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Stone Soup: 3 Versions of a Traditional Fantasy

Updated on March 22, 2018

Stone Soup by Jon J. Muth

This version of Stone Soup takes place in China. Instead of hungry soldiers, the main characters are Buddhist monks who seek happiness. The village they come to is filled with people who are very fearful of not just strangers but their neighbors as well. The monks go to the town square and begin making their soup with water from the well and a small pot they have already. A young and brave girl approaches them and asks them what they are doing. She is wearing yellow, which in China is symbolic for royalty. The names of the monks are Hok, Lok, and Sieu, which are prominent in Chinese folklore. They are deity’s bestowing health, wealth, and prosperity. The three stones are piled to form the shape of a Budha. The willow trees present at the end of the story, meaning departure. Stated message: “Sharing makes us all richer.”

Stone Soup by John W. Stewig

Instead of three soldiers, Stewig’s version of Stone Soup is a about a daughter, Grethel, who leaves her mother to find knowledge of how make their live easier. By her third day of traveling, she has run out of food and becomes desperately hungry. She visits three homes where the villagers make up excuses as to why they can’t afford to spare any food. Unlike the other stories, in this one, Grethel claims she has a magic stone. By the end of the story, the villagers keep the stone so they can remake the soup, and Grethel leaves the village stating, “now I know how to keep food on our table.” There are no indications of where this story takes place. The name Grethel means pearl and is Greek in origin. Message implied: A lot can be accomplished when working together.

Stone Soup by Marcia Brown

Marcia Brown retold and illustrated this old French tale about soldiers who convince villagers they will create soup using three large smooth stones. The villagers are curious and begin to bring vegetables and other ingredients to make the soup taste even better. There are European influences such as one of the villagers being named Francoise. The soldiers are wearing read coats which were typical for soldiers of the British Army worn from the late 17th century to the early 20th century. The red coat later became a ceremonial garment, which may explain why the primary color of clothing worn by the villagers in Stone Soup is red. Message implied: By putting resources together, a feast can be made.

Awards: Marcia Brown’s Stone Soup won a Caldecott Medal in 1947. Brown also received the Caldecott Medal for Once a Mouse, 1962 and Cinderella, 1955.

Ways to Use the Book in the Classroom and/or Library

Recommended for grades 1, 2, and 3

~ Teach students about folktales and how they change as they are retold again and again. ~ Teach students about fractions using soup ingredients. ~ Create a classroom soup using items the students bring in and demonstrate the benefits of sharing. Show that people can overcome scarcity by working together and combining resources. ~ Have students write their own “Stone Soup” story using different characters, ingredients, and settings. ~ Recreate the story in class by acting it out. ~ While teaching about the culture of China, introduce traditional Chinese food and symbolism. ~ Give each child a smooth stone. Tell them to pretend it is magic. What can it do? They can make up a story of their own with their magic stone. ~ Have students retell the story using connectors (first, next, then, after…). Record their retelling and read aloud. Create a large class book and have students illustrate the pages in small groups.

Books Reviewed

Muth, Jon J. Stone Soup. Scholastic Press: New York, March 1, 2003. Stewig, John Warren. Stone Soup. Holiday House: New York, 1991. Brown, Marcia. Stone Soup. Charles Scribner’s Sons: New York, 1975.


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