Granny Torrelli Makes Soup
Harper Collins; Reprint Edition, 2012
Interest Level: Grades 4-8
Review by Terry Northcutt, Ph.D.
Granny Torrelli Makes Soup by Sharon Creech is an engaging story about friendship and how relationships change over time. It is a great story to read aloud because it invites discussions about perspective taking, coping with strong feelings, and resolving interpersonal conflicts. The story is told from the point of view of twelve-year old Rosie. At the beginning of the book we learn that she is angry at her best friend Bailey:
Bailey, who is usually so nice, Bailey, my neighbor, my friend, my buddy, my pal for my whole life, knowing me better than anybody, that Bailey, that Bailey I am so mad at right now, that Bailey, I hate him today…Why does he say Rosie, get over yourself! And why does he say that in that cold voice and slam the door in my face as if I am nobody?
This question takes center stage as Rosie and Granny Torrelli make soup. Rosie recounts past and present experiences with Bailey and Granny Torrelli shares parallel stories about her childhood relationship with Pardo.
As the reader moves between these different stories, they learn that Bailey has had a visual impairment since toddlerhood. He sees the world through a hazy, gauzy veil. When Rosie was quite young, she began helping Bailey. She wanted to make things easier for him.
Over the years their relationship changed. Inseparable as infants and preschool children, they went to different elementary schools. Bailey attended a school for children with visual impairments and learned to read Braille. Wanting to share everything with Bailey, Rosie asked him to teach her Braille, but she could not make sense of the dots on the paper.
She did not give up. Over the course of a year with the help of a teacher at her school, she secretly learned Braille at lunchtime. Rosie was certain that Bailey would be happy and proud when she read to him from one of his Braille books. But that is not what happened. Instead he told her to get over herself in that cold voice and slammed the door in her face. This scene is a great place to stop to ask students what Bailey might be feeling and why he reacted in this way.
As adults we understand Bailey’s need to feel capable, competent, and even a bit superior to Rosie sometimes. What Granny Torrelli labels as Rosie’s take-charge ways doesn’t leave space for Bailey to be an equal much less have talents and strengths separate from her.
Because of Granny Torrelli’s stories about her relationship with Pardo, Rosie is able to see how she is like her take-charge grandmother and how that causes problems in her relationship with Bailey. She has an epiphany: Until she read to Bailey from his Braille books, he had something he could do that she could not do. And that was something he wanted and needed. Now that Rosie understands the cause of Bailey’s reaction she can decide what to do next. But before reading what Rosie decides to do, students might want to generate ideas about how they might repair the relationship.
After the discussion, students can compare their thoughts with Rosie’s decision. She decided to take the soup to Bailey and his mother who live next door to say that she is sorry—something Granny Torrelli’s stubbornness prevented her from doing before she came to America and lost her best friend Pardo, forever. Bailey responds with a Braille rendering of “I’m sorry” and the two move on to enjoy the soup.
In the second section of the book Rosie and Bailey help Granny Torrelli make pasta and the reader is introduced to the problem of Janine. She has just moved into the neighborhood. Not only does she take an interest in Bailey, she asks him to teach her Braille. And Bailey agrees. Rosie soon becomes an ice queen and a tiger but works hard at controlling the intensity of her feelings. Readers can think about what feelings the ice queen and tiger relate to as well as share experiences in which they have experienced these feelings. They might also indicate how they controlled and coped with these intense feelings.
Again, Granny Torrelli shares parallel stories from her childhood experiences with Pardo. These stories about the time Pardo became enamored with Violetta, and Marcus became enchanted with Granny help the two understand the problem of jealousy. But Granny also tells another story. A story that initially seems unrelated to jealousy or anything else the three have discussed. She tells the story of the Gatozzi baby that was so sick there was concern that she would die. During visits to the family to bring food, Granny (as a girl) sat with the baby:
I sit all day long. She won’t let go of my fingers. Her parents let me hold her, and still she is clinging to my fingers, and all the time I am sitting there with that little sick baby, I am not thinking of Violetta or Pardo or Marco. I am only thinking the baby must get better, the baby must get better.
Granny is unsure if she should have told Rosie and Bailey this story. But it was the right story. Her understanding of life in its full complexity guided her in the selection of the story. On the day the baby shows signs of getting well, Granny has an epiphany:
And here is the thing, Bailey and Rosie, when I went home that day, I felt as if I was ten years older. I saw Violetta on her way to Pardo’s and I saw Marco down the lane looking for me, and I can’t explain it, but I felt as if my life was bigger.
Through the storytelling, through the chopping and stirring, the kneading and twisting of dough, Rosie comes to her own epiphany:
“…I am thinking that I cannot control who is going to come and who is going to go, and who will stay my buddy, my pal, and who will find me enchanting, and oddly I feel relieved.”
And it is this understanding and relief that enables Rosie to invite Janine, Bailey and the new family with two boys to a pasta party.