This small book, also known as What Goes Up Must Come Down, is one of the first efforts by prolific children's author Johanna Hurwitz. Margot Green is given a summer assignment by her fifth grade teacher to create a project based on something she learns about during the break. Margot is anticipating a boring summer anyway and feels left out that her father is leaving for a chamber concert tour and her friends are off to camp and the beach. Margot decides to make the most of her project and decides it will entail devising a way to get her obese, agoraphobic mother to leave their Manhattan walk-up apartment building.
Nine years ago when the family moved into the building and Margot's mother had to walk up four double flights of stairs, she decided she would rather just stay inside than to exert herself so much going up and down. She hasn't been outside the building since. That's a pretty simple explanation, and it seems to me there would be more psychological factors to make someone stay indoors so long. Mrs. Green was an aspiring opera singer before she had Margot, and even with her current isolation has friends and seems happy tending to her roof garden and watching the boats go by on the Hudson River through the window.
Just a warning: I'm using a webcam so my pics of the illustrations won't be very good.
Margot thinks her mother's do-it-yourself, stay-at-home ways are behind the times and against women's lib. She decides to go to the library to read up on the subject in hopes of convincing her mother to get a job outside the home. "Time magazine wasn't too helpful. I kept getting distracted by reviews of R-rated movies and milestones in other people's lives." A boy comes up to her and introduces himself as Bernie. He loves to read and visit places all over the city. He invites Margot to a Marx brothers movie. The Marx brothers must have enjoyed a revival in the 70's because I see quite a few references to them in books of the time.
Once home, Margot tries to entice her mother to rekindle her music career, but Mrs. Green sticks to her guns and insists she is happy with her life just the way it is. Margot spends more time with Bernie. He persuades her to learn to ride a bike and when she succeeds, he congratulates her for disproving Newton's Law of Gravity: what goes up must come down. Of course, this makes Margot think of her mother and whether she will ever come down.
When Bernie finally meets Margot's mother, he tactfully tells Margot in private that maybe the reason for her self-imposed isolation is that she doesn't want anyone to see how large she is. Plan B becomes getting Mrs. Green on a diet, but when Margot refuses to do the grocery shopping, we discover that there are plenty of stores in New York City that deliver.
Bernie suggests leaving Mrs. Green alone and finding another project, but Margot is stubborn. They make a list of reasons that might make it mandatory to come downstairs. Margot decides to work on getting a little brother or sister, but her mother is firm that she doesn't want any more children. Margot even brings home a child to babysit to temp her mother, but it ends up being a terrible time with her mother doing all the work.
As a last ditch effort, inspired by the book The Mixed Up Files of Basil E Frankweiler, Margot decides to run away and hide in the library. Consumed with worry, Mrs. Green finally comes downstairs when Margot is brought home.
Margot's father returns home and they go on a walk together. He explains that people are different and she shouldn't place her own beliefs and expectations on her mother. Then he says he and his wife have been discussing the issue, and reveals that the family may move to Long Island to a ranch house...that way Mrs. Green will be downstairs all the time. This conversation is a refreshing surprise. There are no easy answers, no guarantees that Margot's mom will ever change her ways. The dialogue for the kids is stiff in some places, but this is something the author got better with over time. It's an unusual topic for the intended age, but it is handled in such an easy, realistic way that it still works.