Monday, September 29, 2008

Cactus Soup (Genre 2-Traditional Literature)

Kimmel, Eric A. 2004. Cactus Soup. Ill. by Phil Huling. New York: Marshall Cavendish. ISBN 0-7614-5155-2.
Plot Summary
The story adapter sets the traditional story of Stone or Nail Soup around the Mexican Revolution. In the story, the Mayor and townspeople of San Miguell see soldiers heading in their direction and fear the soldiers will eat all of their food. They quickly hide all of the food in wells, trees, and even underground. They also change their appearence to look poor and hungry. When the soldiers arrive, they are told there is no food for them so the captain begins to prepare cactus soup for the town and soldiers. When the captain asks for a touch of this or a pinch of that, the townspeople go to their stashes resulting in a fine fiesta of food, music, and dancing that lasted all night long. The adapter also provides a few notes and definitions for the setting and language of the story.
Critical Analysis
This is a fine adaptation of the traditional story. The illustrations capture the setting and characters beautifully. The plot is humorous in that the townspeople set out to fool the soldiers but are in turn fooled by the soldiers. Yet, there is really no mean spirit to the tricks. In the end, a good time is had by all.

The subtle messages behind the story may be missed by the youngest readers/listeners but most will at least recognize the humor and irony of townspeople trying to trick the soldiers out of eating their food but in turn being tricked into providing a fiesta. Keen and critical readers will also recognize that the townspeople tricked themselves in thinking they had to hide their food. If they all contribute a little, there is plenty for all. This story proves to be a very funny way to teach the concept of sharing.
Professional Review Excerpts
From School Library Journal This Mexican variant of "Stone Soup" calls for a single cactus thorn as its base. The army captain repeatedly teases the poor people of San Miguel with the lament, "Why ask for something you don't have?," seducing the curious folk into adding still more ingredients like chiles, vegetables, and meat to his magical concoction, a yummy comestible that inevitably leads to a fiesta. Huling's elongated watercolor cartoons provide just the right playful, brown-hued visual temperament for the all-round festive deception. The glossary is welcome but, oddly, lacks a pronunciation guide. Even stranger, though, is the postscripted author's note, bizarrely politicizing an otherwise clever cultural retelling (although it gives the artist an opportunity to tack on interesting portraits of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata).

From Booklist *Starred Review* Kimmel once recast the gingerbread boy as a traditional Mexican foodstuff in The Runaway Tortilla (2000); illustrator Huling's previous picture book, Puss in Cowboy Boots (2002), plunked Charles Perrault's wily cat in the Southwest. How appropriate, then, that the two should team up to create a chile-infused recipe for stone soup. Their version is set in the Mexico of the Zapatistas, and it's a regiment of revolutionaries who suggest cactus-spine soup to villagers made stingy by a mayor who warns that soldiers "eat like wolves!" But cactus soup, of course, isn't as tasty without salt, pepper, chiles, onions, beans, and a chicken or two . . . "But why ask for what you don't have?" Soon missing ingredients materialize by the basketful, resulting in a splendid feast for the hungry soldiers and a rousing fiesta for all. Kimmel's relaxed storytelling, accompanied by a glossary for those whose Spanish vocabulary may not encompass camote (sweet potato) and alcalde (mayor), is perfectly matched by the sun-baked watercolors by Huling, whose lanky villagers dwarfed by looming sombreros, swaybacked horses, and bowlegged vaqueros evoke both the exaggerated perspectives of Mexican muralists and the tongue-in-cheek universe of Speedy Gonzales. A savory stew to serve alongside traditional versions of the classic tale.
~ Naturally, this book lends itself to a compare/contrast study of the story Stone Soup.
~ This story can also be used in a study of stories from various cultures asking the students to look for details specific to the cultures of the story.
~ The story could also be used as an introduction to a math lesson discussing measurement tools and their use and importance.

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