Thursday, July 11, 2013

Grandma and the Great Gourd retold by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, illustrated by Susy Pilgrim Waters

Grandma and her daughter are separated by a jungle.  One day, Grandma receives a letter from her daughter saying she misses her mother and could she come for a visit.  Grandma decides to go even though walking through the jungle scares her.  She leaves her two dogs Kalu and Bhulu in charge of things at home, but they tell her if she needs help to just call for them.

So Grandma sets off through the jungle to visit her daughter.  On the way, she meets a fox who wants to eat her.  Quick thinking Grandma tells the fox that she is so skinny, but if he waits for her to return from her daughter's house, she will be nice and plump since her daughter is such a good cook.  The fox considers this a good idea and agrees to wait.

Next, Grandma meets a bear who wants to eat her.  Grandma tells the tiger the same thing she told the fox and the tiger also agree to wait until her plumper return.

The whole thing is repeated when Grandma meets a tiger who wants to eat her and, just like the fox and the bear, the tiger agrees to wait.

Finally, Grandma arrives at her daughter's house and the two have a wonderful time visiting and talking, cooking and eating and yes, Grandma does get plumper just as she said she would.  But all too soon, it is time for Grandma to return home through the jungle and the waiting animals who want to eat her.

Can she and her daughter come up with a plan to fool the fox, the bear and the tiger so they won't eat Grandma?  Yes, they do and it involves using a giant gourd.  But how?

This is a wonderfully colorful retelling of an old Bengali folktale that has lost none of the flavor of the original.  Perhaps because it was so familiar and beloved by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, whose grandfather introduced her to a version of it when she was young.

Divakaruni uses repetition, a somewhat limited vocabulary and onomatopoeia, all devices that kids love and that make this a great read aloud book.  The sounds are strictly Bengali, which may be something new to kids, but not something difficult to grasp.  The context of the story makes the meaning of the sounds clear: Grandma's dogs don't go woof-woof, they go Gheu-gheu, her footsteps through the jungle aren't thump, thump, thump but rather khut-khut-khut.

The rich, vibrant illustrations by Susy Pilgrim Waters.  She has given the words in the story added texture by using collage and a palette of color ranging from deep earth tones to lively pinks and reds and it all works wonderfully together.

Grandma and the Great Gourd is definitely one of my new favorite folktales and a welcomed addition to any multicultural bookshelf.

This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL


  1. Sounds wonderful! Tweeting and posting it to Sulia with a link back to you. May I please also post with a link and credit to you on my South Asian book list for kids?

    1. Yes, of course, by all means post with a link and credit. And thank you for doing that.

  2. I love the idea of reminding kids that dogs don't really say "woof, woof" or that footsteps don't go "thump, thump" That the onomatopoeia is convention, not a truthful rendition of the whole of the sound.

  3. This looks like an outstanding book! I love retellings of folktales in children's literature. Thank you for sharing your review with the Kid Lit Blog Hop!

  4. Of course now I want to know how they fool the fox, bear, and tiger!! lol That cover is really something else too - very unique illustrations. Thanks for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop. :)

  5. Wow...this looks interesting. I think my seven year old nephew would love this book. *jots down title and author* Thanks for reviewing it.


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