Below is an annotated list of children's literature for the elementary classroom. The books are organized by the Six Elements of Social Justice Curriculum Design (Picower, 2007). It is based on work by pre-service teachers at Montclair State University. They have read and reviewed these books and provided insights into how they can be used in K-5 settings.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Potatoes, Potatoes

Potatoes, Potatoes by Anita Lobel

This book describes the story of a mother and her two sons and their lives together as potatofarmers during a war between the east and west armies of their country. The mother tends to the potatoes and builds a cottage and a farm that house potatoes, all for her sons, so that their family never can go hungry. One day, the boys decide that they are tired of growing potatoes, and want to join the army. Without telling each other, each brother signs up for opposing armies: Red and Blue. One brother becomes the commander for the Red army, while the other brother becomes the commander for the Blue army. After years of battling, there is no more food available for the people of their country, or for both the Red and Blue armies. The brothers lead their armies to their mother's cottage, and demand food from the potatoes she had harvested all throughout the war. Soon, a war breaks out for the potatoes, and the mother's cottage is destroyed. The brothers begin to cry, realizing the harm they've caused. Seeing this, all of the soldiers think back on their days with their families and begin to cry. Finally, the characters decide that everyone will only get potatoes and food if they stop the war and return home.


I enjoyed most of the book. It read like a legend or a folktale, rather than a non-fictional narrative piece, which provided features of storytelling. I enjoyed the general theme of the story, which was of a family involved in war, their struggles, and the outcome of their actions during the war. I thought the book was one that touched base on the issues and impact of war, but it did not divulge in depth into these areas, which is O.K. for a beginners study and introduction. I did not like the ending of the book, however, which only stated that the soldiers who decided not to fight went back to their "mothers". I felt if I were using this book, of which I enjoyed most of it except for this feature, I would change the ending. Instead, to be more politically correct, as well as less stereotypical, I would have liked if the book stressed the importance of all families, not just the importance of mothers. 

  • I would use this book as an introduction to making a list of the impact of war on families, and what war may lead to in future experiences. As a gateway into this discussion, this book could trigger discussions based on the impact of war, by describing what happens to the mother in the story, the relationships between the two sons, their soldiers, and their mother, and the roles of citizens who are living in war-like situations (in the book).

  • For ELA instruction, students could take on the different perspectives in the book: the mother, the younger son, the older son, and the soldiers in their armies. Students can write letters to other characters in the book, in the perspective of the characters they've chosen. Students will represent different opinions about war within the book, and can lead discussions, or present a debate based on their letters.

  • Students can study the importance of food, and in particular, the potato, during war. Students can figure out mathematically how many potatoes would be needed to feed the opposing armies as well as the surrounded townspeople who were left without food. Students will get a greater appreciation for how important and scarce food can become during a time of crisis.

  • These activities correspond to the ELA, math, and social studies curricula.

Social Justice Education:

1. Self Love and Acceptance: Students will observe the roles of the two sons within the story and their growth within the story. Both sons decide to leave their roots because they are tired of doing the same things day after day with their mother, but come to realize the importance of raising the potato crop because of its ability to unite their country and their own family.

2. Respect for Others: Students will learn that everyone, no matter who they are, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or status, needs the same resources, such as food. Because of this, in the book, the countries, soldiers, and townspeople decide that war is not a solution to their problems.

4. Social Movements and Social Change: Students will learn that the characters within the book decided that war only provided chaos and limited resources that were beneficial to the soldiers, their families, and their country and governments. In this way, they realized that fighting had to be ceased in order to truly provide for their families.

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