Miss Nelson is Missing!


Written by Harry Allard, Illustrated by James Marshall

Houghton Mifflin, 1977

The kids in Room 207 were misbehaving again.

The plot in a nutshell: A teacher uses unconventional methods to get her class to behave.

No matter how nicely Miss Nelson asks them, the kids in her class will not behave. They talk during class, act up during story time and will not do their classwork. Miss Nelson is determined to solve the problem. One day, when the kids get to school, Miss Nelson is not there and the kids look forward to a day of serious shenanigans, but then they meet the substitute teacher, Viola Swamp, who wears an ugly black dress and has a mean angry face. She makes the class work very hard, with no story time or fun of any kind. The class starts missing Miss Nelson and they imagine all the terrible things that might have happened to her. But suddenly, she returns to the class and finds them much better behaved, with a new appreciation for their teacher.

Viola Swamp

I think I had her as a substitute once.

This was the first book in a series of three Miss Nelson books from author Harry Allard. Our family loved this classic story when the kids were little. As an adult reading the story, you know that Viola Swamp is actually Miss Nelson in disguise, but the book never comes right out and says so, which is one of my favorite things about it. Once again, I find myself loving those authors who respect their audience enough to give them context clues rather than bludgeoning them with the plot. And Viola Swamp is just a fantastic name. No wonder Mr. Allard wanted to keep writing stories about her.

The artwork is provided by longtime bookshelf favorite James Marshall, best known for his George and Martha series of books. His illustrations here are great, especially in the depiction of Viola Swamp. For some reason, I really love the tiny detail of Miss Nelson having a tiny model of the Alamo on her desk, in a nod to Mr. Marshall’s hometown of San Antonio. This story has been adapted into a stage musical for children’s theater, which I imagine would be a ton of fun to see.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that sometimes a change in your routine will shake you up and make you appreciate what you had taken for granted.


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