Monday, January 9, 2012

Shante Keys and the New Year's Peas by Gail Piernas-Davenport

It's not too late for a book about New Years, right?

After all, as pointed out in Shanté Keys and the New Year's Peas, different cultures celebrate the new year in different ways and at different times.

The Deal: Shante Keys loves New Year celebrations because it means going to her grandmother's house and eating a delicious meal of traditional foods meant to bring luck and wealth into the new year. But when Shante and her parents arrive at Grandma's place they find out that in all the other preparations, Grandma has forgotten to get black eye peas. And black eye peas are residential. So Shante heads out into the neighborhood to find someone who can give her peas for their meal. On her trip she meets neighbors who tell her how and when the new year is celebrated in their culture.

What Worked: I enjoyed learning about different New Year customs from across the world and seeing some common threads throughout. Piernas-Davenport did an excellent job of writing a simple and repetitive story that will hold the attention of preschool and younger grade school children while still being chock full of information. There's also a section at the end with extra information about all the traditions touched upon in the story. And if you couldn't tell from the title, it all rhymes.

What Didn't Work: The only thing that really bothered me about Shante Keys was the illustrations. They just aren't pretty or interesting and the generic-ness of it all occasionally took me out of the story. It's like a Nick Jr. cartoon put to paper. I would have loved to see what a R. Gregory Christie or a David Catrow could have done with the story. But I want them to illustrate my life, so it's possible that I'm a bit biased.

Anything Extra Special?: Why yes indeedy. There's a recipe for Shante's grandma's version of Hoppin' John, the meal with black eye peas that Southern families eat on January 1, to ensure wealth and luck in the new year. Black eye peas and collards is one of my favorite meals and I eat it year round, so finding books that celebrate the lowly crowder pea and other traditional food customs makes me a very happy camper. Below is my (vegetarian) version of Hoppin' John with extra collards folded in simmering on the stove this New Year's Day.

Will I Read it Again?: Not for my toddler story time, but I have a couple of school visits coming up this month and I'll definitely be including it in the books I use for kindergarten and first grade.

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