The Market Bowl
Jim Averbeck, author & illustrator
Jim Averbeck was a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon from 1990 until 1994. He is the author of In a Blue Room, a 2009 Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book. He is the author and illustrator of Except If and Oh No, Little Dragon! Jim lives in San Francisco, California.
Read more about Jim.
- Bank Street College of Education's Best Children's Books of the Year
- A Junior Library Guild Selection
- Peace Corps Writers Award for Best Children's Writing
Yoyo's mother says that no fair price for bitterleaf stew can be refused; to do so risks angering Brother Coin, the Great Spirit of the Market.
After rushing her preparations, the Cameroonian girl turns down a customer who offers ten-ten say-fah for her poor concoction (her mother says it's fit only for the goats), instead of the usual fifty-fifty paid for Mama Cécile's excellent stew. Their luck sours, and Yoyo decides that she must appease Brother Coin. When she does so, she witnesses a scary sight. The god, a caricature of a greedy man, refuses his blessing to a beseeching merchant and makes him disappear. Yoyo then uses her market bowl to make a perfect portion of bitterleaf stew. Brother Coin laps up the dish after making a hurried blessing only at the girl's insistence. In a confusing ending, the Great Spirit says he still will not grant wishes, but gives Yoyo back her special bowl, used for collecting coins at their stall. The girl miraculously arrives at home, and mother and daughter now prosper due to Yoyo's change of character. The slightly satiric edge of the images, combining deeply colored acrylic paintings with collage in Photoshop, creates a contemporary look for this original tale. Adapted recipe included.
Although the text lacks the heft of traditional folklore, the author/illustrator draws on his Peace Corps background to cook up a cautionary, but tasty look at life in Cameroon.
School Library Journal
Bold, bright mixed-media illustrations bring extra punch to this original tale from Cameroon. Mama Cécile is a wonderful cook, especially when it comes to making bitterleaf stew. She sings to Yoyo as she teaches her how to make it. Yoyo grows tired of watching her mother and thinks she can make her own stew without following a recipe. When hers is found to be less than appetizing and Mama instructs her to feed it to the goats, the child hides it instead. After Mama's stew is finished, she heaps it into a bowl and asks for the ancestors' blessing on it. "You must always ask a fair price for our food," instructs Mama, or Brother Coin will remove the blessings of our ancestors from the bowl. Mama's stew is quickly sold at the market. When one more customer requests it, Yoyo produces her own bowl. The buyer refuses her price, so Yoyo lets his coins fall to the ground. No one buys Mama's stew for many weeks, and Yoyo realizes she must think of a clever way to trick Brother Coin into returning his blessing. Mama and Yoyo are dressed in delightful printed clothing, and the busy marketplace is a feast of patterns and color. Similarly, Brother Coin is a giant of a man who sits upon a rock throne doling out his form of justice for rule breakers with a comedic quality. This is a gem of a tale that will feed the soul, and the recipe for Mama Cécile's stew is included.
Reading Today Online
In Africa’s Cameroon, Mama Cecile is teaching young Yoyo the ways of cooking and selling their delicious bitterleaf stew at market. Mama Cecile shows Yoyo all the necessary steps to make the stew taste just right. Impatient with all the grinding and chopping, Yoyo shortcuts the directions and makes a hurry-up version of the stew. When Mama Cecile tastes Yoyo’s stew, she tells her it is only good enough for the goats and not their market customers. Yoyo refuses to listen and slips her stew into the basket for market. Mama has also cautioned Yoyo that she should always accept a fair price for the stew at risk of making Brother Coin, the Great Spirit of the Market, angry and punitive. Yoyo and Mama Cecile arrive at the market, and it is Yoyo’s first day to sit on the seller’s stool at the market. When a customer comes along and tastes Yoyo’s version of bitterleaf stew, he offers a very low price which Yoyo refuses and lets the coins fall to the ground instead of into the coin bowl. Sure enough, this action drives away customers, proving Mama is right when Brother Coin is angry. Yoyo must now think of a way to get back the blessing of Brother Coin. Illustrated with boldly colorful mixed media illustrations and a cowrie shell motif, the images add to the folklore style of this original tale of Cameroon. Readers can learn more about the back story of this Peace Corps volunteer-turned-author at his website. For interested cooks, the recipe for bitterleaf stew is included. Teachers will also enjoy the downloadable guide and activities from the publisher’s website.
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Page count: 32
11 x 8 1/2