I have a soft spot for true animal tales, especially ones featuring interspecies affection. One of my favorites is an oldie but goodie titled Marshmallow. It was first published in 1942 and received a Caldecott Honor. Do you know it? Did you read it as a child? Written and illustrated by Clare Turlay Newberry, Marshmallow is the story of Oliver, a gray tabby cat, whose comfy, predictable routine is disturbed by the addition of a new household member—a small, white, furry bunny named Marshmallow. When his owner, Miss Tilly, introduces him to the bunny, “Oliver was appalled. He took one wild look at the creature, then squinched his eyes tight shut.” Never having ventured outside his apartment, Oliver had no idea other animals existed. No wonder he was frightened by his unexpected encounter with the long-eared, twitchy-whiskered creature. Meanwhile, Marshmallow wasn’t happy either. Being a very young bunny, he didn’t know enough to be afraid of cats. He was unhappy because “all he wanted was to be at home again with his nice warm furry mother.”
Gradually, Oliver loses his fear of the bunny and “by afternoon he was watching Marshmallow with an expression that would have terrified an older and wiser rabbit.” But Miss Tilly gets wise to Oliver’s newfound predatory curiosity and she puts the two animals in separate rooms. One day, however, Oliver’s curiosity gets the better of him and the cat manages to open the door to Marshmallow’s room. This could have ended badly but Marshmallow’s reaction caught the older cat by surprise: “What was this great striped animal, he wondered? Could it possibly be his mother in a new coat? And while Oliver hesitated, trying to make up his mind to pounce, all at once Marshmallow scampered joyfully up to him and kissed him on the nose!” From then on, the two animals were never far from each other. The cat and the bunny played together and cuddled together, taking great pleasure in each other’s company.
Children will be charmed by Newberry’s descriptions of the animals’ emotions and antics, and the cheeky poems (“A Poem in Praise of Rabbits,” “A Solemn Warning to Rabbit Lovers”) tucked within this sweet story are fun to read aloud. But it’s the black-and-white sketches of Oliver and Marshmallow that make this book so memorable. You don’t have to be a cat lover to appreciate how Newberry has so purr-fectly captured a feline’s expressions and body movements. And there’s so much tenderness in the illustrations of the cat and the bunny cuddling together, you’ll be tempted to “brighten your home” with a bunny and kitty of your own!
Are you familiar with Marshmallow or other animal tales by Clare Turlay Newberry? Which is your favorite?