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I cherish the unusual when it comes to reading a children’s book – especially when the author’s personal experiences led to the creation of the unique story. I also seek out titles that educate the youngest readers about different cultures and places. The Market Bowl ($16.95, Charlesbridge Publishing, Ages 5-8) meets all of the above and more.

Jim Averbeck spent four years in Cameroon – an African nation few Americans have visited – as a Peace Corps volunteer.  While there he ate many local dishes including Bitterleaf Stew. And so the story begins…

Yoyo is a young girl who goes to the market with her mother every day to sell her mama Cecile’s delicious bitterleaf stew. Mama teaches Yoyo exactly how to make the stew, taking no shortcuts and also tells her daughter that she must not ever reject a fair price for the stew in the market. Together they are successful selling mama’s secret recipe stew day after day.

One day Yoyo decides to make her own stew in her own way and try to sell it at the market when her mama was not there. Because the stew is sub par, a buyer grabs the bowl and offers Yoyo much less money for the stew than her mama was used to getting paid. Yoyo yanks the bowl back, and after that the family’s luck changes and Yoyo’s mama can no longer get a fair price for her food. When you read the book, you’ll see that the way Yoyo solves the problem is both brave and clever.

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The story has a folklore quality to it that I absolutely love. Along with the words are glorious, vibrant illustrations that bring the story to a whole new level. You’ll enjoythe way your children learn subtly about the Cameroon culture, too. In the front of the book are some vocabulary words and in the back is a reciepe for Bitterleaf Stew, the national dish of Cameroon.

There’s nothing else quite like The Market Bowl. It is a wonderful book for teaching children about cultures, honesty and quality work. And after reading this book, perhaps your child will even be willing to try tasting a new dish.

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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