Who knew carrots could be so wacky and wonderful? Creepy Carrots! reaped a 2013 Caldecott honor for its original, way-too-much-fun illustrations by the acclaimed Peter Brown (Children Make Terrible Pets and A Curious Garden and others). Feature this in your story hour, and you’ll harvest a bushel of laughs and a high demand for an original tale that appeals to many children’s taste for slightly scary stories.
A mashup of funny and frightening images done in retro black, white, and orange, Creepy Carrots! features a carrot-obsessed bunny who learns you can have too much of a good thing. The ridiculous nature of the plot — that carrots stalk a rabbit — supplies much of the frisson that sets this picture book apart from others.
The pacing of author Aaron Reynolds’ crazy tale will keep listeners wide-eyed and curious to hear more. Just after relishing his victory snack, Jasper the rabbit is puzzled by a soft, sinister sound: “the tunktunktunk of carrots creeping. He turned … but there was nothing there.”
And what expressions Peter Brown shows on the faces of Jasper and the carrots! Even though Jasper laughs at himself for even thinking carrots might be following him, the illustrator displays a range of conflicting emotions: eyebrows that look bewildered, eyes that seem anxious, and a mouth sporting a shallow smile. As for the carrots, some look like fierce, gap-toothed jack o’lanterns, while others look worried, surprised, intimidating.
The tale ends with a twist that will endear this book to many a reader. Make room for Creepy Carrots! in your story time or on your shelves. You won’t regret it … or will you?
A more lovable but still humorous perspective on carrots sprouts in Jan Peck’s The Giant Carrot, illustrated with verve by Barry Root. Sweet little Isabelle, the youngest in the family, comes up with a special way to deal with a carrot that just won’t budge.
With visions of all the good stuff to come — carrot juice, carrot stew, carrot relish, and carrot pudding — each family member takes turns nurturing a carrot seedling. Papa tends the plant, Mama weeds around it, brother Abel waters it, and Isabelle … sings. And that’s what makes the plant grow and grow and grow.
At last, it’s as tall as Papa Joe, but it seems impossible to pull it out of the ground. Only when they all work together can they harvest the carrot that will supply a bounty of tasty treats.
Some of you no doubt will find this familiar fare, as it’s a riff on the Russian big turnip folktale. While there are many versions of the story, I recommend this charming one for children ages 5 to 8. The Giant Carrot illustrates the value of cooperation, while it also implies we should respect everyone, no matter how tiny. And that’s not all; it offers opportunities for multiple curricular uses. Science teachers can use this title in a unit on plant life, and reading teachers might employ it to teach the skill of predicting, or cause and effect. No matter the intention, you and your listeners will reap plenty of fun.
Another folktale that features sassy veggies is The Talking Vegetables
by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret H. Lippert. The villagers plant a garden, but Spider doesn’t do his part. Finally, he tires of eating plain old rice and decides to help himself to the vegetables. But they won’t hear of it — and tell him so! This hilarious Liberian folktale, illustrated with exuberant paintings by Julie Paschkis, reveals the importance of working together to accomplish a goal.
Any of these fun read-alouds can be paired with Juanita Havill’s clever poem “The Monster,” from her collection I Heard It from Alice Zucchini: Poems About the Garden. The rhythmic, mostly unrhymed lines explore how the vegetables feel about the scarecrow in their midst. It’s one of twenty fun poems that celebrate the cycle of a garden, from winter’s seeds that “rattle their packets with chattering” to a potato buried in the snow.
And see my previous post, “How Does Your Garden Grow?”