Tag Archives: Jon J. Muth

Sharing Stone Soup – part two

If you read my last blog post you know we have been enjoying the traditional tale of Stone Soup, focusing on Jon J. Muth’s quiet and endearing retelling.  Many times when G and I feature a story of the week together, I hone in on specific activities we may do together.  This story provided us with an immediate and obvious one – make our own stone soup!  Now, for those of you who love to collect new recipes, sadly, I cannot enrich your cookbook with a new one.  In fact, I rarely cook like that.  I tend to cook what is already in my pantry and fridge, sprinkling in this dried spice and that herb.  In fact, the very nature of the story seems to suggest we not come to our great soup pot with expectations and specific cooking formulas, but rather with open hearts, attitudes of spontaneity, and a willingness to share.

G scrounged around in his room and toy bins for three round, smooth stones.  Doesn’t every little boy already have some of these lying randomly about?  He collected some small enough that fit easily in his two-fisted, preschool-sized grasp.  Yes, indeed, we scrubbed them clean and dropped them into a small pot on the stovetop.  In our large dutch oven we sautéed finely minced carrots, celery, garlic and onion in olive oil and let them become translucent.  Just as in Muth’s story I allowed G to suggest random things to throw into our soup.  DSC_0029Carrots.  Mushrooms.  Peppers. Chicken. Broth. Broccoli.  I added in everything G suggested.  Well, almost everything.  I did convince him apples may not be the best match for our soup.  He was very careful as he proudly chopped carrots all by himself.  (He was heavily supervised!) We let it simmer and ate it in remembrance of the giving villagers.

It never ceases to amaze me how much more readily children will eat the food they prepare themselves.  Fortunately, we had several of these little sweet peppers, because G ate five himself while slicing them for the soup.DSC_0034

Friends have told me of families who meet together at reunions to contribute by household to a great pot of stone soup.  What a wonderful way to teach and illustrate the beauty of community, sharing and belonging!  What an interesting idea for co-ops, play groups, neighborhood parties or church groups!  If we all bring what we can, we can create something delicious and amazing.  And it will be surprisingly different each time. Isn’t that the message of the tale?

Something magical began to happen among the villagers.  As each person opened their heart to give, the next person gave even more.  And as this happened, the soup grew richer and smelled more delicious.

Sharing Stone Soup – part one

 


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With Chinese New Year approaching in just over a week, I have been reflecting on great children’s literature based in Chinese history and culture. Chinese New Year 2015 is February 19, the Year of the Goat. For older kids who are able to enjoy chapter books there are Grace Lin’s The Year of the Dog, I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Wilson, and Lloyd Alexander’s The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen.  However, this last week G and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading and re-reading Stone Soup.  Many of you may be wondering what Stone Soup has to do with China.  Over the centuries, many countries have produced their own versions of Stone Soup or Button Soup, mostly originating in Europe.  I grew up reading a version that took place in the American colonies right around the time of the Revolution.  My favorite of them all, though, has become Jon J. Muth’s retelling set in a tiny Chinese village near the Great Wall.  Three Buddhist monks look down on a simple collection of houses as they discuss how happiness is achieved.  As is typical with Muth, his approach is very zen, yet nothing is lost with G.  From the black cat which winds its tail about the water-color characters and peeks charmingly from over a giant pot to the wise, hospitable young girl dressed in royal yellow, G has taken this version in wholeheartedly.

Here is what we did:

Day One: Read the story

Drawing lesson – For those of you know me, don’t laugh.  I am honestly the last person who needs to be teaching art, unless it is simply art appreciation.  Yet, this was a simple lesson of recognizing the use of shapes.  We turned to the story’s final page and noticed how the stone bridge created a trianglular shape.  I attempted to help him draw his own two-point perspective and he included simple, waving and smiling figures.  They were happy because they had learned how to make stone soup (see my upcoming blog post).

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Day Two: Read the story again (no, children do not necessarily get bored like we might from reading the same story repetitively.  As long as it is an engaging story the familiarity of the book will only serve to boost their confidence.)

Math with rocks, wood blocks and figures – The traveling Buddhist monks in Muth’s book collect three rocks for their soup.  They are stacked in the illustration from the largest on the ground to the smallest precariously perched as the head of the Buddha himself. (G thought it resembled a snowman.)  We explored our manipulative arranging them from largest to smallest, then smallest to largest, and finally creating different patterns.

Day Three – Read the story, of course.

Geography – Explore China on the map.  Some people say it is shaped like a chicken.  I can almost see it.  G did find where he imagined the beak to be.  We looked at photos of the Great Wall of China, colored a printout map which I found online, and learned a few Chinese phrases.

Ni hao ma = Hello, how are you?

Hun hao, she she = I am fine.  Thank you.

We ran out of time that day, but another fun activity could have been to build our own Great Wall out of blocks.  We like Citiblocs around here.

Day Four – Read the story

DSC_0038Social Studies – Create your own village of community people.  Early in the story Muth names some of the villagers who were suspiciously lurking and peering secretively through windows.  They were the doctor, scholar, tea merchant, carpenter and seamstress.  We gathered up supplies and toys from about the house and spread them throughout the living room, giving space to each community helper.  But, instead of acting stingy, we shared our talents.  G gave me a shot, served me tea and read me a book.

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Day Five –  Read the story

Music and culture – Here we played with shadows, learning the farther away from our light source, the smaller the shadow.  Shadow puppetry is a Chinese traditional art form, and we had fun not only with our hands, but also S’s marionette Chinese dragon puppet.  Muth does a fabulous job with details throughout his illustrations.  Not only is the clothing seemingly accurate down to the tiny shoes, but also the prominent red lanterns and musical instruments.  The erhu and the pipa are specific instruments in Chinese folk music and play a role in the villagers’ eventual celebration feast.  You can watch a video here like we did.

There is a day six in our study of Stone Soup. Can you guess what it is?  Come back in a couple of days to see if you are right.

In Season

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of each.

                                 -Henry David Thoreau

If I may take this quote horribly from its context, I enjoy its apparent sound, severed though it may be from its original body.  Our family lives in a part of the world which truly experiences the variety of seasons.  While we struggle at this time of year not to complain and bemoan being shut up indoors, or shoveling the driveway yet again, I am inspired by God’s creativity and regularity in fulfilling his promises of creation.

The day is yours, and yours also the night;

you established the sun and moon.

It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth;

you made both summer and winter.

Psalm 74:16-17

We may be covered in snow and ice, yet the daffodil and crocus are indeed slowly rousing themselves from an exceedingly long winter’s slumber.  They may not be visible here in the Midwest, yet we have the promise of their existence.  Their return is imminent.  By faith and hope I look forward to a dot of yellow appearing in between the browns and greys. Even now  I smile as I notice the buds swelling, coloring the trees out front.  Sandhill cranes have been spotted.  The robins have returned, not in full numbers, but occasionally they sing their sweet songs in the mornings.

G has been wanting to step outside a bit more.  I ache for the day – may it be soon-  when we can walk through the wooded trails, seeking out newly migrated birds, shoots and buds about the trees.  The boys are ready to mount their bicycles and taste a bit of pre-teen freedom.

While we praise the Creator for all his handiwork, we are particularly mindful at this time of changing seasons, transformative times.  Good and Holy One, may you renew my heart as the rest of the world awakens from its dormant, frozen state.

And so, here are a few preschool books on the wonders of the changing seasons which G and I would like to share with you.  All four of these gems are beautiful in their brevity, as well as inviting illustrations.  There is so much to draw readers in on each page that G and I can write our own stories through our discussion of the pictures.

First Comes Spring by Anne Rockwell moves the reader through each season with Bear Child.  The same neighborhood scene is displayed for each season and the same question is posed, “What is everyone doing?”  G loves to name everyone’s activities.  “They are jumping in puddles/camping/ picking pumpkins/sledding.”

Circle of Seasons by Gerda Muller is a gorgeous book with a nostalgic feel.  The illustrations have an endearing 1940s flavor, although the book was originally printed in the Netherlands in the mid 1990s.  The text is simple, focusing on the cyclical nature of seasons.  G and I drew circles in the air to show how spring always comes back around.  The children’s expressions as they laugh, play and learn make you want to join right in.
City Dog, Country Frog is a story told by Mo Willems and with watercolor illustrations by Jon J. Muth.  These are among two of my favorites creating children’s books today, but usually with very different styles.  Here we have a sweet story of friendship wrapped in the context of the changing seasons.  There is a bit of a surprise ending that could help initiate some gentle discussions with your preschooler.
Finally, Carry Me! by Rosemary Wells is a lovely, shimmery bedtime read.  Written in sections, the author encourages parents to carry, talk and sing to their children throughout the seasons of the year.  This book has quite organically become part of our family vocabulary.  Once I wrap G up in his towel after bath time, he invariably asks, “Carry me.”  As we dance down the hall to his bedroom we sing together, “Carry me over the river.  Carry me under the sea.  Twirl me away in the evening air.  Fall asleep with me in your chair.”  Sweet memories regardless of the season.
Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air…..
Spring, we eagerly await your return.  We already love your every leaf.  May we be compared to a
“tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.” Psalm 1:3