Reviews by Terry Northcutt, Ph.D.
In Granny Torrelli Makes Soup, Storm in the Night, and Beezus and Ramona; adults tell childhood stories in which they were not heroes. They were jealous, angry, filled with mean thoughts, or paralyzed by fear. They experienced all those thoughts and emotions that are labeled as negative.
This is in sharp contrast to the many books that portray powerful wizards and superheroes. Children need such books. They need battles between good and evil in which good predictably triumphs. They need happy endings. We all need these types of stories because we need the reassurance that in the end all will be well. But these stories do not enable a child to understand or tolerate his human tendency to experience negative feelings and hurtful thoughts, to make mistakes and, sometimes, to fail completely.
So children also need stories with ordinary, fallible, people struggling through the difficulties of life, sometimes rising to the challenge and sometimes disappointing themselves and others, but usually learning something valuable in the process. These stories, particularly those told by trusted, respected, competent adults enable children to tell their own painful stories. It gives them permission to be less than perfect, it lets them know that such thoughts and feelings are normal, it gives them the long term perspective that adults have learned something important from their painful experiences. These three books, all by award winning authors, provide these types of stories.
Granny Torrelli Makes Soup
Interest Level: Middle Grade (4-6)
Publisher: Harpercollins; Reprint Edition, 2012
Format: Juvenile Fiction, novel, paperback: 160 pages
Review by Terry Northcutt, Ph.D.
Granny Torrelli Makes Soup by Sharon Creech, a winner of the Newbery award, shows the power of storytelling combined with everyday tasks to help a child not only share painful experiences, but also to put those experiences in perspective.
Granny Torrelli is a wise and wily grandmother. She senses that her granddaughter, Rosie, is upset. Knowing that children talk more easily when their hands are busy and when they don’t have to look someone in the eye, she waits until Rosie is busy chopping onions, and mushrooms, and celery for soup before asking what’s going on with her. Despite her savvy, Granny still gets the “nothing” response.” So, Granny continues rooting in cupboards for pasta and salt while also continuing to probe for what happened. Her persistence yields a little more. “Oh, it’s nothing…It’s just that Bailey.”
The conflict with Bailey, who is blind, unfolds slowly. As Granny and Rosie prepare soup, Granny tells stories about her relationship with a childhood friend named Pardo and Rosie recounts her friendship with Bailey since they were babies. Granny’s stories about Pardo help Rosie understand the cost of staying angry with a good friend and the impact of her stubborn, bossy, take charge ways with Bailey.
In part two Rosie, Bailey, and Granny make pasta. As they are talking, Rosie becomes jealous when Bailey talks about Janine. Bailey becomes jealous when Rosie talks about the new boys moving in across the street from Bailey. Granny’s stories about her best friend Pardo who became enamored with Violetta, and about Marcus who became enchanted with Granny when she was a girl help the two understand the problem of jealousy. But Granny also tells another story. A story that initially seems unrelated to jealousy. 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. She was not thinking about Violetta or Pardo or Marco. She could only think about the baby getting better. When the baby finally showed signs of getting well, Granny had 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.”
Granny is unsure if she should have told Rosie and Bailey this story. And some readers may be unsure if she should have told them the story about convincing Violetta to let her cut her hair so that she would not be so pretty to Pardo. But they were the right stories. Not only do the stories enable Rosie and Bailey to acknowledge their jealousy and anger, they also enable Rosie and Bailey to take a step back from their feelings to think through the consequences of their actions. Finally they place the problem of jealousy into the context of larger life issues.
Storm in the Night and Beezus and Ramona coming soon.