As children sit down to a bounty of turkey, cranberry sauce, and conversation this week, they'll appreciate the story of Mr. and Mrs. O'Grady – and others in their situation. In One Potato, Two Potato, a new picture book by Cynthia DeFelice, spuds are the couple's sole source of sustenance – and there's only one starchy staple for them to divide each day.
The O'Gradys are so thin, they fit on the same chair. They're so poor, they share just one raggedy coat and one tattered blanket. Yet they are filled with love and gratitude for each other.
In an Irish twist on the magic-pot folk tale, Mr. O'Grady unearths a black caldron in the potato patch. When he brings it home, he and his wife discover that it's special: Everything that's dropped in doubles in quantity, leading to a change of fortune – and a few simple math lessons for kids. ("Mr. O'Grady took the two potatoes, placed them in the pot, and pulled out four. He threw the four potatoes into the pot and took out eight.... Soon the O'Gradys had enough potatoes for a feast.")
They stock up on candles, hairpins – and even turn one gold coin into enough change to buy a new coat, blanket, and chair. Yet despite their windfall, they still long for something more meaningful than food and furnishings – friends.
Though the O'Gradys love each other, Mrs. O'Grady wishes for "someone with whom she could share recipes for boiled potatoes and sweet memories of how it felt to touch her newborn babies' downy heads." Mr. O'Grady longs for "someone with whom he could discuss potato weevils and root rot."
The outcome is likely to surprise young readers – and perhaps parents as well – but it neatly pulls together lessons woven throughout the tale.
Despite dire poverty, the O'Gradys exercise restraint instead of caving in to greed. They bury the pot after their needs have been met, before going overboard, and even save some gold coins under their straw mattress for a rainy day.
Just like a good Pixar film, DeFelice weaves in ample humor that both kids and parents will enjoy, and her lively writing is underscored by Andrea U'Ren's comical pen-and-gouache illustrations. Taffy-long characters and tantalizing colors will tickle children in the target age range of 4 to 8 years, and even help younger readers follow the story. (In one hilarious illustration, Mr. O'Grady plunges headfirst into the pot, and his twiggy legs stick up like chopsticks in rice.)
After reading "One Potato, Two Potato," kids will gain a deeper sense of gratitude for their blessings. And as the holidays approach, they'll see that material possessions don't fully satisfy when the flurry of tinsel and torn wrapping paper has settled.
• Stephanie Cook Broadhurst is a Monitor editor.