Maybe it’s the result of a life lived mostly in Kansas, but I’m a sucker for vegetables arrayed on a tabletop and tagged to indicate who grew them, especially if I am lucky enough to know a few of those people. Around here the best place for this is the Douglas County Fair in late July, or the Vinland Fair in August. At Vinland you can compete in that timeless agricultural feat of strength, the tallest sunflower contest. I’ve never participated but may have a latent gene for it, since my grandpa grew such contenders that, as family lore has it, competitors were known to hack them down in the dark of night on daring raids of his backyard.
Perhaps this is why my pulse quickened when I saw the 17-pound potato that Colin and Donna Craig-Brown dug out of their backyard in New Zealand a few months back. “Doug,” as they named their monstrous spud, was widely celebrated in the media (the Washington Post’s coverage was Pulitzer-worthy, and don't forget that if you go through your quota of free articles for the month, you can use the library's subscription by clicking the Washington Post icon here and entering your library card and PIN). Doug and his adventures bring to mind the many great potato characters to be found in children’s literature, often overlooked in favor of the more glamorous vegetables. So here are some favorites, finally getting their due.
Pugtato Finds a Thing, by Sophie Corrigan
I love it when a title is so good there is no need to write an actual book. Author-illustrator Sophie Corrigan went ahead and wrote a great story for this one anyway, populating it with so many fascinating and cuddly animal-vegetable hybrids (e.g. Tomatoad, Cowbbage, and Croccoli, to name just a few), Pugtato’s garden seems like the kind of place Mister Rogers would have created had he been a student of Dr. Moreau. Lucky for us, Pugtato’s saga continues in sequels Let’s Be Best Spuddies and Pugtato Babysits the Snouts (a snout being a Brussels snout, the offspring of a sprout and a pig).
Rot, the Cutest in the World, by Ben Clanton
Next up, a book about a hideous potato named Rot, who seems to be the underdog in a cuteness contest against a bunny, a kitten, and a precious pink jellyfish, until the judges are revealed to be a rotten banana, apple, and pear. Just goes to show it’s all relative. This book has the strange honor of being the only one I know to depict the bare bottom of potato, which leads right to the next title on the list. It also leads to the question of whether or not potatoes even have gluteus maximi, which, luckily, is beyond the scope of this enquiry.
Potato Pants, by Laurie Keller
Wherever you stand on the issue of potato buns, no one can deny how many books are out there about veggies wearing pants, including Jared Chapman’s aptly titled Vegetables in Underwear, and Todd Doodler’s Veggies with Wedgies. Add Laurie Keller, author of Potato Pants to this list of creators and you’ve got a panel discussion not to be missed. Her book, with a potato protagonist who learns a lesson about forgiveness after tangling with an eggplant at a store called Lance Vance’s Fancy Pants, is arguably the pinnacle of the panted produce genre.
Supertato, by Sue Hendra
If a pants-wearing potato isn’t your thing, how about a cape? Sue Hendra, considered by some to be the Stan Lee of potato superheroes (okay, just by me, actually), authored this edge-of-your-seat thrill ride about a renegade pea tormenting various vegetables in the supermarket after dark. Will Supertato triumph as he fights on for justice, law and order? Or will that masher-wielding pea catch up to our hero and turn him into a side dish?
Super Potato, by Artur Laperla
Nope, one wasn’t enough. Artur Laperla, aka the Bob Kane of superhero potatoes, gives us a rival caped crusader with a slightly longer name in this graphic novel series, which documents the various battles against evil of a non-starch superhero named Super Max, who is turned into a walking, talking, flying potato by a mad scientist in the ultra-rare first volume (okay, it's actually quite easy to find on the children’s graphic novel shelves at the library). Unfortunately for Super Potato, neither the villain nor the world’s top scientists can create a de-potato-izing beam to save our hero. Lucky for us, though, we now have seven volumes of this series and counting.
Thus concludes our census of potato protagonists. There are a few I would have liked to include, especially Potato Joe, by Keith Baker, which we still use for story times, but is sadly out of print. I read that thing so many times with my kids I still know most of it by heart, especially the rousing finale when all the taters make way for someone named Watermelon Moe. Check back soon for a list of talking watermelon books.
-Dan Coleman is a Collection Development Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.