Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Stone Soup

Again, thanks to Kate Hendrix for this reflection that pulls in history!

Brown, M. (1947). Stone soup. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons.   

 “There’s nothing in the fridge, so I guess we’ll just have to make stone soup for dinner” were words I heard from time to time out of my mom’s mouth.  To be honest, I had read Stone Soup before a LONG time ago.  It may actually have been one of the first books I ever read on my own!  So, when I saw it on the list in the textbook as an excellent example of traditional literature, I just had to revisit it. 

 This book fits almost all of the characteristics of traditional literature: simple plot, vague characters and setting, fast-paced action, an easily recognizable theme, and, of course, a happy ending.  The simple plot revolves around a village in a “strange land” that has been visited by a trio of soldiers from “the wars.”  Because the story is French, I thought it was possible that “the wars” may be a reference to what would become known as the Hundred Years War of the 14th and 15th centuries between England and France.  The villagers are wary of these tired and hungry visitors and tell them that they have no food or lodging to offer them.  Considering the possibility that there may actually have been food that the villagers were hiding (which indeed they were), the soldiers resolve to make stone soup.  They set a cauldron of water on a fire and place three round stones in it along with salt and pepper.  Eventually, the villagers all offer ingredients like carrots, cabbage, potatoes, beef (that they have “miraculously” relocated) , etc. to add to the soup.  Large tables are set up in the square and the whole village turns out for the feast of the most amazing soup any of them had ever tasted.  After a long night of eating, drinking, dancing, and singing, the villagers and the soldiers are exhausted, and, even though upon their arrival the soldiers were told they were not welcome to sleep in anyone’s house, they are now invited to sleep in the homes of the three most prominent townspeople: the priest, the mayor, and the baker…and naturally I’m not going to divulge the VERY end…  The action moves quickly, and there are no subplots to muddy the waters of the main events of the plot. 

Marcia Brown’s illustrations help to enhance the action of the plot.  Unlike many of the picture books I’ve read for this course, with the exception of Jumanji, the illustrations have very few colors.  They’re not monochromatic, but the only non black or white color that appears is an orange-ish red.  Because there’s not a lot of color to distract the eye, the reader is able to visualize the process of involving the entire village in the preparation of the soup.  Also, the facial expressions of the soldiers help to foreshadow their craftiness in finagling some dinner and a place to sleep out of the suspicious villagers.   

 If I were to teach Stone Soup to a class of elementary students, we might whip up our own stone soup with foods that are commonly found in our area, asking all of the students to bring something in to add to the soup.  Naturally, there would need to be some control over what would go into the soup, and it would make most sense to assign certain ingredients to particular students.  The important part of the lesson would be, though, to make sure that all of the students contributed to the making of the soup in some way, even if it was a task as simple as stirring the pot.  This lesson might translate well to the concept of teamwork, where students could work in smaller groups, perhaps to collaborate on creating something else – an art project, writing a story, etc.

The simple, easily recognizable theme is that when enough people share their resources, the result will benefit all those who contribute.  There’s probably a theme of the necessity of extending welcome to anyone who needs it, but, in light of the horrors against innocent peasants committed by many soldiers in the Hundred Years War and other wars, I really don’t blame the villagers for being skeptical of the motives of the soldiers! 

 BIG QUESTION: What times in your life have you witnessed the contributions of many people coming together to benefit a group?  Have you ever been part of such an effort? These don’t have to be tangible contributions…perhaps people are sharing of their time and/or talents as opposed to actual items.    

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