Copyright © 2010 Lisa Moser
Illustrations Copyright © 2010 Ben Mantle
Perfect. That’s how Murray the mouse likes everything―especially his soup. So when Murray discovers he’s missing a carrot for Perfect Soup, he sets out to get one. But getting a carrot isn’t as easy as it seems. The farmer wants him to haul wood. The horse wants bells to feel fancy, and that’s just the beginning of the list Murray must fulfill. Just when things are bleakest, Snowman gives him a gift without asking for anything in return, and Murray discovers that friendship is much more important than perfection.
I love snowmen. I think they are charming, and funny, and an absolute ball to make. I enjoy them when they have some personality, when their smiles are lopsided, or their scarves keep blowing off. I’ve made snowmen since I was little girl, and even now I can’t wait for a good packing snow so I can go out with my family and roll up some snowmen. When fresh snow blankets the ground like a quilt, and ice crystals dangle from the trees, it’s a perfect day to write about snowmen.
But stories are funny things. Many times the story I begin with looks nothing like the story I end up with. Ideas change. Plots change. Even characters change. Many writers call this phase of writing, revision. I think it should be called re-envision because sometimes it calls for seeing a story in a whole new way. Perfect Soup is a re-envisioned story.
When I first sat down to work on this story, I was thinking about writing it as a very early beginning reader. The first version of the story was about a chipmunk and a snowman who were friends. One day the snowman catches a terrible cold. (Well, really, he spends all of his time out in the freezing weather; he’s bound to catch a cold.) The snowman begins to sneeze, “AHHH-CHOOO!” His hat flies off. His mittens fly off. His nose flies off. And then the chipmunk finds everything and puts them back on Snowman.
It just didn’t work, though. There wasn’t enough to make it a story. I began to re-envision the story. The first thing I changed was the chipmunk to a mouse. Then I threw everything else out. Except the missing nose. For some reason, a snowman without a nose really intrigued me. Now I had a mouse and a nose-less snowman, but I needed a plot.
Oftentimes, when I am stumped on a story, I go back to the books I loved as a child. Some of my very favorite stories were circular stories. The House That Jack Built is probably one of the most famous circular stories that you might know. I’m fascinated when one event causes another event which causes another event. I started toying with the idea of a chain of events, a mouse who was in a hurry, a snowman who desperately wanted a friend, and an old-fashioned village full of characters.
And then I worked backwards. I knew the mouse had to give the carrot to the snowman in the end, but I had to figure out how to get there. I pulled out a stack of note cards and dreamed up bunch of characters that needed something, writing each character on a card. Then I started arranging them in a circle on my sunroom floor, keeping some, throwing others out, until all of the pieces of the story fell into place.
The writing of Perfect Soup mirrors the story itself. It ended up completely different than what I first wanted. And I love it so much more.
I love that Snowman sees someone in need and helps them without asking for anything in return. I love that Murray finally realizes that things don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. I love that both Murray and Snowman found a true friend.
May your winters be cozy, your soup be delicious, and your friendships be great blessings.