Marshmallow by Clare Turlay Newberry

  • Title: Marshmallow
  • Author: Clare Turlay Newberry
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • Year Published: 1942
  • ISBN: 0060724862
  • List Price: $16.99
  • Page Count: 32
  • Age Range: 4-8
  • Genre: fiction
  • Award(s): Newbery Honor Book

Author information: Clare Turlay Newberry (1903-1970) wrote and illustrated several books, including four Caldecott honor books, for children during her lifetime. The HarperCollins website has a short biography of Newberry on its website. It mentions that most of Newberry’s subjects were taken from real life. In regards to Marshmallow, Newberry was quoted as saying, “”Every word of Marshmallow is true, even to the drawing of them wrapped in each other’s arms. I know people find this hard to believe, but the bunny was so little and was so convinced that Oliver was his mother, what could Oliver do but be his mother the best way he could?”

Reviews: Because of the age of this picture book, it was difficult to find contemporary reviews. Kirkus reviewed the book in 1942, but their review was only three sentences long, with the first two being a summary of the plot. Kirkus did call the artwork “enchanting”, but did not go into detail about the book otherwise. Goodreads has rated this book four stars out of five, based on 312 user votes. Many reviews of the book on Goodreads mention that this book was a childhood favorite and has stood the test of time.

Readers annotation: Oliver the cat likes being the only pet in the house, until his owner brings home Marshmallow the baby rabbit. Can Marshmallow win Oliver’s heart?

Summary: Oliver is a bachelor cat that has never spent time with other animals before, so when his owner, Miss Tilly, brings home a baby rabbit, Oliver doesn’t know what to do. At first he is scared and avoids Marshmallow, the bunny, who is very lonely and misses his mother. After a while, Oliver becomes more bold and acts as though he might pounce on Marshmallow, which leads Miss Tilly to lock them in separate rooms when she is out running errands. One of these times, Oliver manages to open the door to Marshmallow and Marshmallow gives him a kiss. This sparks a happy relationship between the two animals that involves cuddling, frolicking, and a lot of bathtimes. In the end, both Oliver and Marshmallow are happy that Miss Tilly brought Marshmallow home.

Evaluation: The narrative of this book is heartwarming and authentic, and feels like something that could happen in real life (and, indeed, Newberry took this subject from her own life). Newberry portrays the feelings of both animals in a way that makes the reader sympathize with them and makes them happy when they finally become friends. The softness of the charcoal drawings match the tone of the book and makes the reader feel as though they could reach into the book and feel the fur of these soft creatures. Because these drawings are minimal, in black and white, and somewhat smaller than the illustrations seen in modern picture books, younger readers may get antsy with little visual stimulation to carry them through the text heavy pages, but the story itself is so tender and charming that readers will be mesmerized.

Rating and appeal factors:

  • Quality: 5/5 The artwork perfectly matches the pacing and tone of the story and the feel-good ending is hard to beat. The interactions between Oliver and Marshmallow are humorous while remaining tender, and readers will be enthralled by the story up until the final page. 
  • Popularity: 4/5 The smaller pictures may not appeal to readers who prefer bright colors and larger visual stimulation with their stories, but most readers will find much to love in this book. Oliver and Marshmallow are both endearing characters with their own voices and fears, and the conclusion will warm any reader’s heart. 
  • Appeal factors: rabbits, cats, charcoal illustrations, black and white illustrations.

Read-alikes: 

  1. Readers who are looking for another classic picture book featuring adorable animals should read Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for DucklingsBoth books have stood the test of time and appeal to modern audiences due to their adorable portrayal of their animal protagonists as well as their classically drawn illustrations.
  2. Smudge by Clare Turlay Newberry is a great recommendation for readers who loved Newberry’s charcoal drawings as well as Oliver the cat. This book follows three baby kittens and their mischief-making when their owners leave the house, and this book will provide a similar dose of adorable for fans of Marshmallow.

Book talk ideas: Start by asking if any potential readers have cats or bunnies, and ask if anybody has both. If somebody does, ask how they get along. If nobody does, ask how they think a cat and a bunny would get along. Mention that this book is based on a true story, and that cats and bunnies can sometimes be good friends. Another strength of this book is its illustrations, so show a few pictures of Oliver and Marshmallow so that potential readers can get an idea of the cuteness factor of this book.

Discussion questions/ideas:

  1. Why is Oliver afraid of Marshmallow at the beginning of the book?
  2. Do you think Oliver is happier at the end of the book after meeting Marshmallow than he is at the beginning as a bachelor?
  3. Did you like the illustrations? In what way did they add to the tone of the book? Would you have liked different illustrations more

Reason for reading: This is another book that I have to admit I read mostly due to the cover. The title was too adorable to pass up, and I fell in love with the soft charcoal drawing of Marshmallow that was on the cover. This seems to be another classic book that I missed during my childhood, and I’m glad I used this opportunity to remedy the situation.

Additional relevant information: Clare Turlay Newberry is often jokingly referred to as the first “cat lady” because of her artwork. She is also credited with “instilling in children a compassion and sense of responsibility for animals” because so many of her books portray animals as having real, human emotions and needing love and protection just as humans do.

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