From the Publisher
Three wandering Buddhist monks investigate the nature of happiness by feeding the wary, selfish inhabitants of a Northern Chinese village soup made from three stones. Sound vaguely familiar? Muth sets his version of the well-known European folktale in the early years of Qing Dynasty China. Wars and famines have made the villagers justifiably reluctant to welcome strangers, even monks, and so suspicious they hoard food from one another. Muth's muted blue-and-gray watercolors are ideally suited to portraying the inhospitable village, swathed in mountain mists, as well as the appealing girl in her bright yellow jacket who breaks the ice and draws the other villagers from behind their locked doors to contribute ingredients to the soup. Carrots and onions are followed by cabbages, pea pods, noodles, mushrooms, dumplings, bean curd, cloud ear and mung beans, winter melon, taro root, ginger, soy sauce and lily buds--a mouthwatering celebration of Chinese cooking. The monks' effort at community development triumphs as the villagers happily feast together at one very long table, then watch a shadow puppet play accompanied by music played on traditional Chinese instruments. In a detailed author's note, Muth explains how he meshed "the Buddha story tradition, where tricksters spread enlightenment rather than seeking gain for themselves" with a story rooted in European folklore. His respect for Chinese people and their culture makes this serving of fusion cuisine delicious and satisfying.--Horn Book, March 2003
Muth has taken this old tale and transplanted it from its traditional European setting to China. The tricksters are no longer hungry travelers or soldiers but Buddhist monks. Their goal in fooling the villagers is not to fill their own stomachs but rather to enlighten them about the happiness that comes from sharing. Muth's characteristic watercolor illustrations, with their striking use of misty hues contrasted with bright primaries, are expertly done and convey a distinct sense of place. In his author's note, the reteller details the elements of Chinese folklore that he incorporated into the story as well as the symbols from Eastern culture used in the artwork. However, Muth's decision to alter the motivation of the tricksters also depresses some of the humor in the story and gives it a moralistic tone. In addition, the likelihood that these initially suspicious and reclusive villagers would become truly happy people as a result of their own gullibility is slim. This is a beautifully executed book with a flawed story line.--School Library Journal, March 2003
Muth freshens a familiar folktale with a change of setting. Three Zen monks arrive in a Chinese mountain village where hard times have made villagers distrustful of strangers and selfish toward one another. Undeterred by a lack of welcome, the monks set about preparing dinner soup, which, as the story traditionally goes, draws the villagers from their sheltered homes with ingredients to enrich the pot, thereby reinvigorating the community. The muted, unexceptional telling is less successful than the expressive pictures, which bloom in color as the soup thickens; the misty grays and blues of the mountains and empty village square gradually become vibrant, climaxing in a spread of villagers eating at a crowded, seemingly endless table, enjoying food and one another's company beneath the glow of red lanterns. A note at the back explains Muth's change of venue. An unusual version that kids will want to compare to other adaptations of the story. --Booklist, January 15, 2003
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 whe
The Barnes & Noble Review
In a Far Eastern twist on the classic tale, the author of The Three Questions has a group of wandering monks teaching a village about happiness, giving, and trust. Through gentle watercolors that evoke feelings of Asian artwork and Zen-like serenity, Jon J. Muth brilliantly captures the peace these monks bring as they enter a town and realize that the distrustful, suspecting townsfolk need a "stone soup" lesson. Beginning with a little girl wearing yellow -- a bright splash of color against the village's stark gray and white hues -- curious villagers slowly come forward to add special ingredients to the soup and to add more color to the scene. Of course, at the story's familiar end, they all have found their connection, but now the town is cheerfully aglow with red lanterns, happy festivities, and thankful farewells. A beautiful message for young readers and a great jump-start to discussions about folktales or Asian culture (especially with the Author's Note in back), this stunning picture book will have audiences in pure nirvana. Matt Warner
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.)
Beautiful watercolor and ink illustrations help to tell the story of Hok, Lok and Siew, three monks who attempt to bring happiness to a discontented and disconnected Chinese village. After happening upon the town, the monks pique the interest of the villagers by making their magical soup, and eventually everyone volunteers to add in their own vegetables. After the soup is ready, everyone has a celebratory feast, the citizens unite with one another, and the monks continue on their journey. This is a culturally detailed version of the "Stone Soup" story that originated in European folklore. Many versions have been told in France, Sweden, Russia, England, Belgium and other countries. These monks figure prominently in Chinese folklore, and the author uses them to spread contentment, not mischief, among the village. Young readers will learn that it is important to reach out to their communities and that they must accept and appreciate what they have. The drawings are deceptively simple at first, since they seem to feature little more than the characters and an austere backdrop. There are many hidden details, however, that figure more prominently with subsequent readings, like Chinese words and characters concealed within the drawings. After reading the author's note, parents will be able to explain the tale's origins to the child. The note also includes information on the Eastern symbols and objects used in the artwork, such as the Chinese musical instruments used in the banquet scene. 2003, Scholastic Press, Ages 6 to 9.
School Library Journal
Gr 1-3-Muth has taken this old tale and transplanted it from its traditional European setting to China. The tricksters are no longer hungry travelers or soldiers but Buddhist monks. Their goal in fooling the villagers is not to fill their own stomachs but rather to enlighten them about the happiness that comes from sharing. Muth's characteristic watercolor illustrations, with their striking use of misty hues contrasted with bright primaries, are expertly done and convey a distinct sense of place. In his author's note, the reteller details the elements of Chinese folklore that he incorporated into the story as well as the symbols from Eastern culture used in the artwork. However, Muth's decision to alter the motivation of the tricksters also depresses some of the humor in the story and gives it a moralistic tone. In addition, the likelihood that these initially suspicious and reclusive villagers would become truly happy people as a result of their own gullibility is slim. This is a beautifully executed book with a flawed story line.-Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Muth transports a classic European trickster tale to China and turns it into an explicit, formalized philosophical lesson. To answer the question, "What makes one happy?" three wandering monks, Hok, Lok, and Siew, tease hostile residents of a town into providing both pot and ingredients for a savory soup, then sitting down to a communal feast. The next day, the villagers gratefully bid the monks goodbye: "With the gifts you have given we will always have plenty. You have shown us that sharing makes us all richer." In contrast to the stiffly wooden text, the art poses graceful, traditionally dressed figures with expressive, delicately drawn faces against flowing backgrounds of mountain mists and cool colors. In a long afterword, Muth discusses the tale's meaning and antecedents, as well as Zen and the Chinese symbols and motifs he has incorporated into it. Despite atmospheric art and touches of gentle humor, this follow-up to his recent retelling of Tolstoy's Three Questions (2002) comes off as somewhat portentous and overwritten. (Picture book/folktale. 7-10)
Children's Literature - Loretta Caravette
This wonderful folk tale has been set in Portugal, France, Russia, Hungry and now it is set in China. With its inspiring and uplifting message of the strength people possess when they work together, this story begins with three monks journeying through the mountains. When the youngest monk asks "What makes one happy?" they decide to go down to a small village to find out. The villagers have gone through some very tough times, and they were suspicious of each other and newcomers. When the monks being to make soup out of three stones the villagers' curiosity gets the better of them. The monks coax them to add something to the soup and in the process helps them all re-discover their humanity and each other. The art is gentle and there is enough close ups and pans to create action and help the story come alive. The pictures are true to the book but are enhanced as different segments are spotlighted. The DVD is a little tricky to figure out. If you want subtitles you have to go to the main menu and press subtitles then press play. To take the subtitles out you need to go back to the menu and press no subtitles and then press play. An interview with the author is very interesting and intended for adults. There is also a very nice activities guide on the inside label. Reviewer: Loretta Caravette