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Robert McConnell
Illustrated by Christine Lott

Toronto, Napoleon Publishing, 1991. 48pp, paper, $12.95, ISBN 0-929141-08-3
Distributed by Addison-Wesley. CIP

Grades 3 to 6/Ages 8 to 11
Reviewed by Maryleah Otto

Volume 20 Number 1
1992 January

Davenport Dumpling, freshly made by Master Chef Henri of the Cafe Bon Appetit, is proudly waiting to be added to one of Henri's culinary creations. Henri enters with a bag of various vegetables, each of which looks down on the next for one snobbish reason or another. For example, Cedric and Cyril Celery scorn the Radishes and Potatoes because they "live in the dirt" and everyone shuns Gordo Garlic, who believes that his rejection has "some­thing to do with breath." Davenport Dumpling is disdainful of them all.

Then everyone learns that Today's Special will be Country Stew, and soon all the vegetables, except Gordo Garlic, are bobbing around together in the pot, like it or not. Not surprisingly, they quickly find something likeable about each other. But Chef Henri isn't quite happy with the taste of his stew so he adds Gordo Garlic et voila! perfection! The book ends with these two stanzas:

So Davenport led the veggies
In a loud and lusty cheer,
And it was, of course, for Gordo
Who had a grin from ear to ear.

It's certainly true for veggies
And the same for people too,
It takes all kinds and colours
To make a perfect stew.

Robert McConnell's moral tale is told, very badly, in eighty-five quat­rains, some of which include phrases in French, German, Italian and Spanish to represent ethnicity. There is a pecking order in the prejudices of the vegeta­bles/people that 1 find most objection­able. Consider: Cyril and Cedric Celery, who are obviously English, look down on the French beans, who feel superior to "plump little Katja Cab­bage," and so on. Down near the bottom of the list comes Antonio Tomato, who hugs his girl-friend Rita while crooning about la dolce vita, and Yin and Yang Yam, who are hoping for "a fabulous feast oriental." The effect of this hierarchy actually emphasizes racial and ethnic biases and, quite frankly, if I were of Eastern European origin, 1 would be insulted by being represented by "plump little Katja Cabbage."

The illustrations do visually exactly what the verses do textually. Although well executed, they are stereotypical representations that come close to caricature. McConnell's message of improved multiculturalism is admirable but his medium sends, no doubt unwittingly, other messages that are both cruel and tasteless. The book has almost no literary merit whatsoever and its content is a disaster. I blush for all those youngsters of Asian descent in Canadian schools who will be likened to Yin and Yang Yam. Considering that McConnell is an educator and has written over 150 books in this field, 1 am appalled that he penned this work at all.

For ages eight to eleven, grades 3 to 6, according to the publishers blurb. For no one, according to this reviewer.

Maryleah Otto, St. Thomas Public Library, St. Thomas, Ont.
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