Posted: Tuesday, September 17th, 2013
This will come as no surprise to you, but the Education.com staff reads a lot of children’s books. We’ve all got our favorites from our own childhoods, but with a constant influx of advance copies from publishers coming through the door, we’re always finding new ones we love as well. As an outlet for our enthusiasm, we’ve decided to start up a series of blog posts that pay tribute to our favorite children’s authors.
Our first featured author is James Marshall. Marshall was a prolific writer and illustrator, who contributed to over 80 children’s books in his career, both as James and under the pen name Edward Marshall. His trademark style is succinct, tastefully humorous, and smartly moral. Marshall’s books are funny for both children and adults, so they make a great addition to any family library. Here are some of our very favorite James Marshall books:
George and Martha is a book of five short stories about two hippos who are best friends. With Victorian-inspired clothing, footed bathtubs, and a hot air balloon, George and Martha are oddly noble hippopotami who work through everyday problems and friendly fights. The two hippos are totally sincere and always striving to be the truest friends possible. These stories are straightforward with miniature morals on friendship, vanity, and perseverance. George and Martha is a great read for children, as it shows them how to be true friends.
Spud Jenkins and Joe Turner are the kids that every child aspires to be in their naughtiest dreams: mischievous, clever pranksters, also known as ‘cut-ups.’ Spud and Joe star in a miniature series of picture books, in which they play tricks on local adults and attempt to impress their new fancy friend, Mary Frances. Kids adore reading about the hilarious and wicked antics that the Cut-ups get into at school, at camp, and at ballroom dance class. In true Marshall fashion, each book presents a subtle moral for the reader.
Marshall wrote and illustrated several fairy tales, and Hansel and Gretel is among the best of the group. This is a great retelling of the classic story, with simple and relatable characters for kids. While many children’s retellings of Grimm fairy tales are gutted to exclude some of the more complex elements of the stories, Marshall’s Hansel and Gretel is expertly told with simple dialogue and detailed pictures. The illustrations fill in the descriptive and symbolic gaps from the original story, while clearly depicting characters’ moods for young readers.
As the title suggests, this is another Marshall book about friendship between two animals. Harriet, a well-read and sensible hen, attempts to save her wide-eyed friend Winnie from the Mr. Johnson, a rogue fox in disguise. Through costumes, chases, and clever tricks, Winnie narrowly escapes Mr. Johnson’s fricassee pot. We love this story’s message that reading and working to be bright will keep you from being eaten by a fox (hey, we’ve all been there…).
Written in conjunction with Harry Allard, Miss Nelson is Missing! is one of Marshall’s most famous books. Through stark illustrations with muted colors, Marshall and Allard tell the story of the world’s worst substitute teacher, Miss Viola Swamp. This book showcases Marshall’s tendency towards satirical story telling, with the characters subtly poking fun at kids’ dramatic imaginations. This is a great book for classroom read-alouds, as it contains vivid characters, and also teaches the reader a lesson about the importance of good classroom behavior.