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The Talking Vegetables
Paye, Won-Ldy and Margaret Lippert; Julie Paschkis (illus.) The Talking Vegetables . New York: Henry Holt, 2006. $16.95, ISBN 0 8050 7742 1.

Note: After Spider refuses to help the villagers plant vegetables in a community garden he is in for a surprise when he goes to pick some for himself.

This children's picture book is a version of a lesson tale taken from the 1998 book Why Leopard Has Spots: Dan Stories from Liberia retold by the same authors. In this story about community and responsibility, spider refuses to help his neighbors as they work on a communal village farm. When he refuses, they remind him, "We need you. If everyone helps there will be plenty of vegetables." He replies that he does not need their vegetables and has plenty of rice.

At each stage of the farm: cutting and clearing, planting, weeding and harvesting, spider is invited to help and he refuses. As in similar European tales (grasshopper and ant), when the vegetables are ripe, spider says, "I live here. I'm part of this village too. I'm going to pick myself some vegetables to go with my rice."

When he attampts to pick them, the vegetables talk back and chide him. The tomato talks back, the cucumber vine twists away, the pumpkin is heavy and refuses to move. When spider tries to run away, the vegetables grab him. The vegetables have eyes, entangle spider in their vines and reprimand him with humor. When he gets away, he gets home tired and hungry and eats plain rice for dinner.

The "neighbors" are illustrated as animals and all the illustrations are in warm, primary colors: yellow, red, green and blue, with a golden yellow background. The animals are abstract designs and resemble the applique designs from other areas of West Africa.

Since these tales are from Liberia and one of the authors is Liberian, my one quibble is with the illustrations. Elephants are not seen in West Africa, and the vegetables called "pumpkin" in West Africa are usually a light green oval gourd. They do not look like the orange American version seen in this book.

Rating: R Grade: P / E Type: Book

Reviewed by: Jo Sullivan, (joalcott46@yahoo.com), Malden Public Schools, Malden, Mass.

Subject: West Africa / Liberia / Folklore / Folktale / Black Author