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Stone Soup - A Classic Children’s Story Enjoyed by Children and Adults

Updated on December 20, 2014

A Book Remembered from My Own Childhood

One of the books that I remember from my own childhood was a story that the teacher read to us when I was in kindergarten and was also read periodically by Bob Keeshan on his Captain Kangaroo television show.

The book was called Stone Soup and was a tale about three hungry soldiers who come upon a village while returning home, on foot, from a war.

The book, which was first published in 1947, was written and beautifully illustrated by Marcia Brown who won a Caldecott Medal that year for the book.

A Classic Folktale

The story itself is an old folktale with many variations. However, all of the variations are centered around the same theme of a hungry person or persons offering to trade a secret recipe for making soup out of water and an easily available, but inedible object such as stones, buttons, nails, etc. in exchange for real food.

Unlike today where food is so plentiful and available that our society’s problem with food is obesity, these stories were created in past eras when food was scarce and starvation was an ever present concern.

Wars, weather, insects, disease and other natural factors were a common threat to crops and livestock and any one of these common disasters could destroy crops and livestock leaving villagers with little or no food for the coming year.

A second aspect of the story is that while food was not plentiful, it was not totally scarce either. Peasants had long experience with tax collectors and marauding soldiers trying to confiscate their food and, as a result, had learned to quickly hide their food supplies when tax collectors or soldiers were in the area.

Of course the soldiers were not dumb and knew that the villagers had food. The challenge was to gain access to the food. Since three tired soldiers against an entire village was not good odds, the soldiers were forced to use persuasion.

While Obesity is a Problem Today - Hunger & Starvation Were the Big Problem in Times Past

With access to sufficient food being an everyday concern, it is not surprising that peasants in the countryside were open to listening to the ideas of these charlatans who claimed to be able to make a soup out of stones or the other non-food objects.

Once the person with the recipe got the interest of the people he would proceed to begin boiling water with the stones or other object in it. As he stirred the mixture over the fire, the soldier would begin to casually begin mention that the soup could be improved by the addition of other food objects such as potatoes, carrots, dried meat, etc. He would mention just one item and that would result in someone with a supply of that item offering to go home to see if he or she could find piece or two of the desired ingredient in some corner of their home.

In this way the skeptical villagers became caught up in the process and began to volunteer that they just might have a potato or two or carrot laying around and go off to get the food item to add to the soup. This process continued as the soup simmered and, by the time it was ready to be eaten, it was a real soup.

Marcia Brown's Story is Based on the French Version of the Folktale

Marcia Brown took the French version of the fable which had soldiers as the ones offering the stone soup recipe.

In addition to producing a very interesting retelling of the old folktale, she also produced some eyecatching illustrations to accompany her text.

While the story itself is great, it is her illustrations which set this book apart and make it memorable. While many years have passed since this story was read to me as a child, the story and pictures remain in my mind.

In Brown’s rendition, the soldiers were three, rather likable, soldiers making their way home on foot after being discharged.

While I don’t recall any particular era of history being mentioned in the story, the soldier’s uniforms and the dress on the villagers as depicted in Brown’s illustrations closely resemble those worn at the time of the American Revolution.

This would place the story in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century.

Story of How 3 Soldiers Win Over a Village

The story opens with the three soldiers, tired and hungry, spotting a village in the distance.

The soldiers long for a good meal and a comfortable bed, but they know from past experience that they will not receive a friendly reception from the villagers. They also know that the canny villagers will have spotted them and have their food well hidden before the soldiers will reach the village.

The result is that the soldiers are initially greeted by a group of sullen villagers who immediately inform the soldiers that they have no room in their homes to put the soldiers up for the night and no food for themselves let alone any to share with the soldiers.

The soldiers respond by saying that they could make a batch of stone soup that could feed everyone - but only if they had a large kettle, which they didn’t. One villager immediately takes the bait and volunteers that he thinks he might have such a kettle somewhere in his home.

The kettle is produced, is filled with water and three large stones. It is then placed over a fire to heat and cook the stones.

As they stir the simmering soup the soldiers comment that, if they only had a bit of onion the soup would have better flavor. This spurs a villager to come forward and volunteer that he may just have an old onion in his home.

The soldiers continue with the if only we had a bit of … line and each time a villager pretends to remember that he or she thinks there is a bit of that item in his or her home.

In the end there is a whole kettle of great tasting soup. The soldiers and villagers then sit down to an evening of feasting and dancing in the village square after which each of the soldiers is invited to a villager’s home and given a bed to sleep in for the night.

This Classic That is now Widely Available on the Web

Like all well told folktales, Marcia Brown’s well written and well-illustrated Stone Soup is an entertaining book for both a child and the adult reading it to the child.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find it in the library or bookstores when my children were young. However, thanks to the Web and eCommerce, copies can now be purchased from numerous vendors on the Internet.

© 2011 Chuck Nugent


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    • meow48 profile image

      meow48 6 years ago from usa

      really like this, i did not know this fable came from france, when i first heard of this tale, it was placed during the depression with a hobo who was the instigator. even wrote a hub about this version, i am grateful to find out its origin. thankyou so much.

    • juliannekristine profile image

      juliannekristine 6 years ago from Philippines

      Interesting story book... soup made out of hardwares. haha. that's funny!

    • Sunshyne1975 profile image

      Sunshyne1975 6 years ago from California, US

      Great hub. Every year my children perform this play at school for thanksgiving. They take all of the versions of the story and combine them and make their own. Voted up!

    • Rose West profile image

      Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan

      I remember reading Stone Soup as a kid - good memory :)

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Enjoyed. Wish everyone had the "Stone Soup" philosophy! Voted up!

    • sweetie1 profile image

      sweetie1 6 years ago from India

      Hi chuck though i haven't heard this story but this is true still in some part of world where they donot like soldiers or afraid of them. Yes you are right about the excess food today as compared to even say 20 years back. Voting it up

    • Granny's House profile image

      Granny's House 6 years ago from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time

      My granddaughter's prek made this soup and invited the grandparents to come and eat it with them When it was our turn to fill our bowls, I looked into the pot and asked her, where are the stones? I did not get any. LOl

      Thanks for the memories

    • carolapple profile image

      carolapple 6 years ago from Suffolk Virginia

      Thank you for recalling that book to my memory. It is one of the greats. It makes me think of all the other picture book classics I remember from childhood: "Make Way for Duckings", "Harold and the Purple Crayon" (my all-time favorite), "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel", "The Little House" - my list keeps getting longer!

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 6 years ago from Jamaica

      Good Morning Chuck.

      It is amazing how different cultures in different parts of the world connect through folklore.

      I grew up hearing my grandparents saying that when there is no food in the house, they would put a pot with water on the fire, get some nice clean stones, season the pot with thyme, scallion and salt, and let it cook in order for no one to know that they have nothing to eat. I guess pride plays a big role there.

    • FCEtier profile image

      Chip 6 years ago from Cold Mountain

      I miss Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Greenjeans and Bunny Rabbit!

      Oh, and the magic drawing board!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Great hub. My children were first introduced to this wonderful story from my father. We moved in with my parents temporarily following my divorce. One day, they helped Grampa in his garden. He told them they were going to make a pot of stone soup and asked them to each pick out a stone for this soup. They carefully chose one and then he instructed them to wash it off real well, which they did. Following that they dropped the stones into the pot on the stove and helped Grampa add the rest of the vegetables making a delicious pot of Vegetable Stone Soup. My kids (now in their 30's) still talk about this adventure with Grampa.

      Thanks for the memory. :)

    • Beth100 profile image

      Beth100 6 years ago from Canada

      One of our favorite stories! When my older three were young, we made stone soup as we read the story. They now read it to their younger siblings -- with the ingredients and pot ready! :) Thank you for reminding me of this great story.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Great! I never had the book, but my father used to tell the story, "Soupe aux Cailloux" ... his childhood background was as a French speaker, and that is the French name of the story, (pronounced, 'soup oh ki-you'). It was funny--he named the tale in French, but always told it in English.

      Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

    • ThePracticalMommy profile image

      Marissa 6 years ago from United States

      What a classic! I loved this book as a child as well.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 6 years ago from California Gold Country

      Yes, i remember the story , as well. When I was in school the kindergarten teachers actually made stone soup-- having the children bring in an onion, potato, carrot, and whatever.They probably wouldn't be allowed to do that these days, but it certainly made the story memorable, back then.