out of my gourd for sophie’s squash + a recipe for butternut bisque

All autumn long, I’ve been harboring a big love for Sophie’s Squash (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2013), Pat Zietlow Miller’s heartwarming debut picture book illustrated to perfection by Anne Wilsdorf.

I had my eye on it well before its official release date back in August, marveling like everyone else when it proceeded to rack up *starred review* after *starred review* (Booklist, PW, SLJ, Kirkus), my excitement steadily building until I finally held a copy in my hands and devoured every word. Oh my, oh yes! No wonder! Every accolade this book has received is so well deserved.

One bright fall day, Sophie chose a squash at the farmers’ market.

Her parents planned to serve it for supper, but Sophie had other ideas.

These ideas included naming her squash Bernice, holding her, bouncing her on her knee, tucking her into bed and taking her everywhere. Ever the steadfast friend, Sophie refuses her mother’s gentle prodding to cook Bernice and rejects her father’s attempts to pacify her with a new toy to take Bernice’s place.

But as time goes on, Bernice develops splotchy “freckles,” so Sophie decides to act on a farmer’s advice to keep Bernice healthy. She tucks her into “a bed of soft soil”, then waits out a wistful winter, hoping Bernice is okay. Come Spring, with all the snow melted, Bernice magically re-emerges, soon gifting Sophie with two wonderful surprises, as only the best of friends can do.

Art © 2013 Anne Wilsdorf

This endearing, enduring story of friendship is well on its way to becoming a perennial favorite. I can see it now — every Fall, children across the country will read Sophie’s Squash and adopt their own squashy friends, totally relating to the girl with springy pigtails and polka dot dress who played with, protected, defended, and loved her friend with that particular brand of pure, unadulterated affection and fierce attachment kids are famous for.

There is so much to love about this charming book: the pitch perfect narration with its spot-on childlike emotion, the cozy and emotive illustrations that amplify Sophie’s personality and the story’s humor in the best possible way, the nod to the power of imagination, and the timeless lessons about nature, nurturing, life cycles and regeneration.

Grown-ups, too, would do well to remember the truths spoken by this child: “Good friends are hard to find,” and “Bernice will last forever.” Quite so. When it comes to friendship, children don’t discriminate — even a quirky, atypical inanimate object has feelings and is worthy of love.

This is definitely a book you’ll want to hug, and when you do, it hugs you back. 🙂

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At Alphabet Soup, we are — *ahem* — not  in the habit of eating characters from children’s stories (unless you count the gingerbread man), and, as much as we love Sophie and Bernice, and do not wish to traumatize any wee munchkins present, the truth is we do love us a good butternut squash soup.

Who can resist capturing the all-too-fleeting golden days of Autumn in a bowl?

I have to credit Len for introducing me to butternut squash. Apparently, it was a must-have side dish on his family’s Thanksgiving table when he was little, and now we can’t have a turkey dinner without it.

Thank goodness he doesn’t mind peeling the dang thing! We like it baked, microwaved and mashed, and puréed for soup. Added bonus: no problem identifying butternuts (to date, there have been no “spaghetti squash/melon fiascos” to spoil the fun).

Who wants to be in our soup?

After locating the perfect squash (a handsome fellow who was more than willing to fulfill his destiny by sacrificing himself for our soup), I found the perfect dairy-free, low-cal recipe for Butternut Bisque via Susan Branch. Cream soups are divine, but because they’re quite rich you can only eat so much. Susan’s recipe uses potatoes to thicken the soup, so you feel a lot less guilty having that second bowl.

If you can get your resident leprechaun-sous chef to peel and cube the squash and potatoes, you’re practically home free. If you own an immersion blender, this is a great chance to play with what Emeril calls your ‘motorboat.’ You should have no problems making this easy recipe — unless, of course, someone in your family develops an unusual attachment to the squash beforehand.

Hold it, stroke it, talk to it, and coddle it, but don’t name it. You should be okay.

This soup really hits the spot on a crisp Autumn day with homemade cornbread or buttermilk biscuits. Perfectomundo!

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(serves six)

2 to 2-1/2 lb. Butternut Squash
2 tablespoons butter
2 carrots, sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
5-6 cups chicken stock (canned is okay)
1-1/2 teaspoons curry powder
pinch of nutmeg, pinch of ginger
sour cream for garnish (optional)

1. Peel and seed squash. Cut into cubes and set aside.

2. Melt the butter in a large soup pot, add the carrots, onion and celery, and sauté a few minutes.

3. Stir the squash and potatoes into the vegetables. Add the stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 40 minutes.

4. Add curry, nutmeg and ginger. Purée the soup in batches in a blender. Return to soup pot, add more stock if necessary to thin. Add salt and pepper to taste.

5. Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream if you like.

~ Adapted from Susan Branch’s illustrated recipe for Butternut Bisque.

* * *


written by Pat Zietlow Miller
illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf
published by Schwartz & Wade Books, 2013
Picture Book for ages 3-7, 40 pp.
Cool themes: friendship, gardening, families, seasons

Pat Zietlow’s Miller’s Official Website

Sophie’s Squash Facebook Page

Cornelius and his tasty unnamed friend.


* Spreads from Sophie’s Squash text copyright © 2013 Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrations © 2013 Anne Wilsdorf, published by Schwartz & Wade/Random House. All rights reserved.

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


40 thoughts on “out of my gourd for sophie’s squash + a recipe for butternut bisque

    1. Yes, pre-cut squash definitely makes life easier — only our resident leprechaun sous chef is a purist and refuses to buy it that way (could be a New England thing). 😉


  1. The oldest granddaughter loves what she calls “yellow soup”, so I’m not sure I should get the book for her or not-may not ever get the squash out of her hands! Seriously, my daughter has a favorite recipe, I have one that adds Granny Smith apples-we love butternut squash soup! The book looks delightful, Jama. Thank you for sharing! And if you have a secret for finding someone to peel it, please tell me-it’s not easy!


    1. Sounds like you’re a squashy family through and through! Apples in the soup sounds really interesting. Will have to try that next time. I like the sweetness that the carrots added to this recipe, so I think apples would also be good.


  2. Thanks, Jama! I love your photo of Cornelius with a squash friend and that adorable book. My daughter befriended a piece of seeweed while on a beach vacation once so I can relate to the mystified parents. 🙂 And I’m going to try your bisque tonight (with a carton of squash already cubed).


  3. I put Sophie’s Squash on hold, and I think I’m going to try that butternut sqaush soup. Thanks to my fall farm share, I have all the ingredients at home. May I borrow your sous chef, though, to peel the squash???


    1. Sorry, my sous chef is exclusive to the Alphabet Soup kitchen (he’s also a good dish washer). I hope you make the soup and like it. 🙂


  4. I love this book, too, Jama! I was in Pat’s critique group a few years ago and got to see/give feedback on various versions of this story! Pat’s accolades are well deserved, indeed! And Anne Wilsdorf’s illustrations are perfect, too.

    Now that the AZ desert has somewhat cooled off my family has been in soup mode recently (my youngest would opt for soup even on the hottest AZ summer day!) I’m going to try this bisque. Thanks for the recipe. 🙂


    1. I have to thank you for giving Pat such good feedback then — I’ve read various posts where she describes the many drafts and years of revising and submitting, etc. It must also be exciting for you to see the final book in print at last. 🙂

      Enjoy the soup (but don’t tell Sophie). 🙂


  5. Such a cute book. And the soup looks good too. — I make a pumpkin soup similar to your butternut squash soup, but I have my husband cut the pie pumpkins in half, then I scoop out the seeds. Then I roast the pumpkin halves in the oven, along with sweet potatoes and apples. I scoop the pumpkin flesh from the shell and the sweet potatoes from the peel. No peeling for me,except the apples. I peel and core them before roasting.


    1. Oho! So you have a sous chef too! The combination of roasted pumpkin, sweet potatoes and apples sounds divine. I need to try a butternut soup recipe that calls for roasting the squash. 🙂


  6. The book looks great and the recipe delicious. I love squashes. recently I have discovered the Kabocha squash which is delightfully creamy and not at all starchy.


  7. Loved the somersaulting Cornelius!

    I love butternut but my aunt swears by Hubbard squash for Thanksgiving. The HUGE blue-grey skinned monster? She used to bring it out to the chopping block and whack it with my uncle’s ax. Fortunately now at 80+ years of age she has found that the produce manager at the store will cut it up for her. 🙂

    Sophie’s Squash is going to my niece this Christmas! (Shh…)


    1. Wow — she used an ax to cut up the squash? And here I thought big knives were something. Have never tried Hubbard squash. I’ve probably seen them at the pumpkin patch, one of those misshapen scary ones. Much safer to stick with butternut or acorn squash. 🙂


  8. What an adorable book! The story seems so sweet. And I won’t tell Bernice about the soup because I love butternut squash too! The soup looks fantastic.


    1. Actually I don’t think Bernice minds so much since she has the magic power to live forever. But mum is the word whenever Sophie’s around . . . 🙂


  9. What a sweet book. How did you know that I bought butternut squash today and didn’t know what to do with it? I’ve never cooked with it before. Thanks, Jama!


  10. Jama, I am definitely going to have to get a copy of this sweet picture book! The recipe looks delicious as well–I have several butternut squash soup recipes, and this one looks wonderful. Thanks for sharing! = )


    1. You will love the book, Becky. Definitely one of my fave Fall 2013 titles. And the soup is yummy, a good choice especially if you’re looking for a dairy-free recipe.


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