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Read it once. Read it twice. Reading Chicken Soup With Rice
on September 29, 2004
These days, when a person says, "chicken soup" they're probably going to follow up those words with, "for the soul" or maybe "for the teenaged soul". Didn't used to be that way. Why I can remember a time when if a person said, "chicken soup" those words were followed by an enthusiastic "with rice!". Such was the power of Maurice Sendak's catchy 1962 children's book. I am pleased to report that if you care to read this book again today, you will find it hasn't dimished a jot in terms of frolicksome fun. In this book we are led through a whirlwind chicken soup year with our host, a boy who bears no little resemblance to Sendak's other great rhyming tale "Pierre" (in looks if not demeanor). It's a catchy flouncy bouncy combo of soup and the people who love it so.
This is ostensibly a book meant to teach your children the different months of the year. Each month gets its own rhythmic poem and accompanying illustration. These are fairly simple pen and ink drawings with the occasional splash of blue (in varying shades), yellow, gray, and green. You may wonder how an author could ever hope to come up with twelve highly original soup-related poems. I mean, honestly, how much is there to say about even the fanciest soup, let alone chicken soup with rice? Quite a lot, as it happens. In the cold winter months soup is supped while sliding on ice, while celebrating the birthday of a snowman, and in a gusty gale as a whale. In the spring there's robin's nest soup, soup to cure drooping roses, and soup stolen by jealous March winds. Our hero postulates the potential joys that could come of being a cooking pot, stewing soup or (oddly enough) as "a baubled bangled Christmas tree".
Not to degrade the reading skills of parents everywhere, but I cannot recommend enough getting an audio version of this tale to accompany your child's reading. Though I am now a wise and cultured 26 year-old (the years have been kind to me in this, my old age) I can still remember the chicken soup with rice tune. Heck, I read this entire book recently and found I could do the song perfectly with each and every line. Now maybe you have your own particular chicken soup with rice song style that you're just loathe to give up. If so, fine. I understand why you might not want to taint your already existing chicken soup melody. But if you haven't found a jingle to accompany this book, get the audio version immediately, if not sooner. Until you can sing "Whoopy once, whoopy twice, whoopy chicken soup with rice" with the correct oomph, you're missing out.
I take my "Chicken Soup With Rice" readings seriously. This book was the "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" of its day, and still remains the catchiest method to teach kids the months of the year. It is also seriously in danger of being forgotten. So pull out your old accordion and strap on your dancing shoes. The time for yukkin' it up to a merry dance of poultry broth is here. It's Sendak at his finest.