In 1996, my mother and father gave my daughter the book “Tops and Bottoms” as adapted and illustrated by Janet Stevens. It has been one of my favorite children’s books since the first time I read it aloud. It is the story of a bear and a hare. A bear who enjoyed rest and relaxation more than he enjoyed labor and a hare with a clever business plan.
Even if the kids you read to don’t crave vegetables after you read this book, they should quickly catch on to the plan that creates a bountiful harvest for Mr. Hare and his family and a not so delectable spread for Mr. Bear. This book comically teaches us that we should carefully listen to the questions and proposals presented to us before making a decision. Secondly, we learn that laziness generally leaves us empty-handed and sour. Thirdly, we learn to pick our partners in any venture very carefully. Finally, the relationship between the bear and the hare teach us not to count on others to do the planting and weeding and then give the harvest to us if we don’t use our brains or our sweat.
This book brought back some really cool and wonderful childhood memories for me which I love to share when I read this story to kids. I’m guessing that my mother probably chose the book because it reminded her of some great memories too. My mother grew up on a farm in rural Alabama. I remember her telling me that when she was younger they grew and raised all that they ate. I can remember her mother had corn and a few other crops on her land when I was younger. My mother probably inherited her green thumb from her parents. She loved gardening. She had beautiful plants in the front yard and every other year or so she would plant some vegetables in the backyard. I don’t remember the names of the plants in the front yard, but I do remember her excitement when she saw tomatoes, okra, and cucumbers growing in the backyard. She also planted greens which I think were turnips because she favored turnips over collards.
I can also remember my dad bringing home peas for us to shell. He would either buy them at an excellent price or tell us that somebody gave them to him because of all the
work he did for the kids in the rural Alabama community where he taught. He would be thrilled to rush into the house with a bushel of peas for us to shell. And yes, I did say a bushel. “Oh yay!,” “Thanks, Dad!” Not! I’m not sure why he thought we would be equally thrilled to shell peas until our fingertips were purple and sore. We (meaning my mom and I and sometimes my sister if she was home, but never my dad) would sit in front of some made-for-television movie with a bowl for the peas and a trashcan for the shells. We would shell peas and talk until the bushel was done. My mom would blanch the peas and freeze them so that we would have fresh vegetables in the winter. I am so glad my parents were smarter than the bear in “Tops and Bottoms.”