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North America – Southern – Appalachian tale from North Carolina


Hunter, C.W. 1992. The green gourd: A North Carolina folktale. Illustrated by Tony Griego. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.


Rating: ♥♥♥♥ (out of ♥♥♥♥♥).  (No cover picture available from Amazon or Barnes & Noble).


Summary: An old woman picks an unripe gourd that is bewitched. The green gourd chases her, thumping many on the head, until a young boy saves the day.


Type: This is a combination of a wonder and a beast tale.


Characters: The characters are one-dimensional but funny. The old lady does not listen to prevailing folk wisdom about unripe gourds and pays the price. Readers do not know much about the woman except that she is old, superstitious, a fast runner, willing to ask for help, and a good cook. The panther, the fox, and the boy are just stand in caricatures – they could be any living creatures. The other main character is the green gourd, which is vengeful, clever, and fast.


Setting: The title notes that this tale is from North Carolina, and the illustrations make it clear that the location is in the mountains, probably in the western Appalachian region. The author’s note tells readers that this tale comes from Wautauga County, N.C., which is in Appalachia. The story takes place a “long time back” (unpaged).


Plot: This is a “chase” tale where the old woman is running from a “witchy” green gourd that wants to “fump” her on the head (unpaged). In some ways, the plot reminds one of The Gingerbread Man, except the woman is being pursued rather than pursuing.  The woman asks two animals and a child for help, and the third helper (the child) succeeds.


Themes: One theme seems to be that a person should listen to prevailing folk wisdom. Another theme is that a clever child can defeat a powerful "other" when larger creatures fail.


Other Observations – Language:  The language is colorful and fun to read silently or aloud. Hunter includes Appalachian dialect and expressions such as “Oh, law” and “A fractious green gourd’s fixin’ to fump me good!” (unpaged).


Rating Considerations: The text is folksy and charming. The illustrations remind me of Saturday cartoons. I grew tired of the illustrations by the story’s end.


Illustrations: Before illustrating The Green Gourd, the artist’s first book, Griego was a greeting-card artist and a free-lance illustrator. His “greeting card” background is evident in the illustrations. The watercolor cartoons are whimsical and humorous, and they contain plenty of action. However, they skimp on details. The panther looks like a domestic cat, and readers never see the young boy’s eyes because his hair is in the way. In some books, one can reexamine illustrations over and over and come away with something new each time. In this book, one would reread for the story but probably not for the illustrations.