tasting first peas to the table by susan grigsby and nicole tadgell


Peas, please!

Surely they’re the most social of all vegetables — you rarely see or eat just one and they’re happiest out of their shells — canoodling in congenial groups, basking in their perfect orbed greenness, even more resplendent adorned with a buttery sheen.

Thomas Jefferson was certainly onto them. The English or Garden Pea is considered his favorite vegetable, judging by the sheer quantity of pea plantings and number of harvests at Monticello, as well as the amount of garden space regularly allotted to it.

(Click for Mary Randolph’s Fresh Peas with Mint recipe)

Every Spring, Jefferson and his neighbors had a “First Peas to the Table” contest, a race to see whose peas would be ready first. The winner would host a dinner party, proudly serving his peas to the other contestants. Apparently, Jefferson rarely won, but like his eager friends, fully appreciated the greater prize — honoring a beloved tradition where all could celebrate the joys of gardening and the power of the pea to bring people together.

Since I’ve always been interested in Jefferson’s gardening and gourmandizing, I was happy to see First Peas to the Table by Susan Grigsby and Nicole Tadgell (Albert Whitman, 2012), a lovely story where school children plant a kitchen garden like Jefferson’s and have a pea growing contest of their own.


Continue reading

a big bowl of goodness: No Mush Today by Sally Derby and Nicole Tadgell


For breakfast this fine Monday morning, we’ve got mush!

Just released this month by Lee and Low, No Mush Today, by Sally Derby, will provide a satisfying meal for picture book fans needing some familial reassurance.

Nonie is fed up with her bowl of cornmeal mush and her baby brother’s crying. Why not go live with Grandma?

After all, Grandma “attends” when Nonie speaks, and calls her “Sweet Pea.” They head out to grown-up church, where neighbors greet them along the way. Once there, Nonie’s daddy winks at her, trying to make her smile.

But Nonie’s having none of that, and later grumps that no one told her there was going to be a church picnic. Grandma calls her along, saying, “We’ll all go together.”

After a delicious lunch of fried chicken, three kinds of cake, and lemonade, Daddy finally convinces Nonie to go on a boat ride. He shows her some wonderful things, including a family of ducks. “Ducklings stick with their families,” he reminds her.

After a lovely afternoon, they head back home, where Momma’s waiting at the gate, and Nonie’s brother is smiling and reaching out for her. By then, Nonie realizes she has missed her family, and maybe being with them isn’t so bad after all. She’ll come back under one condition — no more mush!

Written in spare text that conveys believable, child-centric emotion with a splash of Southern dialect, No Mush Today is beautifully illustrated in soft watercolors by Nicole Tadgell. Tadgell expands the narrative by creating a context of loving communion, a small town backdrop of good folk and simple pleasures. The warmth of family radiates in spreads showing neighbors and church friends greeting each other with big smiles and hugs. And then there’s Nonie’s toy duck, which young eyes will follow with great interest.

When it isn’t clutched tightly in her hand, it’s sitting on the table or peeking out of her pocket, a constant companion for a child missing the attention of her parents. At the end of the story, Nonie hands the duck over to her little brother, a sweet gesture that shows her heart has opened up a little to sharing her parents with a sibling. Just as her daddy said at the park, “Lots to learn from ducks.”

The yellow endpapers, Nonie’s yellow hair ribbons, and of course, the yellow toy duck, visually complement the bowl of cornmeal mush. Take your time with this book in order to fully appreciate its riches. The children you share it with will likely say, “More mush today!”

No Mush Today has received glowing reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Rutgers, and Booklist, which you can read at the Lee and Low website.

Check out these cool photos showing how the artwork was done at Sally Derby’s website.

And drop by Nicole Tadgell’s blog. It’s the friendly thing to do!

*Interior spreads posted by permission, copyright © 2008 Nicole Tadgell, published by Lee and Low Books, Inc. All rights reserved.