Boy, I loved Stone Soup when I was a kid. I checked it out of the library more times than I can count. And when I saw it in the children’s room last week, I grabbed it, for nostalgia’s sake. Those illustrations in orange and muted shades of brown … gosh, it was like winging back in time to my childhood.
And yet it has a pretty good message for the grown-up me, too.
If you haven’t read Stone Soup, it’s the story of three French soldiers traveling back home from the war. They’re tired and hungry, but when they stop in a small village to ask for food and shelter, they are turned away by sad-faced peasants who say that they have nothing to give. (In truth, these peasants have hidden all of their food so as to keep it for themselves.) Nothing daunted, the clever soldiers come up with an idea: they’ll make stone soup. So they get a big pot and fill it with water and put in three smooth rocks. Before you know it, the village folk are voluntarily contributing their hidden carrots, cabbages, beef, and potatoes, because while stone soup is good, it’s even better with all those other things in it. And before you know it, the whole village has made a satisfying soup, with enough for everyone to share.
So how is this story spiritual? Well, for one thing, it’s about the rewards of sharing freely with others. I have to say, the peasants really tick me off at the beginning of the story, pulling those long faces and saying that they have nothing to give when there are all those cabbages hidden under the bed. But — let’s be honest — I often do the same thing myself. I don’t hoard fresh produce, but I can be stingy with my free time, my undivided attention, or at times my material resources. There is a fine line between giving to others and conserving what you need for yourself, and I think I tend to err too much on the conservation side. This story challenges me to look a bit more closely at what I share and what I don’t, and to decide what else I can — and should — give.
It’s also about community, and that’s another place where the story touches a nerve. I’m hardly a rugged individualist, but I am an introvert, and sometimes it takes a certain amount of energy for me to engage with others, just because that’s not my default setting. And yet I value the groups, formal and informal, to which I belong — my network of friends, my church community, the folks in my neighborhood, my extended family. Those people been there for me in many situations when I needed help, and I’ve done the same for many of them. Plus they are a heckuva lot of fun to be with, and we all need fun, far more than we need to stay home and watch Seinfeld reruns.
The benefits of sharing and of community: that’s what kids and adults can take from this book. And, like the peasants, sometimes I need to be reminded of the value of both. I need reminding that a soup made and shared by all is a lot tastier than cabbage eaten alone.
Stone Soup, written and illustrated by Marcia Brown.
Copyright 2012 Ginny Kubitz Moyer