August 17th, 2012

  • pylduck

Ying Chang Compestine and Stéphane Jorisch's The Real Story of Stone Soup

I'm really interested in the stone soup folk tale in its many variations, and I have long had as a research idea doing a study of the range of children's picture books published in English based on this story. My favorite ones are about a communal ethic, where the lesson is that working together and contributing your meager portions to a shared project (making soup) creates something far greater than what you could've accomplished yourself. The other major version of the story is about the trickster figure who convinces stingy people to feed him a delicious meal.

Ying Chang Compestine and Stéphane Jorisch's The Real Story of Stone Soup (Dutton Children's Books, 2007) is more in the vein of the latter type though there is an interesting ironic twist to the story brought out strongly by the illustrations. This book is one in which the dynamic between text and image is really intriguing, where the stated facts in the words clearly belie the representation of the story's events in the images.



Compestine offers a note before the story explaining that the "real" story of stone soup comes from southeast China in Xi Shuang Ban Na where the fishermen created stone soup as an actual dish. It'd be interesting to trace the historical origins of stone soup as a story and as a dish as well, but I'm no folklorist nor an historian.

In the version she tells, a lazy fisherman claims to have created stone soup. He tells the story of going fishing with the three Chang brothers. He describes them as incredibly lazy and himself as very hardworking, having to pick up the slack for the brothers (whom he has hired but pays only a little since he claims they are lazy). In one two-page spread, Jorisch's illustrations show the brothers busy hauling fish out of the ocean with nets while the fisherman sleeps at the other end of the boat. The accompanying text reads, "Even with three of them, I did most of the work, and I kept the hardest job for myself. I steered the boat."

After his strenuous nap, the fisherman has the brothers pull up to shore for lunch. They realize that they did not bring the cooking pot (the fisherman was supposed to pack it but blames the others). The brothers set about explaining that they do not need a pot. They dig a hole in the ground, line it with banana leaves, and build a fire next to it. They choose stones, listening carefully to them, and explain to the fisherman that the stones are special ones. They find a fish stone, a vegetable stone, and an egg stone, throwing all of them into the fire.

As you can see, in this version of the story, the trickster is the three brothers instead of the man who claims to have invented stone soup. The brothers lead the fisherman to believe that he is the one who has helped them make this delicious soup even though they ingeniously think of a number of ways to get around their lack of cooking and eating utensils.

I definitely need to keep this version in mind for when or if I ever get around to writing about the stone soup story in picture books!
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