Stone Soup Stories

Stone Soup Stories: Nail Soup and Cactus Soup

Let’s start with a little background. “Stone soup” stories are folk stories that have appeared in cultures around the world. In these stories a traveler or group of travelers stop somewhere along their journey, usually at a home or small village. Upon their arrival the people who live there claim to have no food to share. The travelers then declare that they will make some soup for everyone by boiling some water and adding a stone… or a nail… or an axe… or some other common item that is easy to find. The villagers become intrigued, and when the travelers mention how much better it will be with _______ (insert various ingredients here) the villagers are quick to offer up the food that they supposedly didn’t have in the beginning. As the travelers keep asking for different ingredients, the villagers get more and more excited, until eventually everyone enjoys a great meal. Sometimes this meal turns into a party.

Nail Soup

Nail Soup Cover

Written by: Eric Maddern

Illustrated by: Paul Hess

Published in 2007

Genre: Traditional Literature, Picture Book

Grade Level: K-3

In this version of the stone soup story, a traveler is following a forest path when it begins to snow. He comes across a small cottage where a woman is living. The woman tells him that her husband is away and tries to send him on his way. The traveler begs her to let him stay, and she eventually agrees to let him sleep on the floor by the fire. The woman claims to have no food in the house, so the traveler says he will share what he has. As he makes the soup with a rusty nail the woman becomes intrigued. The traveler then begins to mention how the soup would be so much better with certain ingredients, each time repeating the same phrase:

 “But… what one has to do without,

It’s no use thinking more about.” 

The woman brings him the ingredients he asks for, and they eventually end up having a great dinner including not only soup, but also bread, cheese, and red wine. During dinner they share stories and jokes, and by then end of the night the woman makes up the spare bed for the traveler to sleep in. The next morning he leaves, and it is hinted that the woman knew what he had been doing with the nail soup, but was happy to have met such a person.

Nail Soup Read

I thought the text and illustrations in this book were wonderful! Everything flowed together to make an interesting story. I also really liked the way the pages were set up. The illustrations filled up the space nicely, with some pages having a single large picture and others containing up to four smaller pictures. The overall effect was very enjoyable.

I am also very interested in the illustrator, Paul Hess. When reading his bio I found out that he puts his “signature” three blind mice into each book he illustrates. That little tidbit made me go back through the book to find the mice, and I was very excited when I did. I plan to look for more of his books, not only because I want to look for the mice, but also because his illustrations are really beautiful.

I really didn’t have any problems with Nail Soup. This particular version of the stone soup story was published in 2007 though, so I would be interested in reading some older versions of the story.

I give Nail Soup five stars!


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Cactus Soup 

Cactus Soup Cover

Written by: Eric A. Kimmel

Illustrated by: Phil Huling

Published in 2004

Genre: Traditional Literature, Picture Book

Grade Level: 1-4

In Cactus Soup, the traditional stone soup story takes place during the Mexican Revolution in the small town of San Miguel. When the townspeople spot a troop of soldiers headed their way, the mayor tells everyone to hide their food and put on old and dirty clothes. When the soldiers arrive the townspeople pretend to be very poor, so the captain announces that they will have to make cactus soup. All of the townspeople are immediately interested, so the captain sends them to get a kettle of water, a spoon, some wood, and a cactus thorn. As the captain makes the soup he starts mentioning how the soup could be improved with various ingredients, each time repeating:

“Why ask for what you don’t have?”

The townspeople are completely fooled and are quick to bring together the supplies he asks for. At the end of the day the town ends up having a big party with food, music, and dancing. When the soldiers ride away the next morning the mayor announces that they don’t need to worry about soldiers coming through anymore, as long as they remember how to make cactus soup.

Cactus Soup Read

I did not enjoy this book as much as Nail Soup. The story itself was good, but the random Spanish words thrown in were distracting. I’m not against stories incorporating words and phrases in other languages (in fact I usually love it), but it didn’t really work well in this book. I did like that all of the Spanish words were listed in a glossary in the back of the book. I think that the story could have flowed a bit easier if the words had been incorporated in a better way. The Spanish words (most of which are food related) do provide an opportunity to talk a little bit about culture and language, but there are other books that would be better able to accomplish this.

I did prefer the illustrations in Nail Soup, though the colors used in Cactus Soup were really beautiful. I felt like some of the body proportions were off, and the mayor’s nose and mustache made me think of a cartoon villain. Another problem was the fact that the dirty clothes the townspeople put on suddenly disappeared halfway through the story. This happened around the time they started collecting ingredients for the soup, so I suppose they could have changed their clothes on the way back, but that makes no sense to me.

I give Cactus Soup three stars.


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Oswin’s Review of Cactus Soup

Oswin Cactus Soup Read

I disliked this book because the book didn’t interest me. I first decided to read this book because the cover interested me. The pictures in the book are odd. They don’t look like people who would live in Mexico. The pictures are not realistic. The pictures also helped the story because they give a general idea of what’s going on in the story. I think younger kids would like this book because it has Spanish in it. My thought is that either 2nd or 3rd graders would read this book.

 I give Cactus Soup three stars.

3 stars pink


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