Floored by Gourds

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Friday, October 3, 2008

Lots of things are growing on the farm where I live. Strange things. Pumpkins make me think of Halloween monsters. They grow in all sizes and many colors: reddish and warty, orange and ribbed, or smooth grayish white. I've seen gourds that look like little blue-green aliens that just hopped off of a spaceship.

What are gourds, anyway? Botanists, or people who study plants, say that gourds are fruit, like melons, cucumbers, and pumpkins.

Gourds have been around for a long time. People eat the pulp and drink the juice. The outer shell, when it's dried, makes a good musical instrument, basket, birdfeeder, nest box, or cup. People from Asia, Africa, and the Americas have used gourds for fine art. (Never decorate a gourd without an adult; the mold and dust can be harmful.)

The drinking gourd has played an interesting part in American History. Some people believe that "Follow the Drinking Gourd" was a folk song that contained a secret code. The drinking gourd was really the constellation the Big Dipper, which "points" to the North Star. The song was like a map that guided slaves north to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

Other people feel that the real path to freedom was much more difficult. Just "going North," or hearing a song, was too simple. Escaping slaves had to be creative, secretive, and extremely brave.

"Follow the Drinking Gourd" lived on, however, to inspire people of all races who fought for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s. Even if it never led slaves out of bondage, the song inspired activists to fight for justice and equality, and is a symbol of freedom today.

Yours with snorts,

S. Will Burr signature

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Follow the Drinking Gourd
By Jeanette Winter

"Winter's story begins with a peg-leg sailor who aids slaves on their escape on the Underground Railroad. While working for plantation owners, Peg Leg Joe teaches the slaves a song about the drinking gourd (the Big Dipper). A couple, their son, and two others make their escape by following the song's directions. Rich paintings interpret the strong story in a clean, primitive style enhanced by bold colors. The rhythmic compositions have an energetic presence that's compelling. A fine rendering of history in picturebook format."--(starred) "Booklist.

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My Great-Grandmother's Gourd
By Cristina Kessler
Illustrator Walter Lynn Krudop

Fatima is thrilled. Her village has a brand-new pump. No more camels hauling water. No more storing water in baobab trees. Life will be easier and better for all. Well, almost all. Fatima's grandmother refuses to change her ways. She insists upon preparing the baobab tree, just as her mother and grandmother did before her. The other villagers think she's foolish, but she doesn't care. She has plenty of work to do -- and so does her granddaughter, who decides to help her.


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The Magic Gourd
By Baba Wague Diakite
CCBC Choices - 2004

This celebration of the rich culture of Mali tells a tale of the importance of generosity. When drought parches the land, Rabbit rescues Chameleon from a thorny bush. Chameleon repays him with a magical gourd that always stays filled with food and water. But soon a greedy king steals the gourd for himself. Illustrations.

Cooperative Children's Book Center Review
Kindhearted Rabbit is foraging for his family when he rescues Chameleon from a tangle of thorns. Chameleon rewards him with a gourd bowl that fills itself with whatever the bearer requests-insects, carrots, even couscous! Rabbit shares the bounty with family and friends. When the king gets word of the gourd's power, he steals it and asks for bowl after bowl of gold. Chameleon comes to the rescue again, this time presenting Rabbit with a little rock that pummels anyone who doesn't know its name. The exasperated king is willing to give up the gourd, the gold, and all his food, too, to get the stone to stop hitting him in this humorous story about compassion, generosity, and kindness triumphing over greed. In addition to his trademark handpainted ceramic tiles, Mali native Baba Wagu‚ Diakit‚ has decorated ceramic plates, and bowls that represent the abundant gourd to illustrate this lively story. In the artwork, lush colors are framed by black-and-white border art inspired by Malian mud cloth patterns. In the text, words and phrases in Bambara, the national language of Mali, add texture to the spirited storytelling. The book concludes with notes on elements of the art and the story's origins, a glossary, and information on related tales in other cultures. Honor Book, CCBC Caldecott Award Discussion; Honor Book, CCBC Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award Discussion


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Gourd Crafts for the First Time
By Marilynn Host

Most ancient cultures used gourds in every aspect of life. Decorating gourds is everybody's favorite craft, as you'll see from the more than two-dozen varied projects shown here. A handy guide tells you where to find or buy gourds, and how to prepare them. Then use your easily-learned skills with leather-dye, egg-dye, spray and acrylic paint, wax shoe polish, decoupage, airbrush, waxed linen, dyed raffia, and beads. Select your projects: storage containers for food, medicine, herbs, seeds, oils, jewelry, and even sacred objects. Turn dipper gourds into ladles, bowls, and cooking utensils, or create musical instruments such as thumb pianos, harps, banjos, drums, and rattles, as well as a variety of masks, earrings and necklaces, piggy banks, bird feeders, birdhouses, toys, candleholders, and luminaries.