Summer is usually a balmy experience in our neck of the woods, with only a few days of sweltering heat as July rolls into August. This year, however, the air turned sticky by the end of June, and it remains so hot that my proliferous melon vines show signs of attacking anyone who ventures too near. The cows stand in the shade and swat flies, the chickens retreat to their coop in the heat of the day; and what do my children want to help me make for supper?
What is it about soup that makes us crave its warming comfort even when the sun shines its brightest? Perhaps the answer lies in the pages of this favorite that my two youngest have been enjoying lately: the 1947 Caldecott Honor Book Stone Soup by Marcia Brown.
In this rendition of the well-known story, three soldiers are journeying home from the wars. Coming upon a village and having had nothing to eat for three days, they politely beg a little food. But the people claim they have nothing to spare; remarking among themselves that soldiers would surely consume everything, and surreptitiously hiding their plentiful stores. Guessing at the citizens’ real motives, the soldiers sigh and loudly concede that they will just have to resort to making stone soup.
With the villagers watching, the soldiers are poised to share the secret of making a meal from stones. But of course, they’ll need a kettle filled with water and some firewood. Well, the people can spare that much. The soldiers carefully choose their stones and drop them in the pot, stirring the “broth” satisfyingly. If only they had some seasonings! The children run to fetch salt and pepper, and soon the whole town is producing hidden foodstuffs to make that rich soup even better. The evening ends with a celebration and a truly fine repast.
Brown’s version of this old moral tale is sweetly humorous, letting children in on the soldiers’ scheme of teaching their hosts a lesson in generosity. The three travelers aren’t simply greedy: they are genuinely in need, and ultimately give quite as much as they take. The unwitting villagers discover a sense of community, and enjoy the fruits of their own labors far more for having shared them.
Told in story-telling fashion and sprinkled with dialogue that expresses a range of attitudes, Stone Soup is fun and easy to read aloud. It is long enough for children to feel the progression of a good story, but moves quickly enough to capture even a toddler’s attention. Young eyes will discover many details and patterns in the simple shaded two-tone illustrations. The story is styled as an old one, with the soldiers sporting uniforms reminiscent of the early nineteenth-century and the villagers decked as French peasants; but it is a familiar kind of old, assuring us that kindness and hospitality – like a warm bowl of soup – are not limited to any place or time.
As our gardens begin to yield their bounties and world events cause us to regard our neighbors with new appreciation, sit down and read Stone Soup with your children. It is surely a dish we should all learn to make.
If you liked this book, you might also enjoy: Always Room for One More by Sorche Nic Leodhas and illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian