It’s been a low-lit week. Seems like the only thing Junior Reader and I have looked at together has been the weekly reading book from school.
Except. Except. This one is called Potatoes and Tomatoes. It’s not a satire on pronunciation on either sides of the Atlantic. It may not make it onto any best seller list.
But it has plenty of set pieces. And at this point, for school, Junior Reader is working on the noble art of reading aloud – and set pieces will do just fine for that.
Potatoes and Tomatoes is a bit like The Little Red Hen. You know: the one where the hen decides to grow a seed of corn, and none of the other animals help her.
She does the whole shebang: plant it, water it, tend it, harvest it, grind the seed and bake it into bread. Predictably, the other animals show up at this point, demanding to eat the bread.
Little Red Hen refuses at this point – because at every point when she was asking for their involvement, they didn’t give it.
(This response can be a temptation when it comes to teatime, but I do still cook tea, because, as you know, I like eating even more than I like cooking.)
In the potatoes and tomatoes story, husband and wife live entirely off potatoes – or so it seems. (As a little aside, do go and have a look at Daft Jack and the Bean Stack, where they have a similarly limited diet.)
All of a sudden, one day, the wife decides she wants tomatoes for a change. (I can see her point, much as the potato is revered in this household.)
To hurry the story along a little, it’s fair to say that she ends up doing all the work: clearing the ground, building the greenhouse, developing a sprinkler system, and so on. The husband does admittedly say that what she is doing looks good, at every stage.
“By this time the wife was very very very hungry. You see, she wouldn’t eat potatoes, and there were no tomatoes. So she said to the farmer ‘How are the tomatoes doing?’
‘They’re not,’ answered the farmer…”
And so it goes on. At every venture, she gains another ‘very’ for her very hungry. The potatoes/tomatoes pattern jingles through again.
It is the perfect material for the reader aloud, who is learning to use emphasis for the latest ‘very’, so we notice it as a new addition.
The points at which it mirrors The Little Red Hen is where the wife takes the next steps each time:
” ‘Then I’ll build you a greenhouse,’ said the wife.
And she did…”
I’ll confess I have slightly mixed feelings about the book. By the end, the wife realises she can do all the steps that lead to her producing great tomatoes. And the husband gets to eat them too.
(There may be a minor treatise here on whether women feel they need to do all the steps of something before they feel confident about the whole enterprise.
But that is probably not uppermost in the minds of the kids reading the books. At least,
I hope not.)
Maybe I am more like Little Red Hen, wanting others to help me in order to share the benefits of the hard work.
But now that I am the recipient of Junior Reader’s homework reading, I have shifted sides.
I am doing almost no hard digging, and am eating all the tomatoes, as it were.
But then I had many happy hours of ‘growing potatoes and tomatoes’ myself, reading the set pieces over and over with Junior Reader, until gradually, growing duties have transferred.
Junior Reader has meanwhile moved on to solo reading of chapter books. Is this like an even more complicated type of veg to grow? Avocados? Straight cucumbers?
I am meanwhile doing my best to find further ‘tricky veg’, as it were: the grown-up level chapter books, where I can indulge myself in doing all the voices.
When I can squeeze in a bit more lit kid time, my current favourites are the trio of magpies in Atticus Claw’s second outing.
As long as my throat can hold out when reading Jimmy Magpie’s latest plottings.