- Craig Graziano
I was never the new kid at school, but I had plenty of moments when I felt like I didn't fit in or belong. That is why I identified immediately with the titular character of Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School.
To our schoolboy narrator, Marshall looks like trouble from the start. He wears a tweed jacket with leather patches with a ragtimey hat covering his head. "He looks different to me."
The nitpicky observations continue. His glasses say "Ray Ban" so they must belong to another boy. The food Marshall eats at lunch all comes in silver wrappers, obviously "space food." While everyone else has a regular bicycle, Marshall rides a velocipede. He can't play during gym, and he doesn't watch television. Who is this kid? Is he an alien? Is he from another century? What a weirdo.
So when Marshall invites the whole class to his birthday party it's bound to be a terrible time, right?
Marshall's house is a blast though. The children are allowed to run around inside, play wildly fun games, and even slide down a fireman's pole! Our narrator learns that appearances alone do not represent a person.
Mackintosh's drawings are ramshackle little wonders, simultaneously intricate and frantic, making them worthy successors to Edward Gorey. My favorite pages are the ones where our narrator documents all of Marshall's "faults" as well as his recounting of all the activities done at the party. These parts are little glimpses that instantly give the reader a fuller perspective. The text changes both its size and boldness at times to express our narrator's exasperation or excitement.
In addition to the great drawings is a neat little detail. The paper that the book is printed on is special, slightly thicker than your average picture book. This tactile oddity endeared me even more to the story.
Even if you've never been the new kid, Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School is a great lesson on getting to know people and holding off judgment.