Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bone Soup: A Great Halloween Read-Aloud


BONE SOUP
Written & illustrated by Cambria Evans
Houghton Mifflin, 2008

When I was an elementary school teacher and a school librarian, I was always on the lookout for picture books to read aloud in my classroom or in the library in October. My students loved it when I turned off the overhead lights, switched on the electric jack-o’-lanterns, and began reading spooky or creepy tales to them. Here’s a review of Bone Soup, a book I recommend for reading aloud on Halloween.

Bone Soup is a retelling of the traditional tale Stone Soup--but this version is set on Halloween--and is replete with all manner of creatures, including zombies and a witch.

The Story: The main character, a ghoulish figure named Finnigin, is known far and wide for his ravenous appetite. Finnigin, a vagabond with no family or home, lives by his wits. Everywhere he goes, he takes along with him three things: his eating stool, his eating spoon, and his enormous eating mouth.

One Halloween, Finnigin sets off for a new town. He hopes that he’ll be invited to take part in the great feast. But a witch sees him on route, heads back to town, and warns the beast that “The Eater” is coming. Word spreads--and soon the zombies and mummy and all the creatures of the village are “talking about the impending arrival of Finnigin the Eater.” In a trice, the villagers stash their edibles:

In a panic, the witch booby-trapped
her jars of eyeballs,
the beast locked his bat wings in a cupboard,
the zombies put their frogs legs in the cellar,
and the mummy and other towns-
creatures hid all they had to eat.


The rest of the tale follows the storyline of the traditional tale. Finnigin knocks on doors and windows and requests food. Time and again he is told by village creatures there is no food. Undaunted, Finnigin makes a fire, fills the largest town cauldron with water, and sets it to boil. Then, he ceremoniously opens his cloak and pulls “out a magnificent piece of bone” and drops it into the cauldron. While stirring his bubbling concoction, Finnigin sings:

BONE SOUP
IS WHAT I MAKE

A MAGIC BONE
IS ALL IT TAKES

BOIL IT LONG AND
ADD SOME SPICE

BONE SOUP TASTES
SO VERY NICE!


The townspeople are intrigued. One by one, they open their doors and head toward Finnigin and his pot of soup. And, one by one, Finnigin tricks the villagers into adding their tasty edibles to the pot: stewed eyeballs, bat wings, frog legs, etc. There’s a fabulous double-page, close-up spread of the gross greenish concoction floating with the aforementioned ingredients. In addition, there are spider eggs, dried mouse droppings, dandelions, and toenail clippings--all labeled for the reader lest he/she wonder what else is being stirred about in the cauldron. Of course, the villagers all concur that Finnigin’s bone soup is a hit.

Once the Halloween feast is over, Finnigin sets off again with his eating stool, his eating spoon….and his gigantic smiling mouth.


The Illustrations: Cambria Evans chose just the right palette for her tale set on the last night of October. Grays, browns, black, and ghoulish green provide a spooky atmosphere. Evans also added just the right touches of pink, yellow, and other colors for contrast. Her round-faced creatures aren’t really frightening--but just Halloweeny enough to send delightful shivers down the spines of young children who are sure to enjoy this new take on a familiar old tale.

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