a colorful chat with cathryn falwell about rainbow stew

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Mmmmm, somebody’s making something yummy! It’s a special stew made with a rainbow of freshly picked garden vegetables — red tomatoes, purple eggplant, green peas and beans, rosy radishes, brown potatoes and yellow peppers. Care for a bowl?

rainbow stew coverIt’s such a treat to welcome award winning author/illustrator Cathryn Falwell to Alphabet Soup today. She’s just published an uncommonly delicious new picture book called Rainbow Stew (Lee & Low, 2013), which contains all the ingredients I love most about good stories: food, family, and fun. 🙂

A very cool grandfather (who makes yummy pancakes for breakfast) makes the most of a rainy summer day by suggesting everyone go outside to “find some colors for my famous Rainbow Stew!”  So he and his three grandchildren don their rain gear and go searching for ripe veggies under the drippy leaves. With treasures like radishes, carrots, cucumbers and cabbage, and time enough to “jump around like grasshoppers and buzz about like bees,” everyone has a muddy grand time.

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Then it’s back inside for a quick wash up, before they all pitch in with the cooking.

Peel, slice,
chop, and dice,
colors fill the pot.
Stir in herbs and water
and then wait till it gets hot.

While the stew is simmering, they read their books, and when it’s finally time to eat, “Yum, yum, yum, yum!”

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Help yourself — Click for a Rainbow Stew recipe at the book’s website!

Cathryn’s jaunty rhyming text and vibrant mixed media collages capture such joy and love in this heartwarming celebration of colors, homegrown food and family togetherness. And we all know that when kids see where their food comes from and help cook it, they enjoy it that much more. I especially love that it’s a grandfather who’s teaching the kids in the story about cooking.

Cathryn is visiting us today from her home on Frog Song Pond in Gorham, Maine, where she has a studio and her very own treehouse. She likes to watch and write about all the fascinating critters who live there when she’s not busy tending her garden and feasting on the spoils.

I wonder what veggies she’s growing this year? And just how much fun did she have creating this mouthwatering book?

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Cathryn with her Dad


Welcome, Cathryn, and thanks for your delicious stock pot of gold, red, green, orange and purple!

Did you like vegetables as a child? Please share a funny or favorite veggie-related story from when you were little.

I wasn’t a picky eater, and my mother–bless her heart–was a pioneer in serving vegetables in a rather matter-of-fact way. So I ate them. We didn’t have a lot of fresh vegetables out of season, though.

I was very visually literal. So when my dad said he was putting eggplant on our shish kebabs (it was the 60s–he was the BBQ guy) I pictured plants with eggs on them. I was disappointed to have cubes of mushy beige instead.

Not about veggies– but the same thing happened when my Grandmother tried to get me excited about breakfast by announcing she had made Doll Eggs (small-sized eggs from Bantam hens) and I heard, “Doll Legs” and ran the other way…

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Cathryn with her Dad and two younger brothers

You moved a lot in your early years, but no matter where you lived, your father always had a vegetable garden. Did you inherit your love of gardening from him? What’s the most important thing he taught you about growing food?

My dad didn’t teach me about gardening in a formal sense. He just let me do some of the fun stuff–plant seeds, help tie up the tomatoes, pull up the carrots. And I loved seeing things grow. Everything tasted better fresh, too. I made a lot of mistakes when I first had my own gardens–like planting too many different vine crops close together! They cross-pollinated and produced some very strange things!

My children–who are all grown up– live in cities now, but I’m hoping they can have gardens some day.

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Cathryn’s children, Alex and Eamae, in the family garden.

How did you think of using the concept of colors to promote healthy eating in Rainbow Stew

It’s pretty boring to eat food that’s all the same color–sort of like coloring with only one crayon. A pretty variety is much more fun! So I wanted the kids in the book to be excited about finding all the colors in Grandpa’s garden. I also wanted them to be outside–even in the rain! Getting wet and muddy is fun!

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What did you like most about creating this book?

Here’s a secret: there are some hidden surprises to find in this book. I was born in Kansas, and Somewhere Over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz is my favorite song. So a clever reader will find a few “Oz” inspired items in the pictures!

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Cathryn’s studio in the Fall.
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Her view of Frog Song Pond from the studio window.

How did you make the pictures?

All of my books were done in paper collage. For Rainbow Stew, I decided to also introduce more detail by adding line.

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Sketches of veggies and a drawing for the reading page.
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An early sketch I made for the spread, then a quick sketch of a different composition, which is the one I decided to use.
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Paper scraps: you can see faces, an arm and some clothing.
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Final drawing: I cut through the tissue onto colored paper to make the pieces that I glue together to make the collage art. You can see some of the cut-outs here, too.
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The diorama is a funny story. I had some difficulty imagining how the kids and Grandpa would move about the kitchen, which I invented. So I made a little model from cut-up cereal boxes and cardboard.

What is your favorite color? 

There are so many wonderful colors! I do tend to favor blues and greens, though. Rainbow Stew has LOTS of greens!

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What are you growing in your home garden this year? What are you most proud of?

I live in Maine, which has a pretty short growing season. My garden is at the mercy of the weather, and also a number of visiting critters who think my produce is free food. So I plant way too much, and wait to see what will come up! This year, so far, everything is slow but doing okay. I’ve got kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, several kinds of carrots, parsnips, peas, beans, basil, lettuce, peppers, cucumbers, acorn squash, butternut squash and tomatoes. I get so excited when I get to start picking the first crops and serve them for supper! And there is nothing like twisting off that first warm ripe tomato and taking a delicious, drippy bite!

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Tomatoes from last year’s garden.

If you were banished to a desert island and could only take one vegetable with you, what would it be and why?

Oooh! That’s a very tough question! Something with seeds that could grow in a desert!

Is the recipe for Rainbow Stew included in the book a family favorite?

I asked a lot of my gardening and cooking friends for recipes and advice. In the end, I decided to keep the recipe kind of open so that people could use the veggies they had. In the book, the children pick a lot of colorful veggies that, in “real life”, don’t all ripen at the same time. When I make soups and stews, I use whatever I have from my garden or from the Farmer’s Market in our town.

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rstew-falwell07 (3)200Is there anything else you’d like to add about Rainbow Stew?

I love talking to kids about books, creativity, and healthy eating. When I go to schools and libraries to talk with children, I bring lots of activities along. Since I can’t travel everywhere, I now have a website for Rainbow Stew that has arts and crafts, recipes, games, and lots of links and information. I hope parents, teachers, and kids will share their own ideas there, too.

Any upcoming appearances or special events you’d like to tell us about? 

I will be visiting several libraries this summer, and hopefully some community gardens, too.

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School visit in Connecticut
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School visit in Maine

What’s next for you?

I have two books out to editors right now–and I’m waiting (and waiting and waiting!) to hear back. So please keep your fingers crossed!

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Cathryn just made this Portable Garden — a folding background screen she’ll use for school and library programs. The kids can “pick” the veggies which are velcro’d to the background.

* * *

rainbow stew coverRAINBOW STEW
written and illustrated by Cathryn Falwell
published by Lee & Low Books, Inc., March 2013
Picture Book for children ages 4-7, 32 pp.
Cool themes: gardening, food, grandparents, families, vegetables, cooking, African Americans, colors
*Includes Rainbow Stew recipe

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Cathryn Falwell’s Official Website

♥ Check out Catherine’s Blogs:

♥ Rainbow Stew book page at Lee & Low Books

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Veggie Twister Game Cathryn made for a Healthy Eating, Healthy Growing program.


*Spreads from Rainbow Stew posted by permission of the author, text and illustrations copyright © 2013 Cathryn Falwell, published by Lee & Low. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

15 thoughts on “a colorful chat with cathryn falwell about rainbow stew

  1. Very nice and Quite inspiring! As your little brother I always thought the veggies were served simply to make use of my napkin. “No desert till your plate is clean young man!” ( I still do that with onions )


  2. Another piece of your work with an inspiring message. You certainly continue to make your dad proud. You just missed some gooseberry pie.


    1. Gooseberry pie? Please adopt me, Mr. Falwell! Love your pic with Cathryn. 🙂 And you have much to be proud of. Cathryn’s work is inspiring, beautiful, and amazing!!


  3. Cool! We grow a veggie garden during the summer (with a fence around it to keep bunnies, deer, mice, and chipmunks out. Squirrels too, but I think that they don’t like veggies. 😉


    1. She certainly puts a lot of thought and effort into her school visits. Don’t you just love her Portable Garden? 🙂


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