soup spoon or scepter?: the princess of borscht by leda schubert and bonnie christensen


*sniffs air*

Mmmmm! My keen olfactories have detected the heady aroma of a brand new soup picture book simmering on the shelves. As your friendly self-appointed soup reporter, I’ll gladly give you a taste of this toothsome charmer cooked up by Leda Schubert and Bonnie Christensen.

Ruthie’s grandmother, hospitalized with pneumonia, would rather starve than eat the food there. She has a hankering for homemade borscht, and even though Ruthie has never made any before, she promises to bring some to Grandma by 5 p.m. But first, she must track down Grandma’s secret recipe!

After searching high and low in Grandma’s apartment without success, Ruthie asks one of the neighbors for help. Mrs. Lerman, the self-proclaimed Empress of Borscht, is only too pleased to oblige. They begin by cooking and peeling fresh beets.

In no time at all, two other neighbors appear: Mrs. Rosen (First Lady of Borscht), insists onions should be added, and Mrs. Goldberg (Tsarina of Borscht), swears by lemons, sugar and salt. Since Ruthie is still unable to find the secret recipe, she adds everything they suggest to the pot. All this regal bickering makes Ruthie’s head spin. Will too many cooks spoil this soup, the one-and-only soup that will make Grandma feel better?

After they leave, Ruthie tastes for herself and decides something is missing. After sniffing a few of Grandma’s herb jars, she throws in something that smells pickly. Ruthie and her Dad, who thinks beets are yucky, transfer the soup to a thermos, stopping on the way to the hospital at Mr. Lee’s corner store. When he gives Ruthie a container of sour cream, she wonders if he’s the King of Borscht.

You must read the book for yourself to find out whether Grandma likes Ruthie’s borscht. Let’s just say that when it comes to this particular soup, the most important ingredients are the good intentions of loved ones buoyed by caring friends and neighbors. As with all things in life, a little pinch of salt, a squirt of sour, and a dash of sweet keep things happily abubble and unpredictable.

Soup-loving munchkins will easily identify with Ruthie’s earnestness and savor Christensen’s vibrant, zesty illustrations. Her thick charcoal outlines and rich jewel tones echo the strong personalities in the story and invite the reader right into Grandma’s kitchen, establishing an easy familiarity with all the characters. It’s likely readers will clamor for repeated servings of this heartwarmingly delicious offering. All hail the kingdom of Borscht!

written by Leda Schubert
illustrated by Bonnie Christensen
published by Roaring Brook Press, 2011
Full color Picture Book for ages 4-7, 32 pp.
Includes Borscht Recipe on back cover
Cool themes: Cookery, families, friendship, illness, grandmothers, ethnic foods
On shelves now!

♥ Leda Schubert’s official website.

♥ Bonnie Christensen’s official website.

♥ Leda talks about the book at the MacKids blog!

Help yourself:

via Muffet


*Spreads posted by permission, text copyright © 2012 Leda Schubert, illustrations © 2012 Bonnie Christensen, published by Neal Porter/Roaring Brook. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

20 thoughts on “soup spoon or scepter?: the princess of borscht by leda schubert and bonnie christensen

  1. The one and only time I have had borscht was in the beer garden of a Russian restaurant… in Estonia. And it was indeed good “Külm peedisupp”, (supid is plural) with dill scattered in it, and we ate it with pickles, sour cream and …honey. Still not really sure about the honey, but … yeah. There are a TON of varying recipes for it, so this is a funny-true book. I’ll bet grandma was pleased to get that borscht… but I’m glad I didn’t have to make it! Messy, messy.


    1. Haven’t tried borscht yet and it does sound messy (and a little dangerous with beet stain) to try to make it. 🙂 The garnishes are interesting — pickles? sour cream? dill is more understandable. I need Grandma or any of her royal neighbors to come over and make some for me :).


  2. I adore beets, but I’m not entirely certain about borscht. Still, if anyone can make me hanker to try it, it’d be Leda Schubert. And those illustrations are great!


    1. I agree. Lots of us are reluctant when it comes to borscht — but I think the right recipe and the right company to share it with might make us all fans.


  3. Jama, I’ve never had this kind of soup, though I like beets quite a bit. Don’t care at all for sour cream, however. Maybe it’s okay to have the soup without it…?

    Also, I think “sceptor” should be spelled “scepter”… or if you want to go Brit, “sceptre”. — PL


    1. Thanks for the correction, Peter! Don’t know how that slipped by :). I think I had “vector” on the brain or something . . .

      I’m neutral when it comes to beets — I enjoy fresh beets, but haven’t been brave enough to make borscht yet. I think you should try making it, with all your super fruit salad chops and all.


  4. This book is charming! Thanks for your gracious hosting, Jama.

    I suppose we could try making this. I used to grate beets for salads, most delicious, and such a pretty color stain…


  5. Me too for liking beets, but not the soup, sorry. I did have some as the soup course at a German restaurant once & it too was served with pickles and sour cream. But, doesn’t most everything in German restaurants have pickles and sour cream? Anyway, Jama, the book looks wonderful and very nice for motivating food writing in the younger grades, maybe for older too, especially since there is conflict over what makes the best borscht! Thanks!


    1. I don’t know much about German cuisine, so wasn’t familiar with the pickles thing. You’re right — I can see kids writing their own stories about family recipes or maybe this might prompt them to think about their own food preferences and instances where they were “encouraged” to try new and/or strange dishes. It’s interesting that in this story the father made it clear he doesn’t like beets.


  6. Oh, I like this book, but have I posted about it? NO. I’ve been suh-wamped, and it’s this casualty of being suh-wamped, ’cause it’s a great book. Thanks for posting about it! So good to see the spreads here.


  7. With everything you have on your plate right now, it’s amazing you have time to even read blogs and comment, not to mention featuring every great PB that comes along. I’m sure you’ll be able to take this book off the back burner soon and give it some blog love :).


  8. What a wonderful book! I love illustrations too. Thanks for sharing it here.

    I love beets, but I’ve never had borscht. My husband is of Russian Jewish descent, but he hates it! lol So I’ve also never attempted to make it. The vibrancy of the colors is so appealing though — you know just from that, that it is filled with nutrients!


    1. Your husband is just like the father in the book :). Now I’m even MORE curious about how borscht tastes. People seem to have strong opinions about it. President Obama, of course, hates beets too. Maybe it’s a male thing . . .


  9. Looks like such a cute book! I feel like I’m one of the only people commenting who have had borscht, it’s so delicious, but it’s true, everyone makes it differently! Sometimes it just comes down to different proportions of sugar/vinegar that’s added at the end. My boyfriend’s Russian mother taught me how to make it, and although there are a lot of steps and vegetable cutting, it’s not too hard to make, I’ve done it on my own twice. And she serves it with mayo, I don’t even like mayo, but it’s really good in borscht!


    1. Encouraging to hear from someone who’s both made borscht and likes it! I imagine reactions could vary widely depending on what proportions are used, as you say. Lucky to have your boyfriend’s mother to advise you :).


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