Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover

Sam pulled Marshall Armstrong Is New to Our School off our home library shelf yesterday for me to read to him. It is a story that gently explores themes of tolerance and diversity. I was thrilled to be reminded that Marshall's house is a central plot and visual feature in the story. I've drawn a few houses this week after coming home from a short stay away and being reminded that indeed, there is no place like home.

About the story

Marshall is new to his school and is very different. It seems he does not fit in. "Not one bit". The beginning of the story sees the narrator list many of the differences that divide Marshall from his peers. In illustrations he is shown to be distanced from the other children, in characteristics and physical space. The beginning and end of the story reveal the narrator's changed opinion with Marshall's house standing pivotally in the middle.

The children in Marshall's new class get a chance to see his life outside school, in his home that is filled with marvellous activities and fun. A piano, train set, a jungle tent, carrot cupcakes, real lemonade, monkey bars and a power nap to name a few.  Suddenly the children have an opportunity to engage in Marshall's world and discover how their differences actually make them similar. All these strange new activities are fun. The children seem to find that sharing in the favorite activities of their new peer is a great way to spend the day and build friendship.

The house

I love that there is a very clear plot development with the change in setting - Marshall's house. On a second read it would be perfect to discuss with your students. How has the shift in setting changed the story? How does the house divide the beginning and end of the story so well? How has it changed things for Marshall? How did his peers change? For me, the house becomes a significant symbol of the importance of taking time to get to know people and how shared experience can unite us. 

With older students you might like to discuss why a shift in setting enabled the author to create opportunity for this experience. Does the house serve as a physical manifestation of Marshall's mind? The party in the house being an opportunity for his peers to come inside Marshall's mind and  experience his world from the inside looking out?

After reading

  • make a list of phrases used to describe Marshall at the beginning of the story
  • look at the language used to describe him and how this helps us visualize - "His freckles look like birdseed on his nose". 
  • ask students to explore ways Marshall is shown to be different and the same 
  • use the reading response page I have created for students to map out key features of the beginning, middle and end of the story
  • do a directed drawing of the house in the story or ask students to sketch their own house
  • ask students to write a list of ways school and home are different
  • ask students to think about why it would be great to be friends with someone like Marshall

If you would like Marshall Armstrong Is New to Our School on your bookshelf, you can find it over on Amazon. This is an affiliate link. It does not change your experience but we may earn a small commission from your purchase.

Thanks so much for stopping by the blog today.