Dear Aunt Debbie,
George and Martha books were a staple of my childhood, and they wear well with time. How can you not love George pouring Martha's pea soup into his slippers under the table after she brings him an eleventh bowl because he's been lying to her about how much he loves it? One of the joys of the books for me is that George and Martha each take turns going overboard about things and being the more sensible one -- they're both a little odd, and totally pleasing.
Looking up books to blog tonight, I was surprised to find that some of the books I think of as quintessentially James Marshall were actually written by other authors, and credit Marshall as the illustrator. I knew this was true about the fabulous Piggy in the Puddle, by Charlotte Pomerantz, but didn't realize that Harry G. Allard was the author of both Miss Nelson is Missing (which I never really liked -- always thought it was a little creepy) and the Stupids books.
The Stupids became a major force in my life when I was about 10 or 12, and my mom discovered them at work. They're a sublimely stupid family: Mom, Dad, two kids, Grandpa, a dog named Kitty, and a cat named Xylophone (the animals are the only ones with any brains). Our favorite was
The Stupids Die, in which the lights go out and the Stupids decide they must be dead. While they're debating about what to do now that they're dead, and how they feel, Kitty and Xylophone go down into the basement and repair the fuse. The lights come on again. The Stupids decide that they must be in heaven. Then Grandpa drives his motorcycle through the wall and tells them, "This isn't heaven! It's Iowa!"
The way I am telling this is not nearly as funny as the way Marshall and Allard do it -- I can remember laughing so hard that tears ran down my cheeks. And then "The Stupids Do ____" became part of our family vocabulary. We drove to pick Michael up at sleepaway camp and decided to visit FDR's house in Hyde Park, but it was just off our map and when we finally stopped to ask for directions, we realized that we'd overshot it by two hours. Oh well, "The Stupids Go to Hyde Park!" So we went to visit some friends in Great Barrington instead, but they weren't home, so we canoed around their lake in circles for a bit ("The Stupids Go Canoeing"), and then drove home. After stopping for dinner, we got back on the road -- going the wrong way. Which my parents realized two hours later ("The Stupids Go Home."). Really useful, especially on driving trips.
I can't quite believe that "The Stupids Die" was allowed into publication as a title for a picture book -- but there's something about Marshall's good-natured drawings of people who are clearly both dumb as rocks and perfectly happy that takes the sting out of the words. He must have been a fun guy.