So, what’s next after your kids have slurped down their chicken noodle?
I’ve tossed some of my favorite picture books into the kettle today, to make a fine literary soup. I think the appealing variety of ingredients will satisfy:
1. BEAR SLEEP SOUP by Jasper Tomkins (Green Tiger Press, 1989), ages 4-8.
I’ve been a Jasper Tomkins fan ever since I purchased his first book, The Catalog (Green Tiger Press, 1981). I can’t be objective about his work at all, since his books always seem to hit me in the right place. They’re quirky, whimsical, and endearing without being overly cute. The Jasper Tomkins experience is kind of like having a puppy lick your face while you’re rolling on the ground. In Bear Sleep Soup, baby bear fails to eat the special fall soup her family prepares, so she remains wide awake while everyone else is hibernating. How will she pass the winter?
This is kind of where it all started for me, with the alphabet soup thing. Martha the dog eats some one day, and the alphabets travel to her brain instead of her stomach. The result: a talky dog. In the first two books, Martha uses her adept phone skills to nab a burglar and win a radio call-in show. In Martha Blah Blah, we see what happens when the soup company leaves out half the alphabet. An interesting look at the dog’s point of view and the power of words, with funny cartoon captions.
3. CHICKEN SOUP BY HEART by Esther Hershenhorn, illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger (Simon & Schuster, 2002), ages 4-8.
When Rudie’s elderly sitter, Mrs. Gittel, gets the flu, he decides to make a pot of her famous soup. After all, she’s the Chicken Soup Queen, and if he makes her recipe to perfection, it’ll surely help her get well. Good thing he remembers the secret ingredient: stories about the soon-to-be-soup-eaters. As Rudie stirs these in, we are warmed with stories of their unique friendship. Mrs. Gittel’s chicken soup recipe is included.
4. ALVIE EATS SOUP by Ross Collins (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2002), ages 4-8.
Alvie might easily be my alter-ego. Here is a boy who only eats soup. His first word wasn’t “Mommy.” It wasn’t “Daddy.” It was “Mulligatawny.” There was no bribing him or depriving him. Soup it had to be. Panic ensues when Granny Franny comes to visit. She’s a world famous chef. Can’t let her know about Alvie’s picky eating habits. If they order a whole bunch of food, maybe she won’t notice what Alvie’s not eating. Lively cartoonish drawings (with captions!) makes for a bowl full of fun.
I love stories about friendship, and this series of picture books (there’s also a third, called Pipkin of Pepper, not pictured here), is truly heartwarming. In Pumpkin Soup, Duck, Cat, and Squirrel make pumpkin soup the same way together every day. Cat slices the pumpkin, Duck adds the salt, and Squirrel stirs in the water. But one day, Duck decides he wants to be the one to stir. They argue, and Duck leaves in a huff. Will the three remain friends? In Delicious!, a big problem arises when there are no ripe pumpkins available to make the soup. Cat and Squirrel try to appease Duck with mushroom and fish soup, but he’s a picky eater, and won’t even try their pink (beet) soup. Both books contain appropriate soup recipes.
6. The folktale, Stone Soup, is probably the most well-known soup story in children’s literature, with over two dozen picture book adaptations to its credit. When three hungry soldiers approach a village, the stingy people there scramble to hide all their food, since they are suspicious of strangers. Clever and undaunted, the soldiers announce they will make soup out of stones. The villagers are fascinated, and little by little, they furnish the ingredients for enough soup to feed everyone.
The Marcia Brown version (Atheneum), which won a Newbery Honor Medal in 1947, is still the best, and should be included in every child’s collection. The old fashioned 4-color illustrations evoke just the right tone of timelessness. I like some of the multi-ethnic versions, too, particularly CACTUS SOUP, by Eric Kimmel, pictures by Phil Huling (Marshall Cavendish, 2004). It is set in San Miguel during the Mexican Revolution, and features a soup made from a single cactus thorn, along with chile peppers and stewing hens.
Also notable is STONE SOUP by Jon Muth (Scholastic Press, 2003), which is set in China. I love the ginormous soup pot and the fascinating ingredients: pea pods, lily buds, taro root, winter melon, mung beans, yams, and cloud ears, among others. And since I have a thing for poet monks, Hok, Lok, and Siew are appealing characters. Other retellings feature nails and buttons instead of stones, proving that when you set out to make soup, anything on hand will do. The making and sharing of soup might just be the most convincing literary symbol of cooperation and resourcefulness. Stone Soup is the ultimate equal opportunity tale, embracing all cultures, using many different ingredients blended together in a universal bowl.
7. Finally, we can’t forget the newest addition to the soup story kettle, DUCK SOUP (HarperCollins, 2008), by the one and only Jackie Urbanovic, who will be here tomorrow! Maxwell the duck is busy making an original recipe, when he decides something is definitely missing. While he’s out in the herb garden, his friends, Brody, Dakota and Bebe, come to visit. They see a feather floating in the pot, but no Max. Their frantic search for him is hilarious. A great read-aloud!
HAPPY STORY SLURPING!!