In the Bag! by Monica Kulling

Cindy: Paper or plastic? We are all familiar with that question, but I wasn’t familiar with the female inventor who gave us the machine to make a paper grocery bag. In The Bag! Margaret Knight Wraps It Up (Tundra 2011) is a delightful picture book biography of a little known inspiring woman. The book opens in 1850 with 12-year-old Mattie buying some nails for her projects. The store owner counts them out and then rolls a piece of paper in to a cone shape and twists the bottom to make a container for her to carry the nails.

Mattie’s first invention was a stop-motion device that prevented women from being injured with the shuttle while working their looms. She was too young to register the patent and did not make any money from it, but was satisfied with the knowledge that she had helped improve working conditions for the women.

There’s plenty to get indignant about in Margaret Knight’s biography: age discrimination, sex discrimination, theft of intellectual property. You name it. By day Mattie worked in a paper bag factory, folding and gluing the flat-bottomed bags by hand. By night, she worked on a design for a machine to make this work easier (among other inventions). But after working two years and successfully designing and building the machine, she got to the patent office to discover that a worker at the machine shop had stolen her idea and patented it ahead of her. Not one to give up without a fight, she took her case to court. I’ll never take a paper grocery sack for granted again. And, while this is meant for a younger audience, it would make a great short read aloud for my 6th grade scientist and inventor unit.

Lynn: I didn’t know anything about Margaret Knight either and I’m so glad to make her acquaintance through this engaging book.  Kulling leads off this entry in the wonderful Great Idea Series (Tundra) with a poem in the style of William Carlos Williams .  (See our post on  Kulling’s All Aboard:  Elijah McCoy’s Steam Engine) I love stories about smart and determined young women and Kulling’s lively text tells an inspiring story about this determined woman who “never gave up without a fight.”  David Parkins’ charming illustrations are filled with carefully drawn period details and engaging humor.  Each page turn reveals at least one full-page illustration in authentic-feeling sepia tones.  The focus group loved this book as much as I did.  They were drawn in by the humor but stayed to savor the intriguing details.  An author’s note provides more information about Margaret Knight and a nice bibliography on the verso provides additional resources both in print and online.  Don’t miss this really excellent book that opens the door to a multitude of curricular uses.

For more Nonfiction Monday titles, please visit Great Kid Books




About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

3 Comments on "In the Bag! by Monica Kulling"

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  1.' JB Rowley says:

    This is a book I am sure I would never have discovered had you not reviewed it. A picture book biography is an excellent idea; especially useful in portraying historical elements for children. I am disappointed that it does not appear to be available as an ebook – perhaps that will happen later. JB 🙂

    • Thanks for letting us know, JB. And we’re glad you are reading Bookends for lots of reasons! Let us know what you think when you get your hands on the book. I’m guessing the publisher will see your comments about wanting an ebook edition. –Cindy

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