It’s always nice to find a brand-new picture book that provides the perfect companion to an older classic. It’s even better when the two together create a framework for a great classroom writing activity! As soon as I read How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans, a new book by David LaRochelle, I immediately thought of The Secret Knowledge of Grownups, by David Wisniewski. I had already used Wisnewski’s book for several read and think aloud activities when I was doing my school librarian internship. This new tale just gave me even more ideas.
Martha refuses to eat her green beans every Tuesday, despite her parents’ assurance that they “…are you good for you” and “…will make you big and strong.” Martha’s conviction that green beans are bad is proven one day when a gang of mean green beans (led by a mustachioed giant in a cowboy hat) marches into town and begins to terrorize the green-bean eating populace. Eventually they capture Martha’s parents, leaving her alone in the house to eat junk food and watch television. However, as other book characters have discovered, losing your parents often has the uncomfortable side effect of making you miss them, so Martha, accompanied by her dog, sets off on a rescue mission. And when the mean green beans scoff at her threats to eat them, she shows them that she means business. The fantastic illustrations by Mark Fearing punctuate the buildup of the story perfectly, making this a great read-aloud or classroom book.
In The Secret Knowledge of Grown-ups, David Wisniewski explains the real reasons why grown-ups tell you to do things like eat your vegetables or not do things like jump on the bed. It was the eating your vegetables tale (the real reason: so they don’t take over the world!) that popped into my head when I first read How Martha Saved her Parents from Green Beans. The brilliant part of the story, I think, is that the child has to do something she didn’t want to do (eat green beans) but she was still right about them being bad! It’s the perfect combination of a comeuppance for both parent and child. The Secret Knowledge of Grown-ups works on a similar structure of requiring the reader to consider two truths at once; the ‘truth’ behind each parental rule as well as the greater truth that no, many of these are probably not true.
But they could be true, which is what makes both these books such a great jumping off point for writing. Many teachers have used Wisniewski’s books as a writing prompt, sharing some or all of the text and then asking students to brainstorm their own parental rule and the real, wacky reason behind it. I might go further and share LaRochelle’s story, then ask students to swap rules and write a short story where a character has to deal with the reality behind the rule, whether it is green beans or rampaging mattresses awoken by children jumping. After all, everyday things can be deadly. Just ask the green beans.