What did your mother always tell you?
Eat Your Vegetables!
The Ugly Vegetables written and illustrated by Grace Lin (2001)
This is a wonderful little story about family traditions, heritage, and pride. The main character is a girl who is embarrassed by her mother’s vegetable garden. All of the other neighbors have beautiful flower gardens, but her mother is growing ugly purple plants with prickly vines and fussy wrinkled leaves. Eventually, her mother’s vegetables begin to grow, but the girl is still ashamed of her mother’s obvious differences. When all the vegetables are harvested, her mother makes a most delicious soup. The soup seemed to ‘dance in my mouth and laugh all the way down to my stomach’.All the neighbors are enticed by the aroma of the steaming soup and come for a taste. They love the soup and each go home with the recipe and some soup in jar to take home. The next year when her mother started her vegetable garden, she also planted some flowers next to the Chinese vegetables, and the neighbors all planted Chinese vegetables in their flower gardens.
This is a simple story of growing vegetables for soup. Preschoolers can name the tools and plants on each page. Then the harvesting begins and in the end we have a recipe for vegetable soup that every child will want to make.
There are so many different versions of this story, I’m sure you will have a favorite. This is one I have used in the classroom for many years. The premise of each story is that there is a poor fellow (soldier, animal, child) who comes into a town or to a home to ask for food. The people refuse to help and often hide their food from the beggar. But the poor and hungry beggar tricks the people into giving him ingredients to make stone soup. In this version, the main characters are the young man who has been walking all day and a little old lady who lives in a fine house. The young man is tired and hungry and asks the little old lady for something to eat, but she claims not to have anything to give. So he only asks for a stone. Not knowing what it can hurt, she gives him a stone but chides that no one can eat a stone. He claims that he can, but he will need a pot filled with water. She fills a pot with water and puts it on to boil as he adds the stone. Soon the water is boiling, and the young man convinces her to add a few yellow onions to help it cook faster. As it starts to smell good, he tells her how much better it would smell with a few carrots. The soup is starting to taste pretty good, and he wishes he had a beef bone to make it taste all the better. Now the soup is fit for a prince, but the young man says that it would be fit for a king with a bit of pepper and a handful of salt. She is happy to oblige and he reminds her how much thicker it would be with some butter and barley. Now the soup is finished and the little old woman sets a table with her best tablecloth and her best dishes. They feast on the soup and at the end of the meal, the young man asks if he could take the stone with him so that he could make stone soup again the next day. As he leaves, she says her good-byes and says, “Soup from a stone. Fancy that.”