Sam is saddled with a rutabaga as his vegetable for the next two weeks in second-grade science.
Sam doesn’t like any kind of vegetable, but once he sees his rutabaga—“the size of a softball”; “round, but not perfectly round”; half purple and half “dirty yellow”; and with “a weird brown thing sticking out of the top like a little tree stump”—he is sure he’s got the worst. How is he supposed to write a letter from the rutabaga’s perspective? Drawing a smiley face on it helps, as does naming it. All of a sudden Sam becomes deeply protective of Rudy. How can he make Rudy happy? Well, as his elderly friend and walking companion, Mr. Stockfish, tells him, rutabagas grow underground, so Rudy must want some nice dirt. Thus is born Sam’s plan to collect neighbors’ food scraps and make a compost pile in Mrs. Kerner’s backyard, where he boards his chicken, Helga. While this outing is not as obviously purposive as series opener Sam the Man & the Chicken Plan (2016), it is equally appealing. Sam’s simultaneous awareness that Rudy is not alive and deepening investment in Rudy’s well-being are developmentally spot-on. Dowell’s characterizations are deft, accomplished in small but telling details. Sam is white, as is Mrs. Kerner, and Mr. Stockfish is black; the romance developing between the latter two is a quiet delight.
Readers will be happy to spend time with Sam the Man. (Fiction. 6-9)