Saturday, December 22, 2007
I love James Marshall
Well, that pretty much sums it up: I love James Marshall. He is one of my favorite (possibly my absolute favorite) picture book author/illustrators. He's on my mind because recently a library patron requested that we add some more Scholastic Video Collection DVDs to our collection and one of the ones I ordered was Red Riding Hood... And More James Marshall Fairy Tale Favorites. I used this as an excuse to revisit some of my Marshall favorites, including George and Martha, the Fox easy readers and Goldilocks and the Three Bears (a Caldecott Honor book). I also came across some books I hadn't seen before, like Pocketful of Nonsense, his collection of limericks and rhymes.
I know I'm not alone in my James Marshall love: he was the winner of the 2007 Wilder Medal (an award given by the ALA that "honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children"). Also, the forward to George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends, is Maurice Sendak's beautiful tribute to Marshall. You can read an abbreviated version here.
Why do I love his picture books? First, his dry sense of humor. Second, his style--there are so few words on a page and the illustrations are not at all fussy, but they convey so much meaning. Third, the beautiful sentiments his stories convey (this mostly applies to George and Martha, who have disagreements and get into fights, but at the end of the day would do anything for one another).
I could say more, but Sendak says it much more eloquently. In Marshall's work, says Sendak, there is "No shticking, no nudging knowingly, no winking or pandering to the grown-ups at the expense of the kids." "Much has been written concerning the sheer deliciousness of Marshall's simple, elegant style. The simplicity is deceiving; there is richness of design and mastery of composition on every page." Of George and Martha: "Those dear, ditzy down-to-earth hippos bring serious pleasure to everybody, not only to children. They are time-capsule hippos who will always remind us... of the true, durable meaning of friendship under the best and worst conditions."
James Marshall died in 1992 at the age of 51. Despite how young he was at his death, he left behind an impressive and sizable body of work. It's sad to think about what other wonderful books he would have written had he lived longer, but I'm so glad he left what he did for us to enjoy.