Monday, June 10, 2019

Review - Cactus Soup

Cactus Soup
by Eric A. Kimmel
illustrated by Phil Huling
Date: 2004
Publisher: Two Lions
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book

When a group of hungry soldiers ride into San Miguel, the townspeople don’t want to share their food. They hide their tortillas, tamales, beans, and flour and put on torn clothes to look poor. But the Capit├ín is not fooled. He asks for a cactus thorn to make some cactus soup, and before long he has tricked the townspeople into giving him salt and chilies, vegetables, and a chicken as well! Whimsical watercolors by Phil Huling add to the humor in this southwestern twist on the classic Stone Soup tale.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I've read other versions of the "Stone Soup" story before. Often, they work because the townsfolk are shown as being simply greedy. However, this version doesn't work as well because of the setting.

Instead of a couple of travellers who come to town looking for a bit of food, it's a whole freaking troop of soldiers. And, right away, it's much more difficult to side against the townspeople, especially when it's been stated that soldiers have come around before:

"Soldiers are all alike, no matter whose side they fight on," the mayor grumbled. "They eat like wolves. There won't be a tortilla left when they get through!"

This doesn't look like a particularly wealthy village, so already it's difficult to side with the soldiers.

I also don't like the way the soup is made in this version. They start with a cactus thorn, as long as a needle. All I could think about while reading this was the choking hazard. What poor child ended up with that thorn impaled in their esophagus? (Stones seem like a safer bet when making this type of soup; it's not as easy for them to accidentally end up in someone's bowl.)

The illustrations are okay, but they don't really excite me. Some of the characters' features are exaggerated to the point where they don't really look human anymore. (What is going on with the captain's lower legs?!)

Without knowing the context for this story (which is explained a little bit in the back, but not enough in my opinion), I found it difficult to see the townspeople as the bad guys. As it turned out, they did have enough to share, but they had no real way of knowing that when the troop of hungry soldiers showed up. (Their resolve to help every group of soldiers that shows up from that moment on may come back to bite them.) Personally, I think the story works better when it's just a couple of travellers showing up and making their famous soup.

Overall, this was a bit of a disappointment. There are better versions of the story out there.

Premise: 3/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 2/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

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