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How wonderful is it that in a “C is for Cookie” world, the first long poem that many children fall in love with celebrates chicken soup! The hippity-hoppity rhymes-with one nonsense-packed stanza for every month of the year-are as much fun as cookies while the subject matter is exponentially healthier: chicken soup for little soups.
The poem was one of four miniature books Maurice Sendak published together as the Nutshell Library in 1962, after he was established as a illustrator but the year before his masterpiece Where the Wild Things Are was published, and eight years before the similarly appetitive and exuberant, In the Night Kitchen, appeared. In Chicken Soup, a thatch-haired, smiling little boy/cook sails the Nile, rides an elephant, transmogrifies into a robin, and more, while January through December poems:
tell us one,
tell us twice
“all seasons of the year
The work was a classroom staple-and may still be-although I suspect that the fourth stanza-“In April / I will go away / to far off Spain / or old Bombay / and dream about/ hot soup all day”-now poses a problem for geographic sticklers. Perhaps people update it to: In April / I will go awry / in far off Spain / or old Mumbai.
The other books in the Nutshell Library (which may also be remembered as part of the Sendak and Carole King video collaboration Really Rosie) are the alphabet book, Alligators All Around; the count-to-10-and-back-again, One Was Johnny; and the fable Pierre, a cautionary tale about ennui-all of which deserve many fans. But Chicken Soup With Rice strikes us as the book no child should miss-especially because it can so easily be tucked into a birthday card.