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Picture Books that 'Stretch the Table'...Stories about Soups and Stews

When I think of FOOD, I think of ‘stretching the table’... always a place and a bowl for one more. When I think about stretching the table, I think about SOUP AND STEW. Soups are all kinds of wonderful...“nostalgia in a bowl.”


Soups, along with stews are some of my favourite meals. They are deliciously heartwarming, restorative and nourishing, but moreover, they are both dishes that st.r..e..t...c…...h, the table, stretch the meal, opening our homes to many. People with big hearts and welcoming arms and a ladle that dishes out with warmth and love, are the best kind of people. Sharing food is the easiest way of showing love and building a community.

There is nothing more heartwarming than a spontaneous invitation to partake in a meal. A wonderful gesture, which many of us seemed to have lost in our modern, selfish lives. A spontaneous invitation tells us that the people inviting us, truly want us to stay back, they are willing to share a part of a meal that was probably cooked for the number of members in the family. They are however willing to stretch themselves and their food to accommodate one/a few more.

In times when food was scarce, soup was made by throwing all sorts of ingredients in the pot and bringing it to a boil. It was a filling and frugal meal, and was a convenient dish for people across all economic classes. Since it was made from simple ingredients, it was easy to digest by both the ill and nutritious for the healthy too. Here we interpret ‘stretch’ in a different way. Soups and stews the perfect meal in a zero waste kitchen and in times that call for frugality. All kinds of leftovers can be popped together to create a new dish. The word soup comes from the French soupe, which comes from the Latin word suppa ("bread soaked in broth") or could possibly be from a Germanic source, from which also comes the word "sop", a piece of bread used to soak up soup or a thick stew. Interestingly the word restaurant means ‘restoring’. It was first used in France around the 16th century to refer to an inexpensive concentrated soup which was sold by street vendors. The ingenious vendors claimed that their soups were pick-me-up, recommending them highly to those suffering from physical exhaustion. In the 1700’s one such vendor opened a shop specializing in these restorative soups. Soon all eating establishments were being called restaurants. Given its ubiquitous presence across cultures it isn’t surprising that children's literature has many stories about soup or stews. Children learn sensorially, and a delicious bowl of soup triggers the sense of sight..the steam rising out of the bowl and the colours, smell...all the aromas of the blend of ingredients, hearing...the slurping that is bound to follow, taste...the pop of flavours and touch with its texture laden contents. Here are a few books based on soups and stews that I love to share with my students. Each of these books selected have been chosen because they are truly special to me...I have used them in my library sessions and they have brought about eager participation but also deep reflection….

THUKPA FOR ALL by Prabha Ram and Sheela Preuitt


One of my favorite books, and so I chose to start my list with this one. Tsering can not wait to get back home as his Abi (grandmother) was going to be cooking Thukpa for dinner...his favourite!!! As he walks back home, he invites friends and neighbours he meets along the way, to join them for a thukpa dinner. What starts out as a simple dinner for two is soon a little dinner party for many. The friends and neighbours arrive, each bringing a little contribution towards the thukpa, a ‘potluck’ of sorts, as each one contributes an ingredient to the pot. As grandma starts with the preparation, the power goes out, plunging the house into complete darkness. But the darkness does not affect Tsering, who is blind. He helps his Abi cook the thukpa using his sense of smell to seek out the spices she needs and his sense of touch to find the vegetables needed and roll out the dough to cut into the most perfect sized noodles. There is much laughter and joy shared when the power comes back on and the ‘Hot, hot Thukpa, hearty chunky thukpa, yummy, spicy thukpa’ is served to everyone.

THANK YOU, OMU! By Oge Mora

As Omu (pronounced Ah-moo) took a taste of the thick red stew she was cooking for her dinner, a scrumptious aroma floated out of her window and through the streets of her neighbourhood. Soon, she has a host of people entranced by the aroma and they all knock on her door. “What is that most delicious smell?”, they ask. “ It’s thick red stew” replies Omu, as she watches them licking their lips in anticipation. So she spoons out some of the stew which was meant to be her dinner, to share with each visitor. But one Omu opened her big fat pot of thick red stew for her dinner, it was empty. She was sad that she didn’t have any dinner left for herself, when she hears a knock on the door, yet again. It was every one who she had shared her stew with, not here for more...but rather to GIVE. They brought a range of dishes and they danced and celebrated as they ate together. While her big pot was empty, Omu’s heart was filled with happiness and love. A meal shared is always the best kind of meal ever.

STONE SOUP....a folktale with many versions.


There are many different versions of this story in picture book format. The story goes that soldiers/travellers/ monks who are passing through a town/ village, ask the townspeople for some food. But citing a famine or no reason at all, all they get are doors slammed in their faces. So they ask for a pot to make a delicious soup to share with everyone...Stone soup. The clever protagonists make the most delicious stone soup, as they nudge each of the folk who refused them food, to share just a wee bit of their food stock. This is a wonderful participatory story for the young ones, and a deep and meaningful story for the older children. There is a wonderful learning that every little contribution, even the teeniest, tiniest one, can come together for the common good.

CHICKEN SOUP, CHICKEN SOUP by Pamela Mayer


Sophia loves to eat Bubbe's Jewish chicken soup, but she also loves her Nai’ Nai’s Chinese chicken soup. Both soups are so delicious. Her Bubbe adds kreplach to her soup, and Nai Nai...wonton to hers. But how do the grandmothers react when their beloved Sophia mixes up kreplachs and wontons...to her they are both the same. ‘How can a little piece of dough stuffed with meat, floating in a soup, cause a problem?’ As Sophia learns about the soups, she realises that both are a little different, but a lot the same. And both are made with a secret ingredient...love. This is a wonderful book about the blend of two cultures, using soup as a metaphor.

FREEDOM SOUP by Tami Charles


On a snowy New Years day, far away from their country of origin, warmth engulfs a kitchen as a grandmother, Ti Gran and grand-daughter Belle, cook soup together with Haitian Kompa beats playing in the background. As they cook, the grandmother shares with the little one, the story of her people...how the Haitian people won freedom from colonialism and slavery. As she narrates she talks about why they cook a soup, the significance of cooking ‘freedom soup’, and why it’s eaten to celebrate. Joy and togetherness overflow as the extended family joins in to celebrate the new year--and partake in the delicious soup cooked by Belle and Ti Gran. As the family shares stories and compliments Belle on her soup, she realises that she is proud of her Haitian heritage...instilled by her Ti Gran year after year... "I puff out my shoulders wider than the Haitian mountains, stand so tall I can almost touch the moon.” A wonderful celebration of family, history, and culture...all in a bowl full of soup.

"Soup is a lot like a family. Each ingredient enhances the others; each batch has its own characteristics; and it needs time to simmer to reach full flavour." - Marge Kennedy

Ideas for EXTENSION ACTIVITIES:

1. Story Mapping (Primary and Elementary grades) Story mapping is a wonderful technique to recall the storyline. Children map the events in the story in sequence. Ideally this can be done with little illustrations which indicate a particular event in a story. Encourage children to retell the story using their own story map.

2. Enacting the story (Elementary grades) The first 3 books above especially lend themselves to being enacted. Older elementary children may use the book to write their own scripts and enact it for the class/group.

3. What could be considered a stew/soup from what we cook at home. What dishes from our own culture would include the elements of a stew and could stretch itself to accommodate more at the table? What are the ingredients that go into our local preparations? Older Elementary and secondary grade children can explore the economics of preparing a ‘soup or stew like’ traditional dish.

4. Compare and contrast different versions of Stone Soup (older Elementary and Secondary grades) Encourage children to read, compare and contrast different versions of Stone Soup. What differences do they notice? What elements of the story remain the same across the different versions? For older children, by tracing the origin of a particular version, what incidents in the country of origin, would prompt the selection of the main character? (monks/soldiers/wiseman...etc)

5. Exploring the Chicken soup for the Soul series of books. Why would an entire series of books be called Chicken soup for the soul? Is it a proper metaphor for a series of short stories? Secondary students may explore this series and debate about the title.

“It don’t take no mambo-jambo Fo’ to make dat soup of gumbo Jes’ you take whatever you got An’ keep it simmerin’ in de pot Min’ you gits up early to start it bilin’. Whet it gits to de table, you,ll have em smilin’” -Anonymous


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