cover image STONE SOUP


Jon J. Muth, . . Scholastic, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-439-33909-4

With the same aesthetic grace he displayed with Tolstoy's The Three Questions, Muth here transports a classic tale to rural China. The setting not only allows his evocative, impressionistic watercolors to play over mist and mountains but also affords an opportunity for Buddhist underpinnings. Three monks of varying ages stop at a village where hard times have made people suspicious; in Muth's full-bleed spreads, even the houses appear to look down with disdain. Famine and other hardships have bleached the faces and hearts of the villagers; the tea merchant, the seamstress and the carpenter whose closet bulges with hoarded vegetables all appear caught in Muth's vignettes as if by a photographer's flash. Only a little girl, her cheerful yellow coat a beacon in the gray landscape, approaches them. She helps them find three smooth stones—shown in a close-up, piled and teetering in the harsh winter light (an endnote explains that they form the shape of the sitting Buddha). Soon, the pure hearts of the monks move the other villagers to generosity, and cloud ear, mung beans, ginger root and more join the stones in the pot. In the endnote, Muth invites readers to find the Chinese symbols embedded in the art and explains that in the Buddhist story tradition he borrows from, tricksters "spread enlightenment rather than seeking gain for themselves." And while the tale of "Stone Soup" can be told to make fools of the villagers, here it becomes an offering as generous as Muth's villagers turn out to be. Ages 6-up. (Mar.)