Values: Community, Consideration, Equality and Confidence.
This vibrant fable will catch your eye from the moment you see it! It is a fable that I assume is based on Stone Soup (a European tale on the importance of sharing) although the book doesn't explicitly confirm this. The story is set in Africa, and we can infer that is is specifically set in South Africa from the dedication at the front by author Alan Durant to all of his South African friends who told him this tale; and that the illustrator, Dale Blankenaar is South African himself. This beautiful book has been longlisted and shortlisted for numerous prizes in the UK and has been translated into 11 South African languages - which I think is great in terms of inclusion!
Children will love searching through the brightly-coloured pages finding animals that they recognise. Every time I read this book, I spot more details that I didn't the previous times and the imagery is almost magical in the way it keeps giving. The story is about Noko the porcupine who is weary after travelling through the Valley of a Thousand Hills. When he sees a village, he is relieved as he hopes for food and shelter. Unfortunately, the villagers turn him away, making all kinds of excuses for why they cannot help him. Eventually, Noko declares that he will make some soup from the quills on his back. The villagers are intrigued and eagerly watch this process. As they discover that Noko has made this soup for the King, the villagers become more and more curious to taste the quill soup. Noko, being a clever porcupine, makes vague statements to himself, "If only I had..." and the villagers run to fetch the ingredients for this special soup. At the end, Noko generously shares his soup with all of the villagers; they sang, danced, and told stories... and Noko is eventually offered a bed to stay in.
This is a fun fable about the importance of sharing and being generous, and also has messages about greed and selfishness. The animals (villagers) did not want to offer a stranger food or shelter until they learnt he had cooked his soup for the King. Their opinion changed of him and so did their attitudes towards him, teaching children valuable messages about not judging a book by its cover.
I would explore the Value of consideration using this book. I would ask children how considerate the villagers were to Noko at the start of the book and how and why this changed over the course of the story. This could lead into a discussion of times people have been considerate to others, and how we recognise consideration.
I would also think about equality with children. In the beginning of the story, when Noko arrives, the villagers think he is inferior and do not want to help him. As they learn that he cooked for royalty, their attitudes change and they suddenly all want a taste of the soup. There are lots of parables and sayings that link to this concept: none least, "Treat your neighbour how you would like to be treated." We can explore this saying in light of the book and discuss what we mean by judgments or stereotypes.
When reading Quill Soup, it would be valuable to discuss Noko's confidence. Although he is tired and hungry, he knows that the villagers are lying. He has the confidence to ask for a pot and some water and cooks his soup right in front of the villagers who rejected them. He knows that when they learn of his delicious soup, they may be interested in tasting it. There are important messages of confidence in this story as Noko does not allow his confidence to be knocked. Importantly though, at the end, he still enjoys sharing the soup with the others and does not hold it against them. He is humble and does not retaliate - something we often discuss with children.
Another Value that may be interesting to discuss is community - and the power of it. In this story, the community as a whole decide to reject Noko and his requests for food and shelter. Not one animal takes him in before they see for themselves how they can benefit from him. There is a lot to be said for how 'closed' communities can be to outsiders and how this makes others who would like to join, feel. Just the way the animals all peek out to take a look at Noko when he arrives is quite intimidating. It could be easy to talk with children about how they have felt starting a new school or club and what made them feel welcome/unwelcome. We talk in schools a lot about inclusion and friendships and allowing others to join, and this story is a great example of how hard it can be to break through the walls of a community where you may not be initially welcome. Something adults can reflect upon too when studying this book!
In conclusion, I love the depth that this book brings and I love the way it can generate so many discussions right from Reception up to KS3 in assemblies, PSHE, RE, Geography. I think the illustrations are unique and so vibrant, really doing justice to a thoughtfully-written book. I think every school and home should have a copy of this book (plus, it is published by the wonderful Tiny Owl who we want to keep alive during these hard times!). Find your copy on their website here. Follow them on Twitter: @TinyOwl_Books and the author: @alan_durant .
For more books on this blog that include the same Values, use these hashtags: