George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Friends. A Gift of a Book.
September 25, 2008
Lately the fourth-grader and I are engaging in a tug-of-war over a new book. Our house just may need two copies of George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Friends, written and illustrated by James Marshall. You know these two; they're hippos. In George and Martha One Fine Day, George looks out the window to see the enormous Martha, clad in a polka-dotted skirt, walking a tight rope.
"My stars!" cried George. "I could never do that!"
"Why not?" said Martha. "It's tons of fun."
Houghton Mifflin has gathered all seven George and Martha picture books into one volume, and included commentary by such big names in children's literature as Maurice Sendak, Susan Meddaugh, and Coleen Salley. The original George and Martha was published in 1972, and the last, George and Martha Round and Round, in 1988. James Marshall died in 1992. He was only fifty. "Jim Marshall was one of the true geniuses of the children's book world," the author Marc Brown said. (An earlier Complete Stories was issued in 1997; the Sendak piece in the new edition served as the introduction. The other "appreciations" are new.)
Last year, on her blog What Adrienne Thinks About That, children's librarian Adrienne Furness shared some remarkably insightful thoughts about the George and Martha stories. She wrote,
The thing is that in these books, the reader doesn’t see George and Martha as outsiders would see them; we see them as they see each other. Your average first or second grader, who this series is perfect for, has seen enough of the world to know that some of what people have been telling them about how people will be nice to you if you’re nice to them and the implication that one can always be “good” aren’t concepts that correlate with their reality. I would think it would be supremely comforting to find these books that are light, funny, and telling the complete and total truth about how relationships really operate.
I can't say it any better than that.
George and Martha is one of my all-time favorite picture book series. I have been reading an earlier edition of The Complete Stories to my son for years now, and neither of us ever tire of it.
By the way, your On the Books series has inspired me to start listing some of my favorite picture books on my site...
Posted by: Nathaniel | September 25, 2008 at 01:30 PM
Nathaniel, that's awesome that you're listing your picture book reading now. I will get some good suggestions there. We read a lot of picture books at breakfast these days.
I'm with Marc Brown: James Marshall was a genius. I just love his work.
Posted by: Susan T. | September 25, 2008 at 02:53 PM
Each George and Martha story is a little masterpiece. They provide good relationship guidance for adults, too. With so few words.
I've tried to assemble all the books, but they keep getting dispersed. This compilation is just what we need.
Posted by: SamRiddleburger | September 25, 2008 at 08:23 PM
I haven't heard of these, but they sound like fun! I'll have to pick them up for my boy!
Posted by: Rebecca Reid | September 25, 2008 at 08:37 PM
Sam, I'm thinking of starting a James Marshall collection. We have quite a few books of his already. The George and Martha masterpieces--you're so right.
Rebecca, I HIGHLY recommend the book! It's so much fun.
Posted by: Susan T. | September 26, 2008 at 09:03 AM
Aw, thanks, Susan! I'm on a quest to bring George and Martha to more people's attention, so my co-children's-librarian and I have been reading the books (with him voicing George and me voicing Martha) in our joint storytimes over the last month or so. So far, so good. They sure are fun to read aloud that way.
Posted by: adrienne | October 02, 2008 at 11:11 AM
Adrienne, that sounds like a GREAT story time.
Posted by: Susan (Chicken Spaghetti) | October 02, 2008 at 11:42 AM
James Marshall always put a Texas flag somewhere in his Miss Nelson books. I wonder if he does in these? He was a grand fellow.
Posted by: BookMoot | October 07, 2008 at 02:52 AM