnett and Jacoby's THE IMPORTANT THING ABOUT MARGARET WISE BROWN

In May of 2019, Mac Barnett and Sarah Jacoby's picture book biography of Margaret Wise Brown came out from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins. Titled The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown, it is getting glowing reviews. I haven't seen it yet.

Many people have warm thoughts about Margaret Wise Brown's books. You probably remember Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. In their book, Barnett and Jacoby tell us that Brown wrote over 100 books.

On page four, they tell us that authors are people who do the things other people do, like falling in love, going to the supermarket, making jokes, and making mistakes. The last line on page four is this:
But which of these things is important? And to whom?
Provocative line, isn't it? It draws from Brown's The Important Book (I think it came out in 1949)When I get Barnett's biography of her, will I see a page about mistakes that Brown made? If yes, what will that page be about? Is it anything to do with the stereotypical content of some of Brown's books?

Here's some examples of that stereotypical content:

In 1954, she wrote a Little Golden Book, titled Little Indian. Richard Scarry did the illustrations. In it, she wrote "The big Indian lived in a big wigwam and the little Indian boy lived in a little wigwam. The big Indian had a big feather in his hair and the little Indian boy had a little feather in his hair."

In 1956, she wrote David's Little Indian. Remy Charlip did the illustrations for it. In it, David finds a real Indian--a little one--in the forest. Here's some words from it: "The boy and his Indian decided to become blood brothers, so they pricked their fingers and let their blood mingle together."

The Kirkus review of David's Little Indian says it is the last book she wrote. She died in 1952. I was, frankly, surprised to see that those two are among the last books she wrote. Her most famous book, Goodnight Moon, came out in 1947. Leonard Marcus wrote a biography of her in 1992. He called it Awakened By the Moon. I wonder if he says anything about those two books? Does Barnett say anything about them? When I get his book, I'll be back.

I titled this post, "Should biographies include an author's stereotypical thinking?" At the moment, I think the answer is yes. What do you think?