Food in Children's Literature and "Stone Soup"


With spring comes thoughts of gardening, but my thoughts go past the garden to the food it will produce. I thought this month might be a good one to make soup: Stone Soup, of course. Like many things, Stone Soup starts with a story and there are many versions of this old tale that children can read and compare and contrast. I especially like John Stewig's version Stone Soup with illustrations by Margot Tomes (Holiday House, 1991 ISBN 0-8234-0863-9), perhaps because the cook/trickster is a girl this time. Tomes' illustrations of the Colonial villagers are wonderfully comic but they also contain much information about life of the time and place.

It might be time to do a chart of the basic tale and the various versions. Design it with the children; don't make it into a worksheet for them to merely fill in. Designing takes more thinking. Is it time for Tony Ross's version now that the children are familiar with the plot? His Stone Soup (Dial, 1987 ISBN 0-8037-0890-4) puts the plot in the hands of two characters from other tales: the little red hen and the big bad wolf. It's very clever and may inspire them to brain storm for other fitting trickers and trickees.

Now it's time to make the soup, but let's do a literary soup first. You may want to use an actual soup pot or a two or three dimensional replica. Wait a minute! We can't just use any old pot. We need one from a book or story. How about "The Magic Porridge Pot" (There are many versions available as picture books. We like Strega Nona by Tomie De Paola). If the wolf is through stewing, we may be able to borrow the one from "The Three Little Pigs." Even Anno's Mysterious Multiplying Jar (Philomel, 19 399-20951-4) could serve if it's ovenproof, although I'd worry about the amount of soup we'd end up with. Would it be 10 factorial? Get the kids searching for others and putting together their own Stone Soup.

Now that we have a literary pot, we need a literary stone. I'm using Byrd Baylor's Everybody Needs a Rock (Macmillan, 1985 ISBN 0-0-689-71051 8) but there are many others: Dick Gackenbach's McGoogan Moves the Mighty Rock (Harper, 1981 ISBN 0-06-021968-8) and, if they'll let you buy one cheap, there's the rocks from Rocks in My Pockets by Marc Harshman and Toni Goffe (Cobblehill, 1991 ISBN 0-525-65055-5). Don't forget the story with two possible soup stones: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig (Simon and Schuster, 1988 ISBN 0-671-66269-4). Whatever one you choose, it should be from a book you like.

It's important to have the right ingredients. We can cheat a little and start with a broth, perhaps the one the Old Woman in a Shoe gave her offspring. I'm more of a purist and I'll start with the water from McElligott's Pool by Dr. Seuss (Random, 1947 ISBN 0-394-80083-4), you find your own. Water, pot and stone -- we're off to a good start. Now for the flavor. We can get a lot of ingredients from Mr. MacGregor's or Mrs Gaddy's garden. I'll take carrots from Ruth Krauss's Carrot Seed (HarperCollins, 1945 ISBN 0-06-023351-6), and "Oats, Peas, Beans and Carrots" from the children's folk song of the same name. Reach even farther back to Tolstoy and his "Great Big Enormous Turnip," available in many versions. I like potatoes in my soup and Anita Lobel's anti-war book Potatoes, Potatoes (HarperCollins, 1984 ISBN 0-685-02068-1) has some to spare.

Onions! We mustn't forget the onions. Onion John (HarperCollins, 1984 ISBN 0-690-55957-9) will know where to find some flavorful ones, but that novel's a little old for the kids who are probably making literary soup today. There must be some handier ones. Let's use the ones from John Ciardi's poem, "The Man in the Onion Bed" from his book I Met a Man (Houghton, 1973 ISBN 0-395-17447-3). Celery can come from The Celery Stalks at Midnight by James Howe (Macmillan, 1983 ISBN 0-689-30987-2). I'm sure you can find other vegetables from the books. The fun is in the searching.

Somehow the soup doesn't smell right even with all those good vegetables. We need seasonings: pepper from one of the many books about Mrs. Pepperpot; Salt from the book of that name by the Zemachs (Farrar Straus, 1977 ISBN 0-374-36385-4). Parsley, the wonderful deer from Ludwig Bemelmans' book (HarperCollins, 1955 ISBN 0-06-020455-9) will surely know where to find the herb he's named for. For sage, we may have to look for some "sage advice" and there are many wise people in books to dispense that. And, now that we're stretching it a bit, look at all the noodles we can find in books if we mean noodleheads or sillies.

While the soup is simmering, we can look at other soups in literature. Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak (Scholastic, 1986 ISBN 0-685-11908-4) is such fun that we can sing and chant it while we wait. Go on to The Wolf's Chicken Stew by Keiko Kasza (Putnam, 1987 ISBN 0-399-21400-3. The wolf in that story proved to be too tenderhearted for his own cooking and so far, so have I. Mysoup is the vegetarian variety and I'm going to keep it that way, but feel free to add chicken from any of the many books about them.

The soup's not quite done yet, can we spend some time on soupy expressions? Where did "in the soup" come from? What does it mean? Why do we "stew" about things? Have we covered everything from soup to nuts? Nuts! We could do a whole mini-theme on nutty books. Maybe another time.