George and Martha Series story and illustrations by James Marshall, 46pp RL1

***polemic warning***
*feel free to skip to the review*

I have always thought of the George and Martha series as picture books, but, as I research and write this blog is see the value of looking at old things in new ways. The main purpose of my blog is to introduce parents of emerging readers to great chapter books that they may not know about as well as to discuss theory and practice in the world of reading. As I scour my bookshelves as well as those at work, I am finding that there are alarmingly few chapter books written at or below a 2nd grade reading level. My emphasis is on chapter books because, while I love picture books and could name ten off the top of my head that would be considered 5th grade reading level, after working in the kid's department for 13 years and watching the trends in publishing and purchasing, kids who have just learned how to read usually do not want to be seen reading a picture book. They want chapter books. Not easy reader books. CHAPTER BOOKS. Thus, the dilemma of what to review...

When I post a reading level along with the book title, it is the reading level that I think the book warrants, not necessarily what the publisher lists on the back of the book and rarely what Renaissance Learning a company that makes and sells the "Accelerated Reader" computer tests to schools, attributes to a book. These tests ask the reader a series of multiple choice questions about a book that the child has read (or had read out loud to him/her) to determine comprehension. Both my kids have used this system, and I have tutored second graders in reading skills and worked with them on this system. I both like it and loathe it, but now is not the time or place to debate it. Regardless, if you follow the link to their site you can type in almost any kid's book title and, if they sell a test for it, you can see what reading level Renaissance Learning has decided to give a book. While scrolling their lists, I began to notice that there were almost no chapter books at a lower reading level. Thus, I am rethinking what I consider to be a chapter book and am reviewing George and Martha, which has CHAPTERS!!
Like Arnold Lobel and William Steig, author of Abel's Island, James Marshall is a master at capturing the nuances of relationships in a very straightforward and often humorous way. He does this again and again in his George and Martha books, of which there are seven, each having five chapters. If you can splurge for a hardback, I highly recommend the all-in-one that came out this month for a mere $20.00, George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends. In addition to all the stories, there are appreciations by some of the heavy-hitters in children's literature who cannot say enough good things about James Marshall, including Maurice Sendak, Jon Scieszka, and David Wiesner. Otherwise, all seven are available in paperback.

George and Martha are hippos who do everything together, including playing tricks on each other, going to the beach, and jump, or not, off the high dive at the local pool. In one story, George pours Martha's homemade split pea soup into his loafers when she isn't looking because he can't stand split pea soup and doesn't want to hurt her feelings. In another story, George is trying to read a book in a hammock when Martha asks is she can join him. George ascents and Martha agrees to be quiet, but cannot help fidgeting. George huffily moves to a new spot, away from Martha and reads the first page of his books which say, "It is important to be considerate." Feeling vindicated, he reads on, "Sometimes we are thoughtless without even knowing it." When George stomps back to the hammock but before he can share his new found advice with Martha, she apologizes for disturbing him and reveals that she was lonely. "I never considered that," says George and tells her that he got lonely, too. Then, they sit together and tell stories into the night, without fidgeting.

There is not a lot of description or big vocabulary words in the George and Martha books, but there is such poignancy and truth to what Marshall writes that his succinct style makes you appreciate even more the veracity of his stories.

If your child likes George and Martha, suggest Yummers and Yummers Too, the Second Course, also by James Marshall. Both are "starring" Eugene the Turtle and Emily the Pig and follow them on their gustatory adventures which are driven both by Emily's desire to lose weight and her voracious love of food...

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