Pros: Silly in parts. Appropriate for March.
Cons: Not that exciting a story. Stereotypical.
Many childrens books contain a moral in their list of ingredients, a lesson to be learned, a good example to follow. In these bythe-recipe books good triumphs over evil, loyalty overcomes adversity and industriousness trumps sloth. Those seeking such a book of virtue need not read Tomie De Paolas Jamie O Roarke and the Big Potato, a tale of the laziest man in Ireland. In this book De Paola retells a story learned on the knee of his storytelling Irish grandfather.
Tomie De Paula is an acclaimed artist and illustrator of more than 200 books, a quarter of which he has also authored. Many of these books reflect the authors dual Irish and Italian heritage. De Paula has won numerous awards for his books including a 1976 Caldecott Honor Book Award, the New Hampshire Governors Arts Award in1999, awards from the Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators, and honorary degrees from a number of American Colleges among others. Born in 1934 he aspired from an early age to be an artist and now has an art studio in a large barn in New Hampshire.
Jamie ORourke is indeed the laziest man in Ireland as his hard-working wife Eileen often reminds him. He always avoids work, especially if it deals with potatoes. One day Eileen wrenches her back, and Jamie assumes the worst. Theyre going to die of starvation. Jamie sets out for the church to confess and be prepared for a certain impending death. He chances upon a leprechaun, grabs him by the coattails and demands to be shown the little mans pot of gold. The leprechaun tricks Jamie into accepting instead a potato seed that will become the largest pratie (potato) in the world.
Eileen, of course, is furious, but Jamie plants the seed which does grow quickly into a gigantic spud, too colossal for Jamie to dig out of the ground by himself. The villagers come to see the gigantic pratie and help Jamie dig it up. In the process the potato flies out of the ground, rolls down a hill and becomes lodged between two stone walls blocking the village road. It wont budge so Eileen suggests everyone take chunks of the pratie home to eat. Everyone has potato to eat all winter long, becomes tired of spuds, and never want to see a potato again.
Jamie has saved one potato eye and plans to plant it in the spring. The villagers promise that Jamie and Eileen will always have plenty to cook and eat if he doesnt plant the potato eye. Jamie smiles and agrees, a lazy but happy man now vindicated for his foolish judgment and laziness.
Random Thoughts Some Iconoclastic
The author may be highly acclaimed, but I find this story ordinary and unimpressive. The main character is a redheaded stereotype who is rewarded for his laziness. Children dont need or want a lesson in every book, and some may even find the outcome of this book refreshing. As one of my favorite authors once said, One of the hardest things to endure is a good example. Still theres something about this ending that goes against the grain for me.
As I read this book I noted some similarities between this story and Jack and the Beanstalk. Both main characters make foolish bargains, and both attempt to steal from fairy tale characters of extreme size.
The authors Irish background is obvious in this book as it mirrors the importance of religion in the Irish culture.
Dialect is used well to move the story along, and I imagine a skilled and enthusiastic reader or storyteller could have fun with this book.
This 32-page book is recommended for ages 4-8. Except for the occasional dialect, it poses few challenges. Some of the more difficult vocabulary words in it are: whine, wrenched, village, wailed, leprechaun, wedged, and wailed.
The folkart style illustrations are a combination of watercolor, acrylic and tempera. The pictures are whimsical with rounded shapes and faces on most pages with a generous splash of green throughout.
I shared this book with some students of various ages. Most enjoyed the pictures of the giant potatoes and of the miscellaneous villagers force-feeding themselves potato meals with dour faces. Like me, most found the book amusing but not overly exciting.
This book might be worthwhile checking out from the library, but I wouldnt recommend buying it unless your looking for a childrens Irish folktale in which laziness is its own reward.
And lastly, I cant imagine not wanting to see another potato again. Just the thought gives me shivers and chills.