Bone Button Borscht

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by Aubrey Davis; illustrated by Dusan Petricic; published (1995) by Kids Can Press

Did I say Aubrey Davis  is the best reteller of tales?  I’m saying it!  And he is!

BONE BUTTON BORSCHT is a retelling of Stone Soup with a Yiddish twist.  A lovely book. The  message is excellent, the writing sparse, clean, strong.  An absolute gem.

On a dark winter’s night a ragged beggar hobbles along.  It’s snowy and bitter cold, and there’s a little town at the bottom of a hill.

…  “Ah, there is nothing like being a beggar,” he thinks. “Such good it brings out in people. They share. They give. And me?  I get a little something too. It’s perfect!”

But the town he finds is a stark and silent town. Everywhere he knocks, he’s sent away.  He follows a line of light in the snow, to a synagogue. The caretaker, the shamas, huddled in a corner, won’t talk or respond, so the beggar has an idea. He grabs at the bone buttons on his coat and he  tugs. Tchk! Tchk! Tchk! Tchk! Tchk!  Five buttons!

“Oy,” says the beggar, loudly,  “IF ONLY I HAD ONE MORE BUTTON!”

“Oy,” says the beggar, louder,  “IF ONLY I HAD ONE MORE BUTTON!”

“OY,” …….!”

The shamas says, Nobody in this town will give you a button….. we’re poor, Mr. Beggar. We don’t give to each other any more.  So why should we give even a button to a stranger?”

“Why? Because with one more button,” says the beggar, I could make us a soup.  I could make a nice hot borscht.”

Well, the shamas is curious to see this miracle. The townsfolk are curious to see the miracle. And if you know Stone Soup, then you know what happens next. The townsfolk, bit by bit, are each finessed into giving a little something for their soup – in this case, for their bone button borscht. They give a little sugar and a little salt, some pepper and garlic and carrots and beets. And while everyone is gathered around for the miracle, the miracle is already happening.

Though they eat and they laugh and they make a great deal of merry, the miracle is not the borscht and they don’t need a single button to make a soup. In times of scarcity, they need each other. And that, writes Davis, is “.. the real miracle the beggar left behind.”

So you probably know Stone Soup.  And so many other versions.  But this one is truly delicious.


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