Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper

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Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper

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Category: For Sharing
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Beautifully illustrated, simple, rhythmic and with some useful messages about friendship and loyalty, Pumpkin Soup is a class act of a picture book. It perhaps overdoes the sentimentality, but is certainly worth borrowing from the library. If they like it, you can always buy it!
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 32 Date: October 1999
Publisher: Corgi Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: {{{isbn}}}

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Cat, Squirrel and Duck live in an old white cabin deep in the woods. They play music during the autumn evenings; Cat has bagpipes, Squirrel has a banjo and Duck sings. They always have a huge pan of the best pumpkin soup you ever tasted sitting on the stove. Cat slices the pumpkin, Squirrel cooks and stirs and Duck 'scoops up a pipkin of salt, and tips just enough in'. They work in harmony, these three friends, even at bedtime when they 'pop off to bed, in a quilt stitched together by the Cat, embroidered by the Squirrel and filled with fine feathers by the Duck'. Each has a job to do and things are happy and peaceful. Or are they?

One day Duck takes a fancy to soup stirring. He's bored of just adding the salt. He wants to be 'Head Cook' for a change. Squirrel and Duck are furious. The three friends argue and fight, soup goes everywhere:

'There was trouble, a horrible squabble, a row, a racket, a rumpus in the old white cabin.'

Does that sound at all familiar? I'll bet it does. It's trouble, it's big, big, big trouble. Duck goes off in a very large huff. My children go off in very large huffs, especially if their desires are thwarted. They hide under the dining room table, their Action Man back packs filled with essentials - er... .dinosaur stickers, toy tanks, dummies, teddies - you know the kind of things I'm sure. Duck packs his barrow with his own necessities and he's off leaving Cat and Squirrel to clean up the mess of spilled soup. Cat and Squirrel aren't too worried. They're sure he'll be back soon.

Lunchtime comes and goes and there is no sign of Duck, teatime comes and goes and still he hasn't returned. Cat and Squirrel do start to worry then, especially when soup time comes and Duck is still missing. Their soup tastes awful too; it's salty because Duck wasn't there to tip in 'just enough'. They begin to wish they'd let him stir the soup. It doesn't seem such a big deal now. They must go to look for him. He's out alone, in the dark and who knows what could happen? Squirrel and Cat pluck up their courage and venture out into the cold, dark woods with the trees, the foxes, the wolves and the witches, and the bears. They can't find him anywhere. Of course they are scared but they press on for the sake of their friend. They remember how much they care about him and feel guilty for the earlier fight:

'Then the cat whispered in a sad little voice, "Duck might have found some better friends. Friends who let him help."'

Cat and Squirrel had no idea things would turn out like this. Naughty, bickering children never do, do they? They can't find Duck; not even at the bottom of a scary tall cliff and they are out at night afraid and apprehensive. Sadly, Squirrel and Cat turn back for home. Imagine their joy when they arrive to find Duck, cold, hungry and waiting for them. The three are so glad to see each other that they simply have to make some pumpkin soup. Cat and Squirrel even let Duck stir. Peace is restored. And yes, that soup was still 'the best you ever tasted'.

Pumpkin Soup was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway award given to children's books. It's funny, it's endearing and it's written in such a simple, rhythmic way it's a joy to read aloud. It addresses in a very simple but gentle story the issues surrounding friendship and co-operation. Cat, Squirrel and Duck are friends, they co-operate together and have fun but they must learn what to do when that co-operation breaks down. Every child is the centre of his own universe and yet every child must learn that he or she cannot have his or her own way all the time. Any parent will know that is the hardest of lessons to learn.

Helen Cooper has beautifully illustrated her book in all the colours of pumpkin autumn. You can almost smell the soup that is splashed across every page. No detail is forgotten and children will enjoy looking for the ladybird and cricket that appear on many pages. They will also laugh at Duck's tantrum, seeing themselves in him, and they will fear for Cat and Squirrel as they make that dangerous journey in search of their friend. They will admire their courage too. Most of all they will be relieved that it all turns out well in the end.

It is, perhaps, a little twee, and I could do without quite so much saccharine. I'm not sure that it's a book children will want to read over and over - there's not quite enough humour for that. They'll also grow out of it fairly quickly. It is definitely worth searching out at the library though, and perhaps even for purchase if your children are particularly taken.

Another sweet picture book about first friendships is The Velveteen Rabbit by Marjery Williams.

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Buy Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper at Amazon.com.


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Magda said:

Did I tell you that for some inexplicable reasons, Michael (who is now 26 months) absolutley loves this book. I can't believe he understands much (and certainly none of the "think" bubbles) but it's among his top 5 favourites!

Jill replied:

Gosh! Well, it's very kindly, isn't it?