Award-Winning Books GB Challenges Picture Book Challenge 2011 Picture Books Whodunit Reading Challenge

Miss Nelson or Miss Viola Swamp? ‘Miss Nelson is Missing!’ by Harry Allard and James Marshall

This book, initially published in the 1970s, has quite a HUGE following. When I googled “Miss Nelson is Missing”, I got so many hits ranging from teacher resources, to possible classroom activities, to various play adaptation, to video clips of theater companies that showcased the story in their stage – that I was literally overwhelmed. I just knew that the mystery behind the missing teacher is one of the perfect picture books for our ‘Mystery’ theme of the month – not necessarily a ‘whodunit’ but a ‘whoeezeet?’

Sweet, Pleasant, Loving Teacher = Naughty, Troublesome, Misbehaving Students. This book resonated with me on so many levels. Being a teacher educator, I come across different ranges of expertise in my teaching here in Singapore: from the idealistic, wide-eyed, novice teachers to the really polished, more experienced, master teachers who can share their lessons with their eyes closed. Apart from delivering subject content meaningfully and engaging students actively in class, one other core issue is classroom management. Which is this book’s essence as could be found in the first page:

Our Poor Miss Nelson at a total loss.

The kids in Room 207 were misbehaving again.

Spitballs stuck to the ceiling.

Paper planes whizzed through the air.

They were the worst-behaved class in the whole school.

As I was reading this, I just finished my Teaching Practicum Supervision and I thought that it is the perfect book to introduce to my Classroom Management course this coming semester. While it is technically meant to give young children some kind of perspective in the way that they should (or should not) behave in class [without it being didactic and moral-lesson-y in the least] – it is also a lovely book that I can share with young teachers who would more likely laugh uproariously at how ‘Miss Nelson’ dealt with her problem class.

How could kids possibly be misbehaved during storytime? I can not, for the life of me, fathom that.

Who is Miss Viola Swamp? Despite Miss Nelson’s syrupy-sweet voice, her pleasant disposition, and her overall rosy-cheeked, golden-haired goodness – the kids refused to do their lessons, whispered amongst themselves, giggled loudly, squirmed and made faces: simply put, they would not “settle down.” Hence, Miss Nelson decided that … “Something will have to be done.”

Cue: Miss Viola Swamp’s entry: 

AHA! Miss Nelson's Substitute for the Day.

Clearly, she is everything that Miss Nelson is not. With a snappy, no-nonsense voice, she demands that work be done pronto! “Open those arithmetic books!” Kids were put to work, loaded down with homework, no story hour, sums on the board. No chit-chat. Or else. 

Alarmed, the kids sought the help of Detective Mc Smogg. Their kind-hearted, soft-spoken, golden-haired teacher after all, is missing! And a veritable witch has taken her place. This calls for a professional’s powers of deduction.

The foggy-brained Detective McSmogg

Never Taking Kindness for Granted. If there is one thing that I believe to be the barest essence of the book, stripped of all the black clothes and fancy wigs, it would be this: Kindness should never be taken for granted. You can intuitively sense this genuine warmth and goodness a mile away, and more often than not, it is disregarded, even taken advantage of by most. And this does not only happen inside the classroom but in all our everyday dealings with people.But … beware, there will always be a Miss Viola Swamp in the midst, waiting for the perfect opportunity to slam down multiplication table worksheets on your desk, the ruler rapping none-too-gently on your chair.

Teacher Resources. There are so many web resources out there for this book, allow me to sift through the really good ones for this post. In this website of MtHolyokeEdu, several questions for philosophical discussion were raised by Taryn Hargrove where children could explore the following themes: the nature of respect, the meaning of fear, the meaning of power, the idea of identity, the meaning of deception. Quite comprehensive, really.

In this Teacher Vision website, enrichment activities were shared involving character comparison using a Venn Diagram, clue hunts, and emotion charts to name several. This BusyteachersCafe website, also makes use of the Venn Diagram but this time around to compare the kids in Room 207 and your class – now that would be nice. It also includes a Reader’s Theater Script for Miss Nelson, a Comprehension strategies page, and a Miss Nelson Card!

I also discovered that this book has been adapted a number of times as a play on stage. This downloadable PDF link was created by not only to invite people to watch the play, but to also provide a lot of discussion questions and classroom activities including word search and math problems. also created a downloadable PDF link which focused more on vocabulary enrichment, literacy skills, a theater vocabulary list (which includes dialogue, facial expression, improvisation) and post-performance discussion and enrichment activities.

About the Authors. Harry Allard grew up in California, Long Island, and Chicago and was born in Illinois. He graduated from Northwestern College in 1943, and earned a PhD in French from Yale in 1973. He is said to have met James Marshall when he arrived in Boston paving the way for their partnership which started with The Stupids Step OutMiss Nelson is Missing was voted one of the most memorable books of the century (Source: children’s literature network).

James Marshall is said to have grown up on a large farm which is quite far from the nearest town. To amuse himself, he was encouraged by his mother to read books. Charles Dickens and the twenty-four volume history of England were said to be among his favorites. Marshall died at the age of 50 in 1992. At the time of his death, he has authored and illustrated over forty books for children (Source: Greenville Public Library).

Enjoy this video clip of Miss Nelson is Missing! =)

Miss Nelson is Missing! By Harry Allard and James Marshall. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1977. Book borrowed from the community library.

PictureBook Challenge Update:  72 of 72

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

7 comments on “Miss Nelson or Miss Viola Swamp? ‘Miss Nelson is Missing!’ by Harry Allard and James Marshall

  1. Myra,

    I am just loving your choices this month. This one seems to have such a warm message in such a witty tale.


    • myragarcesbacsal

      Dearest Joanna, truth be told, I was a little apprehensive since the selections are quite few unlike our wordless picture book theme. But it IS fun. I’m pretty excited to feature quite a number of odd and eerie Van Allsburg picture books as well and a few Australian authors to boot (Graeme Base being one of them). will visit your site soon. I was in Paris for two hours the other day (hahaha!) on a brief stop over. The airport is HUGE!


  2. I love this book! I always read it to my class, but now I have even more resources to use with it. Thanks!


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  4. Love the sound of this, and how you’ve used it! Thanks so much for sharing it at this month’s themed carnival.


  5. Pingback: It’s Monday, What are you Reading, Feast of Caldecott Honor Titles: 1947, 1963, 1972, 1989, 1992, 1997, 2008 «

  6. Pingback: Student Behaviors | The View from 518

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