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A review of George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends by James Marshall
I will never forget hearing my first George and Martha story.
As part of a graduate seminar, we had been discussing different aspects of love. When our professor said he had an important text to share with us, we all expected some spiritual or literary classic. Instead, he pulled out a battered picture book with two hippos on the cover.
Within minutes I was laughing out loud at George who, in a classic example of hubris, boasts to everyone that he is about to jump from the highest diving platform. He even scoffs at his best friend Martha, calling her a scaredy-cat for wanting to stay on the ground. But when he gets to the top, George freezes in terror. Martha sees his predicament and springs into action. While George quivers at the top of the ladder, Martha distracts the crowd by performing her own amazing dive. In the epic splash that results, George quietly slips back down to earth. Martha does not say a word.
True love indeed.
I was so taken by the wit and wisdom of the George and Martha stories that I bought a complete set of the books. By the time I became a parent, I instinctively turned to these two hippos to help me explore with my own children some of the qualities of an enduring friendship.
Now that my kids are older and surrounded by the ever-shifting kaleidoscope of schoolyard cliques, not to mention the often superficial and ego-driven world of social media, I figure they need George and Martha more than ever.
Like the Frog and Toad stories by Arnold Lobel, the George and Martha books pack a lot of sharp humour and keen observation into very simple words and pictures. They are hilarious. Insightful. Never preachy or moralizing. Both characters are deliciously flawed. Martha is bossy and vain and likes to have her own way. George can be a bit of a braggart and has been known to tell fibs. At various times they are insensitive, touchy, irritable, resentful, nosy, and prone to misunderstanding.
In other words, they are totally and wonderfully real.
While kids laugh themselves silly at the hippos, we grown-ups know that we are actually laughing at ourselves—all our little insecurities and vanities and mistakes. We know how amazing it is that George and Martha are able to stick together in spite of everything. And in doing so they give us hope that it is possible for a true friendship to last if it is built on a foundation of forgiveness and love.
So what do George and Martha have to say about the secret of being friends?
Tell the truth
Sometimes the truth hurts, but trying to hide it inevitably creates a bigger mess. George discovers this when he pours Martha’s detestable pea soup into his loafers (rather than eat it) in an effort to spare her feelings. Fortunately for George, Martha sees the care behind the deception. “Friends should always tell each other the truth,” she says, confessing her own dislike of pea soup. “From now on, you’ll never have to eat that awful soup again.” Chocolate chip cookies are much better.
Know when to keep quiet
Telling the truth does not mean saying everything that crosses your mind. Martha calls George a fuss-budget for urging her to wear sunscreen. But when she ends up confined to bed with a terrible sunburn, George never says, “I told you so.” Because that’s not what friends are for.
Sometimes we all need a little space
Even the best of friends need some privacy. Martha throws a full-blown tantrum when George says she cannot come into his secret clubhouse. But the tables are turned when he tries to sneak a peek at her diary!
Laugh (especially at yourself)
George and Martha laugh a lot. With each other. At each other. Sometimes—such as when George keels over laughing at the photo Martha thinks is so gorgeous—pride must be swallowed. But in the end even Martha can see the funny side of things.
Essential—especially for friends who play as many practical jokes as George and Martha.
Also essential. Though Martha is better at forgiving than forgetting…
Look beyond yourself
Most of the time George and Martha are very aware of each other. George knows when Martha is discouraged, or hurt, or lacking in confidence. Martha senses when George is embarrassed, or disappointed, or frightened. They go to great lengths to console and encourage one another. Even the selfish moments—like when George abandons Martha outside because her fidgeting disturbs his reading—come to an end when the two friends finally take the trouble to be fully present to each other.
There you have it. Relationship tips from a pair of hippopotamuses. But they must know something about it. After all, they have been best friends since 1972.So, if you have a child in your life whom you love, cuddle up and read the George and Martha stories. You’ll probably be glad you did.
And if you are lucky enough to have a faithful friend like George or Martha, be sure to tell them how much they mean to you.
That’s what the hippos would do.
Author: Laura Alary Google
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