Category Archives: Spiritual books for kids (and moms)

Spiritual books for kids (and moms): Stone Soup

Boy, I loved Stone Soup when I was a kid.  I checked it out of the library more times than I can count.  And when I saw it in the children’s room last week, I grabbed it, for nostalgia’s sake.   Those illustrations in orange and muted shades of brown … gosh, it was like winging back in time to my childhood.

And yet it has a pretty good message for the grown-up me, too.

If you haven’t read Stone Soup, it’s the story of three French soldiers traveling back home from the war.  They’re tired and hungry, but when they stop in a small village to ask for food and shelter, they are turned away by sad-faced peasants who say that they have nothing to give.  (In truth, these peasants have hidden all of their food so as to keep it for themselves.)  Nothing daunted, the clever soldiers come up with an idea: they’ll make stone soup.  So they get a big pot and fill it with water and put in three smooth rocks.  Before you know it, the village folk are voluntarily contributing their hidden carrots, cabbages, beef, and potatoes, because while stone soup is good,  it’s even better with all those other things in it.   And before you know it, the whole village has made a sastisfying soup, with enough for everyone to share.

So how is this story spiritual?  Well, for one thing, it’s about the rewards of sharing freely with others.  I have to say, the peasants really tick me off at the beginning of the story, pulling those long faces and saying that they have nothing to give when there are all those cabbages hidden under the bed.  But — let’s be honest — I often do the same thing myself.  I don’t hoard fresh produce, but I can be parsimonious with my free time, my undivided attention, or at times my material resources.  There is a fine line between giving to others and conserving what you need for yourself, and I think I tend to err too much on the conservation side.   This story challenges me to look a bit more closely at what I share and what I don’t, and to decide what else I can — and should — give.

It’s also about community, and that’s another place where the story touches a nerve.   I’m hardly a rugged individualist, but I am an introvert, and sometimes it takes a certain amount of energy for me to engage with others, just because that’s not my default setting.   And yet I value the groups, formal and informal,  to which I belong — my network of friends, my church community, the folks in my neighborhood, my extended family.  Those people have saved my hiney in lots of situations when I needed help, and I’ve done the same for many of them.   Plus they are a heckuva lot of fun to be with,  and we all need fun, far more than we need to stay home and watch Seinfeld reruns.

The benefits of sharing and of community: that’s what the thirty-something Ginny takes from this book.  And, like the peasants, sometimes I need to be reminded of the value of both.  I need reminding that a soup made and shared by all is a lot tastier than cabbage eaten alone.

Stone Soup, written and illustrated by Marcia Brown.  Click here to find out more about the Spiritual Books series of posts.


Spiritual books for kids (and moms) — the kickoff!

Like most moms, these days I read more kids’  books than adult books. Summer is a good time for me to catch up on my reading wishlist, but I’m still going pretty slowly, especially when it comes to books that demand sustained focus.  My copy of David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again is gathering dust on the end table, while the books in Matthew’s library are growing wrinkled from constant bedtime reading. But you know what?  That’s okay, because if it’s food for thought that I’m after, there is actually a whole lot of that in children’s literature.

And so an idea was born: what if I do a series of posts on the spiritual wisdom in kids’ books? I’m not talking the books that are overtly religious, like Prayer for a Child; I’m talking the ones that we might not instinctively classify as spiritual, but which nonetheless echo what William Faulkner (another author I’m not reading, alas!) once called “the truths of the heart.” The fact is, most of these classic picture books have survived not just because of engaging plots or captivating illustrations, but because there is some underlying point to them that just keeps resonating, generation after generation.   Whether it’s conscious or not, we parents like reading these stories to our kids because we sense that our kids will get Something Good out of the books.  They’ll be entertained, yes, but also taught something positive, some little message or truth that we hope will burrow into their subconscious and make their lives fuller, sweeter, happier.

So in this series, I’ll be looking at the spiritual lessons of some beloved children’s books.  (They’ll all be picture books, since this is the reading level of my own boys.)    And my goal is not so much that you will force your kids to have an intellectually weighty Conversation about these lessons, turning bedtime into a seminar.  Some conscious discussion of these themes is great, I think, but only as long as it is light and goes at the kid’s pace.  Mostly, I cherish a little hope that these books and posts will help you find a way to deepen your own spiritual life, in a painless, effortless way.  (When you are a busy mom, that is the best kind of way there is.)

So come back tomorrow for the first installment of the series!  It will feature a book that we just got from the library, one that I remember loving as a child.  (I’ll give you a little hint: it involves three hungry soldiers and a very unusual soup.)

Image courtesy of Karen’s Whimsy