Pumpkin Soup

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Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper, book reviewIt might seem a strange combination, but a bagpiping Cat, a Squirrel with a banjo and a small singing Duck live together, seemingly in harmony, in a little house in a wood. We first see them through the window, have great fun together.

Their diet consists mainly of pumpkin soup – homemade, of course. Each has a particular task in the process: Cat slices the pumpkin, Squirrel stirs in the water and Duck tips in just enough salt. This never changes. There appears to be domestic bliss as they slurp their soup, play their song and cuddle up in bed with a quilt made by a joint effort. But the fact that duck still has his eyes open in bed gives us a clue that there is a current of dissatisfaction beneath the calm surface.

Duck has aspirations to be Head Cook, so one day he gets up early and makes the spoon hanging on the wall fall with his beak – ‘KER-PLONK! Down it clattered’. In the bedroom Duck announces that it is his turn to stir the soup. A huge row ensues as the others don’t want to change the way they do things. Signs and symbols in the illustration suggest that they are shouting unrepeatable words.

Duck packs his things in a barrow and leaves. Cat and Squirrel are initially angry but sure he will return. Duck, however, doesn’t come for breakfast or lunch. Cat watches the door and Squirrel paces the floor until soup-time. The soup they make without Duck is too salty; they’re not hungry and tears drip into the soup. The picture on this page shows Squirrel looking at his tearful reflection in his spoon. Realising they should have let Duck stir, they decide to go and look for him.

Searching the scary dark woods, Cat and Squirrel fear for Duck alone with foxes, wolves, witches and bears. They are afraid he fell over a cliff edge, but Squirrel finds nothing when he climbs down a rope to see. Duck, they think, may have found some better friends who allowed him to help – the picture here shows mice and birds queueing up at Duck’s well-lit soup kiosk. They head for home, and I can assure you that the story ends happily, except that Duck wants to have a go on the bagpipes after supper…

The text is well broken up with charming little illustrations that I can imagine may appeal more to some young children than the pictures that take up full pages. Most parents will delight in these, I’m sure. The pumpkin, Squirrel and the quilt are all painted in warm, orangey-brown tones that give a cosy feel in contrast to the scenes of the wood where scary creatures and witches threaten the wanderers. It is easy to see why this book won the Kate Greenaway Award for Children’s Illustration.

This is definitely a book to be read aloud, probably to children aged three up. It would be a difficult one for a child learning to read, as there is quite a bit of text on some pages along with a few lengthy words such as ’embroidered’ and ‘bagpiping’. It would, however, be an interesting challenge for a very able child who finds the usual reading-scheme books too easy.

The story of course deals with issues such as taking turns and allowing others to have a go at tasks or activities that appeal to them even if they may not be very skilled at first. It shows how angry we can be when we are selfish, but how sad we feel when we realise how much we have upset someone after they have gone away. Bravery is shown by Cat and Squirrel as they venture through the dark wood, and even more so when Squirrel descends the cliff face. Many lessons there, then, but it is overall a very enjoyable story with a touch of humour to end with.

I think it must be clear by now that I do thoroughly recommend this picture book. I have also used it as a basis for a drama session with three- to four-year-olds; there are only three main roles, but the other children enjoyed pretending to be witches or wolves and making scary noises. It lends itself particularly well to the wintery season and would make an ideal Christmas present. Otherwise, borrow from the library as I did.


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Pumpkin Soup
by Helen Cooper

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Written by frangliz

I have a degree in Fine Art but never actually worked in that field. After almost two years in Paris, I moved to Cairo and spent many years there teaching English language and literature in schools. I came back to the UK in 1999 and now work with young children. I also tutor students of all ages in French, English or Maths. I enjoy writing reviews in my spare time; another hobby of mine is photography. I have two sons who are now grown up, both working in IT.

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