The Mighty Asparagus

The Mighty Asparagus

5.0 1
by Vladimir Radunsky

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Long ago in Italy, a mighty asparagus grew smack-dab in front of the king's castle. Was the king happy about it? No. The asparagus had to go. But how does a king reason with an asparagus of such stature?

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Vladimir Radunsky tells the uproarious tale of an almost immovable vegetable. Drawing on Italian Renaissance art,


Long ago in Italy, a mighty asparagus grew smack-dab in front of the king's castle. Was the king happy about it? No. The asparagus had to go. But how does a king reason with an asparagus of such stature?

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Vladimir Radunsky tells the uproarious tale of an almost immovable vegetable. Drawing on Italian Renaissance art, the esteemed artist creates a breathtaking magical kingdom, where it's easy to imagine that such an asparagus existed. His artwork is as gorgeous as it is funny. Although the old masters may turn over in their graves, readers of all ages will clamor for more of The Mighty Asparagus.

Editorial Reviews

An asparagus, as tall as a tower, sprouts up in the king's yard. Despite all the efforts of the king, the queen, a knight, and even a rhino, it seems that nothing can uproot it-until a bird flutters its wings "andthe humongous, stupendous, splendid, catastrophic vegetable collapsed!" Underneath the snappy asides and caricatures mixed with Italian Renaissance paintings is a message: Everyone's contributions count, no matter how small. (Ages 6 to 8)
Child magazine's Best Children's Book Awards 2004
Publishers Weekly
In Radunsky's (Mannekin Pis) gleefully subversive retelling of the Russian folktale "The Turnip," he spoofs Renaissance paintings for his illustrations and changes the locale to an Italianate royal family's court. To the horror of the macho king, a huge, indubitably phallic asparagus stalk pops up in his yard, dominating the palace (and the spreads): "Oh, I hate that stinky asparagus!" he cries. The queen and blushing princess, however, gaze longingly at the enormous vegetable (the princess squeals, "Give it to me now! I want to gobble it up!"; "Funny, I thought that children hated asparagus," the narrator slyly comments). The wink-wink, nudge-nudge jokes to the adults threaten to overwhelm the early pages, but the author/ artist eventually wrestles the satire back on track. Ever the iconoclast, Radunsky raids Italian masterpieces and apologizes to their artists in an arch dedication ("thank you and sorry"). The bumbling king, in his crimson hat and cape, comes from Piero della Francesca, for example, while his imperious advisers are lifted from Andrea Mantegna. Radunsky distorts the characters' haughty faces into Terry Gilliam-esque gooniness, showing readers that museum art (like legendary turnips and asparagus) can withstand a healthy satirical tweaking or two. Ages 5-9. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
An "amazing" enormous asparagus appears one day right in the king's yard. He finds it ugly, so tries but can't pull it out. The queen thinks it is beautiful enough to move to the palace, but she and the king together can't budge it. The princess wants to "gobble it up." She joins the king's rhino and the bravest knight as they all pull together, in vain. The king finally asks his mother for help. She has the answer. "You should always listen to your mother" is only one of the comments made by those watching as the asparagus finally collapses on a spectacular fold-out. In a typical Radunsky crazy, wild finale, the king composes a ballad of celebration to be sung by all. Pieces of reproductions of 16th century Renaissance paintings are combined with the artist's own comic creations to produce an almost surreal but oddly cohesive narrative, visually and verbally absurd but of course humorous. There are no clues to where the paintings are from. The reader must read everything, including the jacket flaps and back, the end-papers, the title page notes, and all the pictures to "get it" all. 2004, Silver Whistle/Harcourt, Ages 6 to 12.
—Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 1-6-For those who love Radunsky's flamboyantly ribald sense of humor, are comfortable with chaos, and accepting of Italian Renaissance art delivered out of context and edited mischievously, this variant of the classic tale "The Turnip" is great fun. It is set in Italy in 1602, the year an enormous stalk of asparagus grew in the king's yard. A combined effort by the monarch, the queen, a rhinoceros, the bravest knight, the princess, and Tiny Little Bird succeeds in dislodging it. "And the humongous, stupendous, splendid, catastrophic vegetable collapsed!" Not much in the text or illustrations makes sense but both scream for attention. The old masters might not be pleased with Radunsky's schoolboy tendency to exaggerate their subjects' noses or white out their eye sockets to fill them in with slightly crossed bug eyes. Part of the book's mischief involves a seemingly mindless inclusion of phallic images. Adolescent? Oh yeah. And no wonder, considering that the artist says he was 13 years old in 1602 according to the book-jacket notes. It's all very amusing, but will children get it? Yes! The lowbrow humor, the blind silliness, and the quirky exaggerations are childishness itself. For older children there is the appeal of random sarcasm and funky, distorted illustrations.-Liza Graybill, Worcester Public Library, MA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
8.50(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.35(d)
Age Range:
4 - 7 Years

Meet the Author

VLADIMIR RADUNSKY has illustrated many books for children, including Bling Blang, Howdi Do, and My Dolly, all by Woody Guthrie, and his own Manneken Pis: A Simple Story of a Boy Who Peed on a War. He lives in Italy.

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The Mighty Asparagus 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Yes, this is categorized as a children's book, but don't be misled. It's a book for all with a sense of humor who enjoy quirky, whimsical tales superbly illustrated. Radunsky is as imaginative and incorrigible as ever, saying, 'In my children's books, I often like to use strange, eclectic combinations: absurd, funny text paired with very serious, weighty images, and vice versa.' He has done this again - in spades, and it's terrific fun. His story, in a nutshell, is reminiscent of a Russian folktale, 'The Turnip.' But, in this case, we have an asparagus spear, a monstrous protuberance that's growing in the king's yard. He tries to pull it up to no avail. The queen helps, the princess helps, the king's advisers try, even a rhino is unable to budge this giant veggie. At last, the king's mother arrives on the scene - you'll have to guess the rest. Suffice it to say one should always listen to one's mom. Radunsky's paintings are stunning - he has drawn on Italian Renaissance art, combining his own paintings with fragments of classical Renaissance paintings. The results are splendidly smile provoking. Art aficionados will recognize the works of Bellini, Fra Angelico, Mantegna, and others. Children may well find a beginning interest in Renaissance art. Gracie, Vladimir Radunsky.