Book Review: Potato, a Tale from the Great Depression

Reading Level

Ages 4-8

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Another wonderful book coming soon to your favorite bookstore is Kate Lied's Potato: A Tale from the Great Depression. At first glance, this book looks to be for the very young. Indeed, it can be, with its emphasis on short sentences and many pictures. But older kids and adults will reward themselves by reading this book as well, to learn more about the Great Depression and about economics, history, and even American culture in more depth.

The story is of a young girl named Dorothy, whose family lives in Iowa during the 1930s. Dorothy's father loses one job after another; they lose their house; and, in desperation, they travel to Idaho to pick potatoes.

The author and illustrator (Lisa Campbell Ernst) do a good job of conveying the desperation and daunting tasks facing America's families during the Depression. Hunger and want were plentiful, money and jobs were not. Inflation was rampant, and so was despair. But rather than give up, Dorothy's family took action, traveling to Idaho to pick potatoes. Now, this might not sound like a smart thing to do; but at that time, Idaho had plenty of potatoes. The family worked very hard, day and night, and picked enough potatoes to fill the car for the trip home, where they traded those potatoes for other kinds of food and even a pig. This illustrates a basic economics concept: barter. No money changed hands; rather, potatoes were traded for other kinds of food.

The author also intends for readers of this book to learn more about the Great Depression. Dorothy's family was very lucky, having enough money to pay for the trip to Idaho and back. In the end, Dorothy's father found work and moved the family out of the barren Midwest. But a great many other Depression-era families were not so lucky. Many people died of hunger and thirst, and many more were poor beyond belief. Yes, we can be happy that Dorothy and her family have a happy ending that they can be thankful for; and yes, we can be sure that they were counting their blessings or lucky stars. But we can also be aware of the greater overall picture of the history of America at this time, realizing that it was a difficult time for just about everyone involved, in one way or another.

Overall, this is a good book that delivers more than it would appear to promise on first glance.

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