August 2003

Planting the right kind of roots

By John Coy
Review by
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Two Old Potatoes and Me is a lovely story about a father and daughter who plant two potatoes that they find growing sprouts in the back of a cupboard. "Gross," the girl proclaims, as she dumps the mess in the trash, but dad stops her, and soon the two set off for the garden. John Coy's text is a great how-to lesson on growing and caring for potato plants, with each step carefully explained. Carolyn Fisher's artwork is high-energy innovation, mixing media in ways that make white-purple potato sprouts and vivid green plants jump off the page. Fisher's dirt is so dark and textured you can practically feel it between your fingers. Coy covers every stage of the growing process, from weeding and composting in June, to picking potato beetles off the plants in July.

One important aspect of the story is nicely understated, though. The book begins with the words "Last spring at my dad's house," so careful readers surmise that the narrator's parents are divorced. The subject is mentioned one more time, as father and daughter sit in front of the garden in September, and the father inquires about his daughter's room at her mother's house. The girl replies that she and her mom have painted it periwinkle, and "You can see it on Friday when you pick me up." In a sweet response, the father says, "It will be Periwinkle Friday." Thus, families facing the issue of divorce can share the dilemma with Coy's characters and see how one parent and child forge ahead in new ways, growing together. On the other hand, readers simply interested in the gardening lesson won't be overwhelmed by the subtle divorce theme.

In the end, father and daughter sit side by side, happily digging into a bowl of mashed potatoes sprinkled with nutmeg for good luck. (There's also a recipe for mashing your own.) Two Old Potatoes and Me is all about being together as family members about growing and turning what you have into gold. In this case, Yukon Golds!

Alice Cary writes from Groton, Massachusetts.

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Two Old Potatoes and Me

Two Old Potatoes and Me

By John Coy
Random House
ISBN 9780375921803

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