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this week's library book

We just returned from our first Back to School night, so this week's library book seems especially appropriate for this time of year. Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard and James Marshall. (And I just realized that Mr. Marshall is also the creator of another favorite series of mine, George and Martha.)

Miss Nelson is a sweet soft spoken teacher who has lost control of her classroom. The children don't obey any of the rules, they shout in class and won't sit in their seats, so Miss Nelson does not come back to school the next day.

"Great!" say the children. "Now we can really be terrible!" They wad up their spit balls and start making paper airplanes. But then their new substitute teacher arrives.

Miss Viola Swamp is a different kind of teacher, mean and impatient. She barks orders at the children. "Where is Miss Nelson?" they ask. "Never mind that," yells Miss Swamp. "Open those arithmetic books!"

After a few days of Miss Swamp's harsh tutelage, the children are desperate for Miss Nelson. They try to find out what has happened to their sweet teacher. And a few days later, she returns. Happy to have their teacher back, the children are now perfectly behaved. Only Miss Nelson knows the real identity of Miss Viola Swamp, but smart kids who read this book sometimes figure it out as well.

I read in this interview that the character of Miss Viola Swamp is based on a teacher that illustrator James Marshall had as a child. Mr. Marshall recalls... "When Harry (the author) 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." So teachers, watch out!

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My mom was a classroom teacher for 30+years. She once had to be out for surgery. She'd read the book to her first graders before she left for the surgery. Almost six weeks later she visited the children and as she left the room she told the class, "On Monday, Miss Nelson will return." The classroom erupted into cheers, as their substitute was truly a Viola Swamp!

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