a platter of vegetable picture books

Put on your bibs and lick your chops — it’s fresh veggie time!

Serving up a little of summer’s bounty today in celebration of all that is green, purple, red, orange and yellow. Nothing better than the crunch of a carrot, the juicy ooze of a garden ripe tomato, the fresh snap of a sassy bean. A quick perusal of vegetable books at my library revealed a surprising number of varieties who took great pride in their ability to amaze and delight. Some call attention to themselves just by being BIG, while others excel at showmanship. Veggie vaudeville? Lima bean monsters? Whoever said vegetables were boring?

Lots to nibble and chew on here. Have fun eating your veggies!

RAH, RAH, RADISHES!: A VEGETABLE CHANT by April Pulley Sayre (Beach Lane Books, 2011). Get ready to root for rutabagas and fall for fennel. This rollicking trip to the farmer’s market will have you cheering in the stands and bouncing for beets. Over 40 different vegetable varieties are celebrated with gorgeous color photographs and a heaping bushel of simple a-peeling rhymes. Familiar friends like carrots, cucumbers and beans are tossed around with not-so-common types like kohlrabi, Swiss chard and bok choy to entice curious munchkins. A wondrous mix of colors, shapes and textures makes this feast irresistibly delectable, and there are seven kinds of peppers to spice things up (bell, banana, cayenne, poblano, habanero, jalapeño, and serrano). An Authors Note defines “vegetables,” suggests ways to learn about new ones and touts the importance of incorporating different colored veggies for a healthy diet. Never seen such ravishing radishes, and what a fabulous read aloud!

THE ENORMOUS CARROT by Vladimir Vagin (Scholastic Press, 1998). So, Floyd and Daisy Rabbit plant a garden one spring and with their careful tending, everything comes up beautifully. One day they notice a huge carrot growing out of the ground and when they try to pick it, it won’t budge. Soon, one friend after another drops by — a cow, goat, hen, dog and cat, and they all heave and ho and ho and heave to no avail. Finally, Lester the mouse offers to help, but he is told he is too small. He helps anyway and that stubborn carrot finally COMES OUT. Nothing to do but throw a gigantic carrot feast for everyone. The double page spread showing all the animals eating carrot soup, carrot cake, carrot pie, carrot cookies and carrot ice cream is worth the price of admission. Based on a Russian folktale, this story’s a great way to stress the importance of teamwork, and of course, who could resist the novelty and wonder of such a big carrot?

BRAVE POTATOES by Toby Speed and Barry Root (Putnam, 2000). When all’s quiet at the County Fair, a bunch of prize potatoes sneak out late at night to ride on the Zip (ferris wheel). Meanwhile, across town, Chef Hackemup at the Chowder Lounge is busy chopping, dicing, shredding, grating, mashing and mincing all manner of veggies (“carrots curli-queuing and the garlic parachuting”) for his soup, stew and chowder. He’s got everything he needs except — you guessed it — potatoes. He catches a glimpse of the lit-up Zip and sees “spinning spuds against the sky!” and all he can think of is hash, fries, chowder, gumbo and chips. He rushes over, sacks up those spuds, and takes them back to his kitchen.

But will those brave potatoes heed Hackemup’s orders? Well, they don’t have ears, do they? No, they can’t/won’t listen: potato insurrection! Guess who lands in the soup? This spectacular spudly saga, with its high energy and masterful rhyme and rhythm, will have you vocalizing veggies for days on end. You’ll want to crunch and chew every word and read aloud loud loud. Chop chop!

TOMATOES FROM MARS by Arthur Yorinks and Mort Drucker (HarperCollins, 1999). Ever wonder why Mars is red? Well, Dr. Shtickle has a great theory. You see, last summer, these giant tomatoes landed in Minnesota (atop enormous china flying saucers). They silently moved through the city and stained everything in sight. Soon there were tomato sightings all across the country and everyone panicked. What did those tomatoes want? Why? They were making a mess of everything. Scientists worked feverishly to find a way to stop the invasion to no avail. Dr. Shtickle proposes they try to communicate with the mysterious red orbs, but the symbols of welcome filling the sky don’t work.

When the President threatens harsher methods to keep the country from being totally shmeared, Shtickle begs for more time less the entire nation be covered in sauce. How was he able to stop those giant red denizens? Shall we say, never underestimate the power of a little extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, fresh basil, and just the right shpritz. Phew! Mort Drucker’s ginormous tomatoes floating through the air = retro whimsy at its best!

PIGS LOVE POTATOES by Anika Denise and Christopher Denise (Philomel Books, 2007). This one gets my vote for most adorable potato on the platter. A rhyming counting book and a simple tale of Mamma cooking potatoes for her little piggies and a few unannounced guests. Christopher Denise’s charming charcoal and acrylic illustrations convey happy family warmth and the singular joy of playing with preparing potatoes. Especially love the spread showing one mischievous pig piling potato peelings atop his father’s head. Anika’s fetching, concise text is pitch perfect. Don’t miss this totally endearing dose of cute overload. Oink!

THE VEGETABLE SHOW by Laurie Krasny Brown (Little, Brown, 1995). Ta da! Step right up for a little Veggie Vaudeville hosted by Mr. B. A. Dilly (a friendly pickly guy). The tempting menu features acts such as String Beanie (juggler), Bud the Spud (magician), and Eeny-Weeny Zucchini (weight lifter). Thumb through Krasny’s detailed cut paper, paint, colored pencil and block print collages and nibble on interesting info about all the performers. Bud the Spud can magically transform a plain potato into french fries or yummy pancakes. String Beanie can make a mean tossed salad bursting with fiber, and Eeny-Weeny Zucchini proves why he’s the world’s strongest squash. Drum roll, please, for the stars of the show, the Tip-Top Tomato Twins, who like to tiptoe across the tightrope. Oooh! Includes a “Veggies Are Not for Sissies” song at the end, and an About the Performing Vegetables Glossary chock full of nutritional info and various tidbits. Kids will eat up this tasty show ☺


THE LIMA BEAN MONSTER by Dan Yaccarino and Adam McCauley (Walker, 2001). Yuck! Sammy hates lima beans — he hates them so much he’s never even tried one. Whenever his mom makes them for dinner he tries to think of new ways to avoid eating them (hiding them in the mashed potatoes, stuffing them into his napkin). One night, he thinks of an ingenious idea: why not stuff them down his sock? Later, he buries them in a vacant lot, feeling very good about himself. As soon as word gets out, other kids in the neighborhood are burying all their unwanted veggies in the same hole, along with rejects like tap shoes, ugly birthday sweaters and failed spelling tests. There’s a big storm with lots of thunder and lightning that strikes the unwanted veggies mound not once but twice, and a huge, horrible stinky lima bean monster emerges! And it’s hungry for human beans, especially grown-up ones! What to do? Luckily, Sammy comes up with the perfect plan. A lively, suspenseful story that’ll grab the little ones by the throat, and just maybe convince them to try lima beans. Nah!


*Veggies illustration at top of post by Louise Norman/flickr.

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

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