By Melissa Iwai
Though I’ve already illustrated about 20 books, Soup Day (Henry Holt, 2010) is the first book I’ve also written.
I’ve always wanted to write a children’s story, but the writing has never come easy to me the way drawing and painting has.
Soup Day came to me as a gift: I dreamed of a beautiful painting in which an old woman was chopping onions and a little girl was helping her.
I didn’t think much about it. A few days later, frustrated with another manuscript I was working on, I switched gears and began writing a new story.
The old woman and little girl from my dream became a mom and daughter, and I wrote of how they spend the morning buying, preparing, and cooking soup on a cold, wintry day.
I think the story flowed out easily because it combines my two passions: cooking and art.
It’s also based on my experiences cooking with my young son, Jamie, and the fun we have making something together.
Writing, making art, or cooking—they are all pretty much the same thing when you distill it down to their essence (creating something out of “nothing”). Only the medium is different.
Whenever you create a recipe, you have planning and preparation and expectation and experimentation and invention, and the final product is always unique. Even if you follow an existing recipe, there are other variables involved such as your ingredients and/or ratios of measurements which may fluctuate. If you change the vegetables, pasta or seasonings you add to your soup pot, the outcome will always be something original and maybe a little unexpected (hopefully in a good way!).
The same is true with creating a piece of art and writing. You may have a vision of what you want the result to be, but in the end, it is often something different and surprising.
As with writing and art making, cooking can enrich a child’s world. There are the more obvious lessons of counting, measuring, and weighing involved. But there is also that wonder and joy of creation – making something out of “nothing.”
I think cooking can also foster a sense of empowerment in children, much like expressing themselves with words and pictures. And if they are involved in the process of cooking, they are more likely to eat their creation!
I got my son to eat sautéed mushrooms that way. There’s no way he would eat it if I handed it to him on a plate. But because I let him cut the mushrooms with a plastic knife (with my help) before I sautéed them in butter, he could claim a sense of ownership, and he happily gobbled them up.
This sense of pride, as well as the bonding via the creative experience are what I find to be the most valuable aspects about cooking with children. It’s the unspoken message of Soup Day, and what I hope it inspires.
See also Melissa’s blog, The Hungry Artist.
In the video below, Melissa shows us how to make the soup from Soup Day.