Written and Illustrated by James Marshall
Houghton Mifflin, 1972
Martha was very fond of making split pea soup. Sometimes she made it all day long.
The plot in a nutshell: Stories about two good friends
In the first story, Martha goes on a split pea soup making binge and she makes it all the time. Split pea soup, however, is George’s least favorite food. But he doesn’t want to hurt Martha’s feelings by telling her. One day, after eating ten bowls of soup, he realizes he can’t eat another bite, so he pours the rest of his soup into his shoes, hoping she will think he’s eaten it, unaware that Martha can see him from the kitchen. She talks to him about it and tells him that friends should always be honest. She admits that she is not a big fan of the soup, either, but she likes making it. Then she offers him some cookies instead.
I adore the George and Martha books. When my kids replaced my missing picture books a couple of years ago, they did me the great favor of buying me the full collection – all seven books in one volume. Author/illustrator James Marshall had a wonderful sense of humor that comes through his books as delightfully mischievous, but with a giant heart at its core. He named these two best friends after the main characters in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? because his mother happened to be watching it one day while he was drawing. In 2007, Mr. Marshall was posthumously awarded the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for his lasting contribution to children’s literature.
The artwork is as simple as the stories and it’s beyond me to figure out how he can manage to give these two so much personality and expression when they are basically just vague hippo shapes with buck teeth and dots for eyes. Their stories show real friendship, with all its inherent difficulty and joy. George and Martha strive to take care of each other, but they have flaws that get on each other’s nerves as well. I laughed out loud reading these stories to my kids and still enjoy them every bit as much two decades later. If you’ve never read any of these stories, I encourage you to pick them up the next time you visit a library. All seven books are fantastic, but it was this one, the first in the series, that first won me over.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that the best friendships have balance, flexibility, understanding, communication, kindness and loads of love.