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.