Work & Play & James Marshall's Sketchbooks

You know how you explore your own city more when company comes to town? When my fabulous agent Minju Chang and my critique group partner Charlotte Sullivan Wild made plans to come to Minneapolis recently, I knew right away where we should go, even though I’d only been there once before: The Kerlan.

The Kerlan Collection is this treasure trove of children’s literature archives—manuscripts, sketchbooks, correspondence, and original art—that resides at the Elmer L. Andersen Library at the University of Minnesota.

We requested a few boxes from the archives and rolled in Friday morning ready to dig in.

When we lifted the lid from the first box of James Marshall materials, we all freaked out—in our library voices, of course.

As we unwrapped layer after layer, we found original art from Miss Nelson is Missing, sketches from The Stupids, illustrations and handwritten text for a whole George and Martha book which was never published. 

But the sketchbooks were my favorite.

Seeing my beloved George and Martha doing stuff I’d never seen them do before, alongside telephone numbers hastily jotted down and random sums added up in the margins, made it clear that, though I wanted to revere each sketch as holy work, James Marshall was playing around. 

He was trying things.

He wrote notes to himself.

There was a fabulously detailed sketch of an ice cream destroying machine.

I repeat, An Ice Cream Destroying Machine!

My takeaway was: play.

The following day, Andrea Davis Pinkney gave the keynote address at The Loft's Children's and Young Adult Literature Conference and she told us she gets up at 4:30 a.m. each day to write.

So, my other takeaway from the weekend was: work.

Work vs. play? Work then play? Play then work?

I think I've been leaning heavily on the work side of the equation. Or, more truthfully, the façade of work. Like, if I sit at this desk and open this laptop, I must be doing work. I'm spending my time well. I'm doing something important and worthwhile here, people! 


James Marshall’s sketchbooks reminded me of the value of play in order to have something exciting and worthwhile to work on.

I mean, really, if we're not making time to contemplate the Ice Cream Destroying Machines of life, what are we all doing?

I have already, since my visit to the Kerlan, made some time away from the computer, with a notebook, listing ideas and noodling around. I gotta say, it feels good.

Fittingly, we wrapped up the weekend at Lake Monster with some play: a game of Giant Jenga. Minju vs. my kids.

Enjoy your week of work and play!