Friday, July 03, 2009

Reviews - Lucky Beans

Kirkus Reviews

History proves cyclical with this story of an African-American family living through the Great Depression. “Marshall didn’t feel so lucky. The elbows of his jacket were worn almost all the way through. Dad had been out of work for months, and there was no money.” The story, however, is not one of depression. The family works together to survive and finds moments of love, appreciation and sheer happiness. This moving tale not only relates a little history but also some math, as Marshall helps his mother estimate the number of beans in the furniture-store jar and ultimately wins a new sewing machine, which helps alleviate their dire financial situation. Tadgell’s watercolor illustrations move the story and stir readers’ emotions. A two-page spread of the contestants in the store teaches readers everything they need to know about the characters without a letter of text. Many children today can relate to the family’s challenges, which makes the timing of this picture book sadly relevant. (author’s note) (Picture-book. 5-12)


Math and wry comedy mix in this lively historical story based on Birtha’s grandmother’s memories of life during the Depression. Young Marshall describes his African American family’s hardship when Dad loses his job and then his relatives crowd into Marshall’s room. Worst of all are the beans Ma constantly cooks. Then a local furniture store makes an exciting offer: whoever guesses the number of beans in a huge jar on display will win a new sewing machine. If only Marshall could win the prize for Ma so that she could earn money by sewing. He works out a system to estimate (not guess) by counting the number of beans that fill a quart jar, and how many quarts fill up a crock . . . and his formula works! The expressive watercolor paintings show both the racism that Marshall and his family endure as well as his final triumph, and Tadgell folds in humor, as Marshall faces what looks like a lifetime supply of beans. An informative final note fills in more about the era’s history. Grades 1-3. --Hazel Rochman
Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children, March 27, 2010
Marshall knew that times were tough, but that did not really help him feel any more grateful to see the pot of beans cooking on the stove. After all, they ate beans just about every night. Like many households, the Great Depression had hit Marshall's family hard with the loss of his father's job, the cramped living situation after his relatives moved in, and the shortage of money for food and clothes.

Those beans, though, took on a whole different meaning when Marshall spotted a sign in a store window challenging people to guess how many beans were in the enormous pickle jar. The winner would take home a brand new sewing machine worth $23.95. Although Marshall desperately wanted to help his mother win that prize, he knew they had to overcome two obstacles. Not only did they need to make a better guess than everyone else, they also had to find out if the storeowner would even allow a woman of color to win the contest.

Based on real events in the life of the author's grandmother, this new book helps today's generation of young readers better understand the difficult economic times and the racial discrimination of the Great Depression years. With illustrations that beautifully match the text's subtle humor and grace, Lucky Beans is an ideal choice when seeking picture books that are rich in substantive content.
By D. Fowler "Dragonfly77" (Vermont)   
The streets and sidewalks were a snowy mess and the cold winds seemed to go right through Marshall Loman's old clothes and chill him to the bone. He raced up the three short steps of the family home shouting, "What's for dinner, Ma? I'm starving!" His eyes widened as his took the cover off a large pot. Beans, beans, beans . . . it was always beans. His Ma said they were lucky to have them, but every night made him want to hate them. The house was filling up with relatives and to make it worse he had to "share a room with his little brother and sister, Tommy and Patsy." Even their clothes were wearing out, but his mother had hope in President Roosevelt. Perhaps he could help everyone because he was "on the poor people's side."

The next day when Marshall and Tommy were passing by Kaplan's Furniture Store he spotted something very interesting in the window. There was a new sewing machine and a huge jar of beans. Beans, beans, beans . . . it was always beans. This time though, these beans might just help the family. Anyone who could guess how many beans in the jar would win the sewing machine. There was a lot of thinking to do and Marshall would have to think about what he learned in school. There were 333 beans in one cup, four cups equal a quart . . . with Marshall's help, would his mother guess the right number of beans in that humongous jar?

This is a heartwarming story about a young boy during the Depression years who learned that those yucky beans were really lucky beans. The scenario, loosely based on a tale relayed to the author by her grandmother, is reminiscent of many stories told by those who lived during those hard times. The story gives off an aura of hope as we see a family who is living and working together to ensure the family's welfare. Marshall, like any other boy, was portrayed very realistically and we know exactly what he likes, dislikes, and what his dreams were. The artwork was expressive and, with the little touches, brought back the good times families had during the Depression. In the back is an author's note that gives a brief overview of the Depression years.

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