Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stir in Three Stories and Chase That Flu Away!

The minute I learned “Food into Fiction” was our TeachingAuthor topic, I could see, smell, taste and touch E.B. White’s words:
On days when warmth is the most important need of the human heart, the kitchen is the place you can find it.”

I think of that quote whenever I share my picture book Chicken Soup By Heart (Simon & Schuster). Rosanne Litzinger’s warm, loving illustrations set most of the story’s action in Rudie Dinkins’ kitchen as he cooks up chicken soup for his flu-ridden after-school babysitter, Mrs. Gittel. Though Rudie has but twenty-four hours to make her good as new, Mrs. Gittel was The Chicken Soup Queen and Rudie happens to know her chicken soup secret: she stirs in three very nice stories about her soon-to-be soup-eaters.

The first story Rudie stirs in is all about the time Mrs. Gittel did something nice for him, when she helped him pass his sick-at-home school day practicing counting like accountants, counting everything from cowboys on his quilt to Mrs. Gittel’s liver spots, sharing Hershey kisses each time they reached ten.
His second story is all about the time he did something nice for Mrs. Gittel, when he helped her hold her playing cards on her Gin Rummy day because her fingers hurt like crazy, sharing suckers from the candy dish with each “Gin! I win!”
The third story is all about the time they did something nice for each other, when they spent a day at the Boardwalk because both were missing family, sharing friends and a Photo Booth and peppermints.
How could Rudie’s heart-y soup-making not become a story the next time Mrs. Gittel needs to cook him chicken soup?

I cooked up this story much the same way I cook up chicken soup. First I simmered the story idea (a newspaper article about the very best ingredients when cooking chicken soup). Next I added characters, a setting, time and a problem and sprinkled Yiddish words to maximize the flavor.
But I also made sure to add a measure of me, stirring in stories of my son and his two grandmothers.
For instance, when he and his Philly Grandmom sat for hours at her living room window, counting Volkswagens.
Or when he and his Florida Nana passed rainy days beneath a pool-side umbrella, playing Rummy. (Guess who always won?)
Or how one called him her zeesah boy, her sweet boy, the other her boychik.
When I strained the story the way I would my chicken broth, removing globs of fat and extraneous pieces, I smiled wide at what remained: a heart-felt story about the reciprocity of love.

With flu season upon us, no matter the kind, what could be better than a book about friendship and a bowl of chicken soup?
Everyone knows chicken soup is a known and proven germ-fighter!
If you’re looking for a good recipe, I share Mrs. Gittel’s on my picture book’s last page.

Of course, Mrs. Gittel’s cooking secret isn’t limited to soup.
Thinking of your eaters, remembering nice times, is a nice thing to do when fixing any dish.
In fact, maybe next Thursday, while you’re stuffing your turkey, mashing the potatoes, or whipping up cream, why not add a very nice story about each of your guests?

Happy Story-cookin'!
Esther Hershenhorn

Writing Workout

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to gather and notate a treasured family recipe.
Aunt Nancy’s Sweet Potato Souffle
Uncle Maury's Cranberry Relish
Cousin Jane’s String Bean Casserole
Grandmom’s Pumpkin Pie.
When interviewing the selected relative or dinner guest, record:
(1) the name of his or her food item/dish
(2) the necessary ingredients (with measurements)
(3) the ordered preparation steps (Let’s hear it for those verbs!)
(4) the suggested presentation (including an illustration or photograph)
Here’s a link to IRA’s and NCTE’s ReadWriteThink website offering How-to Write a Recipe Instructions and sample recipes.
Once you record the recipe on a recipe card, flip the card, then write a very nice story about the recipe’s namesake. Perhaps something you did for the creator, or something he or she did for you, or something you did for each other.
Think about the Question Words that shape a story: Who, What, When, Where, How and Why.


Michelle Sussman said...

Thanks for the great writing prompt, Esther! It makes me wish I had another 30 minutes with my grandma who passed away in January. She was an amazing cook - but there were no measurements to record. A pinch of this, a splash of that, a few of those and voila, the best homemade potato dumpling soup I'd ever had.

Thanks again too for allowing me to interview you for my Chicago Parent article on empathy ( I wanted to thank you at PWD in person but never had a chance to meet you. It was an amazing, but busy, day.

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Thanks for including CHICKEN SOUP BY HEART in your Chicago Parent article on empathy, Michelle.
And,let's make sure we meet up at the - next - SCBWI-Illinois event!
Meanwhile, today's Chicago Tribune reports, in the article titled "Mom's right about chicken soup:"As it turns out, chicken soup is more than just a folk legend. Dr. Stephen Rennard, a researcher at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, found that chicken soup contains an anti-inflammatory mechanism that eases the symptoms of respiratory tract infections."
My picture book is turning out to be good for the heart and good for the flu!