Thank your lucky beans

Birtha, Becky. Lucky Beans. Albert Whitman, 2010.

Who wants beans? Marshall’s family, like many others living through the Depression, is lucky to have food on the table. That doesn’t stop Marshall from growing tired of having beans every night, though.

Some welcome excitement bubbles up after the family hears about the contest at Kaplan’s Furniture Store. Guess the number of beans in the jar and win a new sewing machine! Marshall knows someone who’s good with numbers and who’s been wanting a sewing machine — Ma. He can’t help but wonder if this contest is open to all people, not just to whites. Reassured by fair-minded Mr. Kaplan, Marshall is ready for action. Together, the family members tackle the problem, using the estimation techniques Marshall has learned at school. The day arrives when Mr. Kaplan announces the winner. The jar contains 53,293 beans — just 13 more than Ma guessed. She gets to take home that shiny black sewing machine. In no time, she’s putting it to good use and earning money.

This likable picture book is a natural to use with units on estimating, the Depression, or the trait of industriousness. As with Grandmama’s Pride, her first picture book, Birtha notes she was inspired by recollections of her grandmother — who actually did win a sewing machine in a similar contest.

More Books Featuring Industrious Characters

Galdone, Paul. The Little Red Hen. Clarion, 2006. Every child should hear this classic, retold with sass and rhythm by Galdone and illustrated with lively humor. Then share another, newer version that emphasizes cooperation: The Little Red Hen: An Old Fable by Heather Forest. Discuss with children the similarities and differences between the two and ask which they prefer, and why.

Galdone, Paul. The Three Little Pigs. You know which one built the best house. Compare the classic with an Appalachian version,  The Three Little Pigs and the Fox by William H. Hooks, in which sister Hamlet saves her silly brothers. S.D. Schindler’s finely detailed paintings add to the fun.

McDonald, Margaret Read. Too Many Fairies: A Celtic Tale. Marshall Cavendish, 2010. An old woman complains, “Work! Work! Work! How I hate it!” But after noisy fairies invade her home to do her chores, she decides work might not be so bad after all. The watercolor illustrations by Susan Mitchell are fun, but it’s McDonald’s use of repetition and onomatopoeia that make this tale lively and engaging.

Taback, Simms. Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. Viking, 1999.  This winner of the 2000 Caldecott Medal is a visual and verbal delight.  Simms Taback creates bright, folksy illustrations by using gouache, watercolor, collage, pencil and ink, to tell a fun, simple story that celebrates frugality. The tailor Joseph made a fabulous coat, but he didn’t discard it as it wore out. Each page contains a die-cut hole that you can hold up for children as you read it. Let them guess what the tailor made next out of the material left. Taback includes the lyrics and notes for the Yiddish song on which this book is based. 

Whelan, Gloria. Jam and Jelly by Holly and Nellie. Sleeping Bear, 2002.  Living in northern Michigan, Holly’s family might not be able to let her go to school because they can’t afford to buy her a coat. But resourceful Mama hatches a plan to make jam and jelly, using the abundant berries growing nearby. While this book is a little wordy at times, it evokes an unusual respect for nature and for the trait of industriousness.The uplifting story is enhanced by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen’s glorious paintings.

Williams, Karen Lynn. Galimoto. Harper, 1991. Kondi, who lives in a village in Malawi, has no money for toys. He does have the creativity and determination to make his own galimoto, a toy vehicle made of wires. Children will enjoy following his adventures throughout the village, as he goes about gathering all he needs to build his galimoto. See Williams’ helpful teaching guide for Galimoto.

Recommended Thanksgiving Books

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving.

Atwell, Debbie. The Thanksgiving Door.

Cox, Judy. One is a Feast for a Mouse.

Cowley, Joy. Gracias, the Thanksgiving Turkey.

Cuyler, Margery. The Bumpy Little Pumpkin. Scholastic, 2005.

Waters, Kate. Giving Thanks: The 1621 Harvest. Scholastic, 2001.


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