James Marshall was a beloved children's book author and illustrator who died in 1992. He would have been 65 today. Earlier this year he was given the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for his contributions to children's literature; I wrote about that in a recent post on his picture book Wings. "His books are classics that have endured," Anita Silvey says in The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators. Silvey cites only one book of Marshall's as "uninspired," and indeed it's his exuberance and gently subversive humor in book after book that have made me a such a big admirer.
I've always enjoyed the unexpected dilemmas that pop up in Marshall's work. Snake: His Story is part of a series called Four Little Troubles, which "provide[s] cozy comfort to young readers facing the universal troubles of childhood." Snake's problem is that he can hear; snakes, as a six year old can tell you, are usually deaf. His unique ability makes him different from the others at Reptile Elementary, who leave him out of schoolyard games and write notes behind his back. (Snake, by the way, is adorable: a green fellow who wears a red bow around his neck and carries a book satchel.) Moreover, Snake feels different, until his hearing comes in so handy that he stops a crime—and others recognize him for what he does well.
Most of us have felt like Snake at some point, and one joy of this book is that it reads as a little adventure story. If I hadn't seen the note at the back about the Four Little Troubles, I would not have guessed its didactic origins. There's brilliance in that.
Marshall was a prolific writer, thank goodness, so I have many more books to read before I can say that I've read them all. So, happy birthday, James Marshall, and thank you for all the marvelous hours of reading you've given my family so far.
Also celebrating James Marshall's birthday today is Kathy at Library Stew, who writes about several cool links to information on the author, including a site maintained by his sister and a Horn Book-NPR interview. Adrienne at What Adrienne Thinks About That says that the George and Martha books are perfect for first and second graders; they're "light, funny, and tell... the complete and total truth about how relationships really operate."
If anyone else has written about Marshall today, leave a note in the comments, and I'll link your post.