Saturday, March 06, 2021

Works Every Time! Quill Soup: a Stone Soup Story by Alan Durant

Noko the Porcupine was hungry. He had beeen traveling through the Valley of One Hundred Hills and hadn't eaten in days. He saw a village ahead. "Food and shelter at last!" he said.

But the approaching stranger was spotted by some tree-dwelling animals who gave the alarm, and by the time Noko entered the village, no one was in sight. He knocked on the first door at hand, opened by a wary warthog, and asked for a bit of food.

Warthog shakes his head. "My food is all gone!" he said.

Noko got the same sort of excuse from Rabbit, Monkey, Aardvark, Meerkat, and Pangolin. No one had a morsel to spare. Noko was weary and weak, but his wits were still sharp. So he asked for a coal of fire and a pot of water.

"I'll have to make my own food!" he said loudly. "I'll make quill soup. The quills will soften and make delicious soup!"

Noko plucked a few quills from his back and dropped them in the pot. The animals' curiousity was piqued, and they came out of their houses to watch Noko stir the "soup" slowly as steam began to rise.

"Ummm!" said Noko, tasting the soup. "Just like his Majesty likes it!"

"You know the King< asked the impressed villagers.

Noko nodded modestly and continued stirring, musing aloud that a carrot or two might make the soup even better.

Savvy youngsters who know their folklore will know exactly where this one is going, as indeed, Rabbit, Meerkat, Pangolin, and the rest of their former stingy neighbors fetch carrots, beans, potatoes, spinach, and peas for the pot. Pangolin even comes up with some choice worms. The whole village shares a feast together well into the evening, and when everyone can eat no more, Monkey offers Noko the Porcupine his own best bed for the night. Noko smiles slyly.

"You are too kind," he says.

It's an old tale, well told in a new setting, in Alan Durant's version of the classic folk story, Quill Soup: A Stone Soup Story (Charlesbridge Books, 2020), combining elements of the fable and the trickster tale in an unusual new setting. This skillful reworking of a traditional old story offers a fine opportunity for compare-and-contrast analysis of versions of this folktale for language arts lessons, and, illustrated floridly by artist Dale Blankenaar, it is a choice read-aloud for primary students. Says School Library Journal, "The illustrations in the book are a remarkable combination of flat folk art and striking modern imagery, full of details for onlookers to find."

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