Spuds

Overview


Newbery medalist Karen Hesse has crafted a heartwarming story set in the backwoods of Maine that glows with integrity, love, and true family values.

Ma's been working so hard, she doesn't have much left over. So her three kids decide to do some work on their own. In the dark of night, they steal into their rich neighbor's potato fields in hopes of collecting the strays that have been left to rot. They dig flat-bellied in the dirt, hiding from passing cars, and drag a sack of ...

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Overview


Newbery medalist Karen Hesse has crafted a heartwarming story set in the backwoods of Maine that glows with integrity, love, and true family values.

Ma's been working so hard, she doesn't have much left over. So her three kids decide to do some work on their own. In the dark of night, they steal into their rich neighbor's potato fields in hopes of collecting the strays that have been left to rot. They dig flat-bellied in the dirt, hiding from passing cars, and drag a sack of spuds through the frost back home. But in the light, the sad truth is revealed: their bag is full of stones! Ma is upset when she sees what they've done, and makes them set things right. But in a surprise twist, they learned they have helped the farmer (contd.)

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Not since Five Little Peppers or, perhaps, The Waltons has poverty been quite so romantic as Hesse and Watson (previously paired with Hesse for The Cats in Krasinski Square) make it seem in this nostalgic book, narrated by the middle of three fatherless children. As their ma leaves to work the night shift, the three sneak out to glean potatoes left on a neighbor's field after the harvester has been through it. Hesse leans on readers to appreciate her use of language: "some high-beam car came flying 'round the bend" and the children dive down, "three tater-snatchers, flat-bellied in the dirt, till the tire buzz faded. Then, rising up in the moonlight, we commenced to cockadoodlin', revelin' in the pure pleasure of a close call." Watson's art roots this story pleasingly: inside their house, her characters look neat and flattened, the humble cousins of Kate Greenaway; the palette and props say Great Depression or earlier. The children's illicit harvest carries with it a moral, of course, and the narrator eventually realizes that their mother's love is so big that it "could turn even three little spuds like us into something mighty fine." Together, the story and pictures create an appetite, then satisfy it. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
The date of this story could be during any hard times out in the countryside, although the clothing, car, and stove suggest the Great Depression. Jack, our narrator, tells of the night when their Ma leaves, "workin' night shift." Big sister Maybelle, realizing how hard their mother is working with "nothin' left over" suggests that she, Jack, and little brother Eddie take a wagon out to Farmer Kenney's to collect "night spuds," left over on the fields. They work hard in the cold, dark night and anticipate the tasty potatoes. But back home, Jack is horrified to discover that most of what they collected were stones. Ma is angry when she learns what they have done; she makes them take back what they took. Fortunately, kind Mr. Kenney tells them they can keep the few they found. And mother's love "could turn even three little spuds like us into something mighty fine." There is a gloomy quality to the scenes Watson produces with her pencil, colored ink, watercolor, and gouache illustrations, dominated by dull khaki and dirty yellows; even the blue sky lacks brightness. The landscape is barren, the farms are without animals, the family is bone thin. Although the final scene around the table shows the smiling faces enjoying the potatoes, shabbiness underlies it all. There is an overall honesty that suggests the black-and-white photographs of the Depression, along with the illustrations from the 1930s. But there is a note of joy and hope along with the raised gold lettering on the jacket in the scene of the children running to the fields together under the full moon. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal

Gr 1-4

As this heartwarming picture book opens, Ma's headed out to work the night shift and narrator Jack notes, "lately it seems like she's got nothin' left over, not even for us kids." His older sister, Maybelle, has watched the harvest in their neighbor Mr. Kenney's fields, and, that night, she leads Jack and their younger brother, Eddie, to glean the potatoes left behind. The siblings bundle up in layers of clothing, tuck Eddie into their red wagon, and head out into the cold autumn night. Spurred on by thoughts of a tater feast, they toil in the moonlight and trudge home only to find that they've harvested mostly stones. An angry Ma forces them to confess to Mr. Kenney the next day, but he laughs aside their apology, noting that they've done him a favor by removing the stones from his fields. The children go home and tell Ma, she cooks a fry-up with a sweet smile, and Jack realizes that her love is big enough to "turn even three little spuds like us into something mighty fine." This beautifully crafted picture book features panoramic landscapes and intimate pictures. Watson's pencil, ink, watercolor, and gouache illustrations, warmly rendered in earth tones, capture the small figures trudging along under a huge full moon, and detail the care the older children lavish on their younger brother. This sweetly understated affirmation of hard work and honesty, neighborliness and family love, will resonate with a wide audience.-Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA

Kirkus Reviews
Ma is working late shifts but there doesn't ever seem to be enough to eat. So one frosty night Jack and Maybelle put little Eddie in a wagon with some empty sacks and sneak into a farmer's field to liberate the potatoes that are just lying there. As they load their prizes, they dream of all the mouthwatering ways Ma might cook the potatoes. Imagine their shock and disappointment when they realize that their sacks held very few potatoes and a load of stones. Ma makes them take everything back to the farmer, who kindly allows them to keep it all, saying they had helped by removing the stones. Thus they get their "fry-up" after all, but they also get some valuable lessons in integrity and compassion. Hesse uses country dialect to set the mood of tender nostalgia. The Depression-era setting is never specifically mentioned, but is conveyed entirely through the details in Watson's mixed-media illustrations, rendered in soft, muted earth tones that perfectly complement the text. A sweet, gentle tale. (Picture book. 5-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780439879934
  • Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/1/2008
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 1,009,775
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 11.10 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author


Karen Hesse is the award-winning and critically acclaimed author of many books for children. Her titles include WITNESS, THE CATS IN KRASINSKI SQUARE, and the Newbery Medal winner OUT OF THE DUST, among many others. She lives in Vermont with her husband and two teenaged daughters.
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