Saludos todos! This week I will be continuing our monthly theme of food by reviewing Sopa de frijoles, un poema para cocinar/ Bean Soup, A Cooking Poem, written by Jorge Argueta and illustrated by Rafael Yockteng. Argueta is known primarily for his cooking poems, as well as his other wonderful children’s books, and some of his other titles have been highlighted previously on our blog, including a review of Talking with Mother Earth/Hablando con Madre Tierra, an En la Clase teacher’s guide for the same title, a review of Tamalitos: Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem, and an author profile describing the breadth of his work. Argueta has been the recipient of the Américas Award and the Independent Publishers Book Award for Multicultural Fiction for Juveniles, and we even had the pleasure of hosting him here in Albuquerque for an educator’s workshop back in 2012, where he and Venezuelan writer, Israel Centeno, spoke to Spanish elementary teachers about creative writing.
Although Sopa de frijoles reads like a poem, it is also a step-by-step recipe for how to make bean soup, with playful illustrations showing a young boy busily helping his mother in the kitchen. The book begins with a small note to readers explaining that every line marked by an asterisk indicates a step in the recipe that requires adult supervision, a useful precaution that will certainly please parents and educators. Basically, anything involving chopping vegetables or lighting the stove is marked by an asterisk; however, things like setting the table are not, indicating that young kids should be able to do this on their own—another pleasing detail for parents!
The first page begins with a simple introduction: “Para una sabrosa/ sopita de frijoles/ solo necesitas…/ For a yummy/ bean soup/ all you need are…” The illustration shows the young boy sitting on the rug in his room looking a little forlorn and bored. In the background is a television set with game controllers attached to it, and the screen says “game over.” Although subtle, this illustration may serve to encourage kids to abandon their televisions, video games, cell phones, and computers for a while and try their hands at a new hobby or activity, such as concocting a delicious pot of bean soup.
The language is short, simple and sweet, and is accessible for young, novice readers, as well as more experienced readers looking to use the translations to pick up or practice Spanish vocabulary. Although the straightforward writing mirrors the structure of a recipe, Argueta also infuses the language with a poetic flare, such as the beans “como el atardecer/ black as night” and the garlic cloves “blanquitos y olorosos/ como el mediodia/ white as midday.” In addition, readers will need “una olla/ redonda como la luna/ y honda como/ un pequeno lago./ a pot/ round as the moon/ and as deep/ as a little lake.” Argueta’s cooking poems are a great way for kids to learn how to cook (which is always an important skill to have at any age!), and to also exercise their creative skills in observation, description, and narration. These poems could surely inspire a lesson where children write their own cooking poems, making similes and creative comparisons of their own.
As the poem progresses, with “little salt volcanos/ nestled/ in the bowl of a spoon,” and beans spread out “on the sky of the table./ The beans are stars,” readers will see how the sensorial pleasures of food can paint landscapes and create worlds. The look, smell, and touch of food can bring us back to old memories, nostalgic places, and foreign lands. The beans hitting the sides of the pot as they cook make a little song: “Tú también puedes cantar/ You can sing too.” As the ingredients change shapes and sizes, the fire burns, and the flavors mix together, a lively scene emerges.
Several times throughout the poem, Argueta references Mother Earth—“Stir the soup/ with your big spoon./ Draw circles as though/ you are Mother Earth/ turning around/ the sun” and “Take (the seeds) to a tree/ or to your garden/ and bury them there/ so Mother Earth/ keeps on growing flavors”—reminding readers of where our food comes from, and the importance of taking care of our earth, which brings us so much sustenance and joy through its crops, flowers and flavors. Environmental consciousness and appreciation for the earth and its resources are recurring themes that run through many of Argueta’s books—especially important values for us to think about during this month of harvest and giving thanks.
The story ends with a nice illustration of the young protagonist in the kitchen with his whole family (his mother, his father, his brothers and sisters) and a big, steaming pot of bean soup in the foreground. This illustration is a nice contrast to the first image of the story, which showed the protagonist bored and listless in his room, showing readers how the process of making food can lift our spirits, engage and stimulate our senses and minds, and ultimately bring us closer to the people we love.
For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, here are some additional resources:
For those of you interested in learning more about the author and illustrator, here are some additional resources:
Stay tuned for more great books!