Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Review: Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak (1962)

My fondest memory of Chicken Soup with Rice comes from my first grade classroom. My teacher, Mrs. Decker, would copy the poem for each month onto big easel paper and we would all read it together as a class. We also listened to the Carole King recording of the song so many times, that even today, I have it memorized.

The book takes us through the entire year using various references and analogies to chicken soup. In January, the boy in the story eats his soup on ice skates. In February, he celebrates his "snowman's anniversary" (maybe the greatest concept for a holiday ever) by eating soup while the snowman eats cake. In July, he looks into the "cool and fishy deep" to find that "chicken soup is selling cheap" and in August, he becomes a cooking pot, and heats up chicken soup himself. Finally, the year ends with a "baubled bangled Christmas tree" decorated with soup bowls.

Like In the Night Kitchen and Where the Wild Things Are, this book really demonstrates Sendak's unique and surreal outlook on childhood imagination. Chicken soup is a food almost everyone has eaten at one time or another, so the theme of the books feels very familiar and universal, but each monthly chicken soup experience could only come from the mind of someone like Sendak.

Though I love the entire book - for nostalgia's sake as much as anything else - I do have two favorite pages. The first is March, when the wind spills the soup, then "laps it up and roars for more." I can remember being obsessed with that page in the classroom big book of this story, and enjoying the way the wind looked like it was alive. My other favorite is that August page, where the little boy transforms into a pot on the stove, and yet still manages to maintain the same facial features as his human self. As I mentioned last week in my post about Alligators All Around, I am most impressed by Sendak's ability to make his figures look like two things at once - alligators and lions, a boy and a cooking pot.

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