Saturday, March 15, 2008

Old Granny and the Bean Thief

Sorry for the month-long absence! We had birthdays and visitors and all sorts of things. Plus, I'm working on a super-cool new craft project. (More on that later.)

Anyway, here is another one of my top go-to books from my school visiting days: Old Granny and the Bean Thief by Cynthia DeFelice, illustrated by Cat Bowman Smith. This is a book that I'm sure I would have barely glanced at if I'd seen it in a store. But I flipped though it when it arrived in the new book shipment for the library branch for which I was working and immediately realized that it would go over big at the elementary schools. Two words: talking poop!

On a side note (and just because I want keep you in suspense for another moment or two), that was one really great thing about working for a library. Every so often, you'd receive a big stack of brand new books to read. It felt like Christmas! Some books that turned out to be favorites were ones I wasn't especially interested in when the book committee chose to buy them (libraries most often buy books based on reviews from a few trusted trade journals), so it's really great to have several librarians doing the picking.

Okay, so I wouldn't have chosen Old Granny. I don't really dig the artwork, but the story is a winner. It's a cumulative tale, meaning that over the course of the story events and characters pile up one another in repetitive way, often with a phrase or squence of events repeated over and over. Think, "There Was and Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly" or "The Gingerbread Man."

In this instance, Old Granny lives by herself and is generally happy so long as she has a ready supply of her favorite meal of beans. But when a bean thief steals her beans three nights in a row, Old Granny decides she must make her way through the desert to visit the sheriff and tell him about the bean thief. Along the way, she encounters a succession of talking critters and objects, including a talking cow patty, who ask her to bring them back home with her. Upon finding that the sheriff has "Gone Fishin'," Old Granny agrees to bring whole motley assortment home and together they foil the thief.

It's a really good, original folktale-like story. And while there is scatalogical humor, it isn't done in a gross-out way. The kids love it if you ham up the part where Granny has to hold her nose and put the cow patty in the bag. Although, I kind of had to lead them to the realization that a cow patty is poo in the first place because some of them had never heard the term. There's always at least one kid in the class who A) knows what it is or B) can put two and two together. That's where audience participation comes in handy. It's also a lot of fun to get the kids helping you tell the story by encouraging them to repeat Old Granny's catch-phrase, "In a pig's eye, my, oh, my." It's great fun to read aloud and I wasn't totally sick of it even after shopping it around to fifty or so classrooms a year. So, hooray for Old Granny and hooray for talking cow patties! Now go grab a copy!

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