Cover image for Lucky beans
Lucky beans
Publication Information:
Chicago, Ill. : Albert Whitman & Co., 2010.
Physical Description:
1 v. (unpaged) : col. ill. ; 27 cm.
Reading Level:
600 L Lexile
Added Author:
During the Great Depression, Marshall, an African American boy, uses lessons learned in arithmetic class and guidance from his mother to figure out how many beans are in a jar in order to win her a new sewing machine in a contest.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book EASY BIR 1 1
Book EASY BIR 0 1

On Order



Like so many people during the Great Depression of the 1930s, Marshall Loman's dad has lost his job. There's little money, but there are plenty of beans-in fact, Ma cooks them for supper every single night! Beans start looking better when Marshall sees the contest posted in the furniture store window. HOW MANY BEANS ARE IN THE JAR? WIN THIS BRAND NEW SEWING MACHINE! Ma needs that sewing machine-but how can Lomans possibly guess right? Then Marshall remembers something he learned in arithmetic class. Becky Birtha's engaging story, based on her grandmother's memories of Depression years in the African American community, is illustrated by Nicole Tadgell's expressive paintings.

Reviews 4

Horn Book Review

Marshall is beginning to hate beans, the Depression-era food staple that his mother serves often now that his father has lost his job. But it's beans that catch his attention when he passes by a furniture store window -- a large jar filled with beans next to a sewing machine. The person who guesses the number of beans gets the machine, and Marshall is determined to win it (once he makes sure that the contest isn't just for white people). The empty jars in Marshall's basement, once filled with food, serve another purpose as the family uses them to add up beans, and Marshall applies the estimating skills he has learned at school with happy results. Soft watercolor paintings show a working-class African American family and capture the 1930s small-town setting. With its math and social studies elements, this will be a practical book for schools, but it's also a welcome addition to the growing number of picture books about families getting through difficult economic times. From HORN BOOK, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

Math and wry comedy mix in this lively historical story based on Birtha's grandmother's memories of life during the Depression. Young Marshall describes his African American family's hardship when Dad loses his job and then his relatives crowd into Marshall's room. Worst of all are the beans Ma constantly cooks. Then a local furniture store makes an exciting offer: whoever guesses the number of beans in a huge jar on display will win a new sewing machine. If only Marshall could win the prize for Ma so that she could earn money by sewing. He works out a system to estimate (not guess) by counting the number of beans that fill a quart jar, and how many quarts fill up a crock . . . and his formula works! The expressive watercolor paintings show both the racism that Marshall and his family endure as well as his final triumph, and Tadgell folds in humor, as Marshall faces what looks like a lifetime supply of beans. An informative final note fills in more about the era's history.--Rochman, Hazel Copyright 2010 Booklist

School Library Journal Review

Gr 2-4-Money is tight during the Great Depression, and Marshall is tired of eating beans for dinner every night. When a local shopkeeper announces a contest to win a new sewing machine, he seizes the opportunity to make his Ma's dreams come true. The catch is that to win it, he has to guess how many beans are in a jar. Birtha effortlessly describes how Marshall and his mother use math to find their answer. Young readers thus will discover fun, realistic applications for the estimating and multiplication skills they learn in their classrooms. Math is not the only subject in Birtha's lively lesson plan, though. She also confronts the racism of the 1930s when a white girl tells African-American Marshall that he might not be allowed to enter the contest because "only white ladies can win contests." An author's note provides a brief description of the Great Depression and anecdotes from the author's family history. Tadgell's colorful illustrations, many full page, give the book an old-fashioned feel and include many period details, strengthening the text's usefulness for social-studies classes. Children will appreciate the story's humor and happy ending. Lucky Beans can be used across the curriculum to educate while it entertains. Ideal for classrooms and school libraries, it's also a strong choice for public libraries.-Mary Landrum, Lexington Public Library, KY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

History proves cyclical with this story of an African-American family living through the Great Depression. "Marshall didn't feel so lucky. The elbows of his jacket were worn almost all the way through. Dad had been out of work for months, and there was no money." The story, however, is not one of depression. The family works together to survive and finds moments of love, appreciation and sheer happiness. This moving tale not only relates a little history but also some math, as Marshall helps his mother estimate the number of beans in the furniture-store jar and ultimately wins a new sewing machine, which helps alleviate their dire financial situation. Tadgell's watercolor illustrations move the story and stir readers' emotions. A two-page spread of the contestants in the store teaches readers everything they need to know about the characters without a letter of text. Many children today can relate to the family's challenges, which makes the timing of this picture book sadly relevant. (author's note) (Picture-book. 5-12) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.