Sopa de frijoles: Un poema para cocinar / Bean Soup: A Cooking Poem

author: Jorge Tetl Argueta
illustrator: Rafael Yockteng
Groundwood Books / House of Anansi Press, 2009
kindergarten-grade 2
Pipíl, Salvadoran

In this elegant, bilingual free-verse poem that is also a recipe (or recipe that is also a poem), Argueta and Yockteng show a young child how to prepare a delicious and nutritious pot of bean soup—“una sabrosa / sopita de frijoles.” And in the gathering and preparation of ingredients—chopping, adding, mixing, stirring—as well as setting the table, there are gently inserted life lessons. All things are alive, all things have volition, all things are related, and all things will give back if you afford them care and respect.

From the beginning, instructing a child in this way: “Primero pones / los frijolitos / en el cielo de la mesa. / Los frijoles son estrellitas. / Los limpias / de cualquier basurita. / Los frijolitos al chocar / unos con otros / hacen  musiquita. / Tu también puedes cantar.” (“First spread / the beans / out on the sky of the table. / The beans are stars. / Throw away / any little pebbles. / When the beans touch / they clink a little song. / You can sing too.”)—slows down the process, as well it should. 

Yockteng’s paintings, rendered in watercolor on a muted earthy-toned palette of mostly browns, with some blues and reds, complement both the soup and the story. Here is a little boy, rising from his video game to try something else. Here he is separating the beans, dropping some on the floor, juggling with some while the rest cooks. Here’s mom in a support role, mopping up, drying onion-chopping tears, watching in case she’s needed, but not interfering. As the water “boils and sings” and “the beans dance together” (“El aguita hierve y canta. / Los frijolitos bailan unos / con otros. / El aguita se ha vuelto / morena como el color / de la Madre Tierra”), the wonderful aroma visually invites the child to dance as well.

It’s clear that Argueta first composed Sopa de frijoles in Spanish and then interpreted it into English. Although the English has rhythm as well, the lyrical, idiomatic Spanish bestows a kind of volition that the English doesn’t. For instance, “El fuego va a bailar / mientras los frijoles / se van ablandando / lentamente” translates to “The fire will dance / while the beans / slowly get soft.”

On the last page—¡Ayyy, que sabor!—the aroma of the bean soup has invited the whole family to the table. Sopa de frijoles: Un poema para cocinar / Bean Soup: A Cooking Poem is highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 10/18/15)

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