• It’s the birth date of Charles Boardman Hawes (1889–1932), The Dark Frigate.
  • It’s the start of National Cowboy Poetry Gathering Week (January 24–29). Read Cactus Tracks & Cowboy Philosophy by Baxter Black, Cowboy Slim by Julie Danneberg, illustrated by Margot Apple, and Cowgirl Poetry: One Hundred Years of Ridin’ and Rhymin’ edited by Virginia Bennett.
  • It’s also the beginning of No Name-Calling Week (January 24–28). Read Mommy Calls Me Monkeypants by J.D. Lester, illustrated by Hiroe Nakata, and A Boy Called Slow: The True Story of Sitting Bull by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Rocco Baviera.
  • It’s Global Belly Laugh Day. Read Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears by Jules Feiffer.

January is appropriately named National Soup Month. Inevitably, when the weather turns chilly, I gravitate toward warm soup, a fire, and a good book.

Susan Meddaugh began her career as a graphic designer in the children’s book department of Houghton Mifflin. She worked with James Marshall, Bill Peet, Bernie Waber, and David Macaulay, among others, to help design some of their classic books. But she longed to create ones of her own and in the 1980s began publishing some.

Susan came from a family of dog nuts and in turn became a dog owner herself.  A stray dog adopted by the family, Martha, would become Susan’s muse. In Martha Speaks, Susan developed a fabulous premise for a book. What if, after being fed alphabet soup, a dog could actually talk? How would that affect the people in the family? After all, if dogs are unhappy, they can’t verbally list their grievances. But Martha the dog can comment on everything.

Susan sets up the book according to a child’s sense of logic—the letters from the alphabet soup go to Martha’s brain rather than her stomach; an idea suggested to Susan by her son. In the story, Martha begins talking with her family. They ask her why she drinks out of the toilet. She tells them she dreams about chasing meat loaf. Because Martha uses language the way a child does—honestly and with no sense of what might be appropriate or inappropriate—she causes both a lot of laughs and a lot of trouble: “Mom said that fruitcake you sent wasn’t fit for a dog. But I thought it was delicious.”

Then the family teaches her how to use the telephone—and Martha begins to think for herself. Eventually, Martha simply talks too much, and her family gets mad at her. Dejected, she stops eating alphabet soup—that is, until the moment that she needs to speak to save the house from a burglar.

Martha Speaks and its sequels, ideal for two to eight year olds, contain all of the elements of great picture books—a story arc with a great ending, illustrations that extend the humor of the text, and exquisite pacing and timing. Martha has come up in the world since her humble beginnings in 1992 and now has her own PBS television series. So if you like this dog, you can follow her adventures in many different forms.

I myself will celebrate National Soup Month by rereading Martha Speaks—it makes me even happier than soup itself.

Here’s a page from Martha Speaks:


Originally posted January 24, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Dogs, Humor
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Martha Speaks


  1. Sandy Littell says:

    an INSPIRATION! I loved reading the background info on Susan Meddaugh., Anita. She hit a home run with Martha the muse! I love this funny books.

  2. Elaine Helle says:

    Thank you for posting ” It’s Global Belly Laugh Day. Read Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears by Jules Feiffer”. I just ordered a copy. Global Belly Laugh Day is a “laugh together” day. Sounds like a Barrel of Laughs fits the bill.

  3. G.Perry says:

    I just read “Martha Speaks” this morning. it’s really cute and such a great idea for a book.

    But boy, that Martha sure talks a lot!

  4. beth says:

    This is another picture book fun for parent and child. The sequels are nice as well.

  5. Jacqueline says:

    Love your site! I just discovered it while searching for information on an author that I’m planning on featuring on my 365 Days of Children’s Books Blog. I just started my blog at the beginning of this year sharing information about books that my daughter and I read together.

  6. Anita says:

    Thanks everyone for the comments. I hope you had a chance to laugh today for Global Belly Laugh Day — either at Martha’s antics or some other book.

  7. Carol says:

    My other favorite soup story is Soup For Supper by Phyllis Root – really lends itself to props/storytelling, and even has music for Giant Rumbleton’s song in the back. The kids get a real kick out of the names that the Wee Small Woman calls the Giant – “turnip brain,” “potato nose,” etc.

  8. haley says:

    I love the story Martha speaks. Its my number 1 favorite soup book. Love Haley

  9. Barb says:

    Haley, I love that you have a favorite soup book!

  10. Bigfoot says:

    MARTHA SPEAKS is one of my favorites. Speaking of favorite soup books, I’d include THE PRINCESS OF BORSCHT by Leda Schubert.

  11. Anita says:

    Thanks Bigfoot for reminding everyone of Leda Schubert’s Princess of Borscht, with illustrations by Bonnie Christensen.

  12. G. Perry says:

    I still really love Martha Speaks.

    Martha still talks a lot, and I really, really like that.

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