Shanté Keys and the New Year’s Peas

Cover

Written by Gail Piernas-Davenport, Illustrated by Marion Eldridge

Albert Whitman & Company, 2007

“Happy New Year, Grandma!” says Shanté Keys

“Mom said we’ll eat lucky New Year’s peas.”

The plot in a nutshell:  Shanté learns about New Year’s traditions in other cultures while looking for black-eyed peas

Shanté shows up at her grandmother’s very excited about their traditional New Year’s meal, particularly the black-eyed peas, which are said to bring good luck throughout the upcoming year.  But Grandma realizes that she has forgotten to cook any black-eyed peas, so she sends Shanté to see if she can borrow some from a neighbor.  Shanté first goes to Miss Lee, who explains that she is Chinese, so her New Year falls in a different month and is celebrated differently.  Then Shanté asks Mr. McGhee, who is Scottish and tells her about his Hogmanay traditions.  Senor Ortiz doesn’t have any black-eyed peas, but he has plenty of grapes, which his family eats at midnight and Hari describes his family’s Diwali festivities.  At each home, Shanté invites her neighbors to come join her for dinner to try black-eyed peas.  Finally, Shanté visits her Aunt Marie, who gives her a big sack of peas.  Shanté helps prepare the food and all the neighbors show up to try the peas and they each have a dish of their own to share.

I hope she told her parents she was inviting all these people.

I hope she told her parents she was inviting all these people.

This book is a great introduction to how (and when!) different families around the world celebrate the changing of the year.  There are a few reference pages at the back of the book that detail the meanings behind some of the traditions listed in this story and share the customs of other countries, such as Korea, Austria, Germany, Greece and Japan.  There’s also a recipe for Grandma Louise’s Hoppin’ John, which is made with black-eyed peas and ham.  The story (as you may have guessed by reading the names) is written in rhyme, with every end word rhyming with ‘peas.’  It’s an ambitious task to keep one rhyme through a whole book and author Gail Piernas-Davenport manages it fairly well, although there are a number of stretches and repeats throughout.  Artist Marion Eldridge uses a mix of full page and insert illustrations, with lots of color, to bring these characters to life.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that a good way to learn about other cultural holidays is to share them with those who celebrate them.

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