The Horn Book Radio Review
James Marshall interviewed by Anita
The Horn Book Radio Review, commentary on books for children and
Anita Silvey (AS):
I’m Anita Silvey, editor in chief of Horn Book Magazine.
If you’ve been reading any picture books to three-, four-,
or five-year-olds recently, you may be very familiar with my guest
today, James Marshall. About fifteen years ago, Jim Marshall started
his publishing career with a series of books about two best friends,
George and Martha, who just happen to be rather endearing but
quite ungainly hippopotami. Jim has gone on to create about sixty
books and some other marvelous characters: the members of the
Stupid family; Miss Nelson, everyone’s favorite teacher;
and Miss Viola Swamp, everyone’s most dreaded substitute
Jim, I’m pleased you can
be here with us today. How did you get started as an illustrator?
James Marshall (JM):
I was sitting in a hammock at my Mama’s house in Hilotus,
a little town outside of San Antonio, and I was doodling on a
page. Actually, it was just a blank page and there were two little
dots already in the paper and I recognized them as eyes and I
started developing around the character that has become Martha,
my hippo. And inside at that time — inside the house —
my mother was watching a televised version of Who’s
Afraid of Virginia Woolf. And the characters are George and
Martha. And I thought to myself, “well, those are two pretty
good names,” so I borrowed from Edward Albee, who I’m
told is not amused by this.
AS: Now, the books
are a great deal of fun to read, and children have a great deal
of fun to read. Are they as much fun to create, or is it a lot
of hard work?
JM: No. No. Sometimes
— it’s a law of nature — actually, it’s
a law of art, I think — sometimes when I’m working
on a book — and I think this is true of a lot of people,
because I have a number of friends who are illustrators and authors
— if you think the book is going very, very well, and you’re
creating a masterpiece, nine times out of ten it will be just
the opposite. The books that I’ve done that look —
I hope look like they’re fun to do, are the ones that made
me throw up ten times a day. I mean, the Miss Nelson books: I
really thought I was going to die doing those books. Very, very
hard stuff. Because humor, which I do — comedy — is
very tricky. You can’t show how hard you work. You can’t
call attention to yourself. You can’t show the wheels turning.
It’s got to be like a balloon that floats up into the air.
You don’t make the reader, the viewer aware of anything
but the story.
AS: What are the
favorite characters that you’ve created, of your own world?
JM: Oh, Viola
Swamp. Viola Swamp is my second grade teacher who laughed at me.
When Harry and I were doing Miss Nelson is Missing, we devised
the scenario so that a wicked substitute arrives on the scene.
And Harry said, “I want you to draw the most awful teacher
you ever had.” Well, it took me five seconds to get Viola
Swamp down. She’s the spitting image of my second grade
teacher, who is still alive in San Antonio, Texas. In April I
saw her in the supermarket in San Antonio. I was pushing a cart
and around the corner came Viola Swamp! And I felt my knees weaken.
There she is! She has seen the book and she finds it very amusing,
so I don’t feel too terrible. And of course I’m very
fond of the George and Martha duo. And I like a little character
I did named Emily Pig who likes to eat a lot, as I do. And she’s
sweet and good-natured.
AS: And she was
starred in, what, Yummers?
JM: She starred
in Yummers and I’m doing now Yummers 2, the
AS: Thank you,
James Marshall for being here with us today. For reviews of Jim
Marshall’s books, who’s the author of George and
Martha, Miss Nelson has a Field Day, and Stupids
Step Out, and other fine children’s books, check your
September/October Horn Book which is available at your
local public library, your school library or your favorite local
book store. I’m Anita Silvey, editor in chief of Horn
This series of reviews is produced by Greg Fitzgerald and is made
possible in part by funds from the Horn Book Incorporated, publishers
of the Horn Book Magazine and books concerning children’s
This program originally aired on
National Public Radio in July or August of 1986. The Radio Review
was moderated by Anita Silvey and produced by Greg Fitzgerald.
about James Marshall