Book Talk

Keeping Books in Print, Meeting Phoebe Rose

December 28, 2013

I hSoulMoonThumbope we all have a safe place to live and good food to eat. We know this scenario is far from real even in affluent nations.

Phoebe Rose is the narrator of Soul Moon Soup. I am not sure how I first met her, who handed me the book or made the recommendation. However finding this remarkable story caused cellular changes.

Author Lindsay Lee Johnson has written in prose poetry a narrative of a young girl, at age 11, sleeping with her mother in doorways and shelters. Each chapter builds our understanding of what it is like for Phoebe living “in the hard poor middle of the city” and later adapting to life away from her mother. The section called Secrets of the Shelter is, for me, completely gripping, as Phoebe describes the lottery system when too many people arrive and there aren’t enough beds:

I felt guilty when we won.

Seeing the look on the eyes of other mamas

packing up their snot-nosed babies

and setting off seventeen blocks

to the next slap in the face.

I felt worse when we lost.


There’s good luck and bad luck,

the lottery lady said.

Everybody gets their share

of both.

That’s what makes it fair.


I said, If one person’s good luck

has to be another person’s bad luck,

it spoils things for everybody.

Luck, I decided, is nothing

to depend on.

Her words convey the lack of privacy, and the absence of the moments that mark most of our childhoods in a simple line: “I don’t remember ever seeing Momma cook.”

It’s the event at school though, where everyone knows she lives at the shelter that reveals her defenses. A locker partner tries to give her toiletries and we see Phoebe’s struggle and heartbreak, and her inability to receive. This part is for you to read. Only when she is sent to live in the country with her Gram does Phoebe learn, “When things come apart it’s your chance to rearrange the pieces.”

I have been fortunate to present a workshop with Lindsay years ago in Minneapolis. She brought cookies with the image from her book cover. She touched us all with her stories of volunteering in shelters and coming to know Phoebes and their families.

When I was ordering several hundred for a school, I was shocked to know it was out of print. The publisher was more than willing to work with me. Fortunately, the reprint requirement for copies for me were less than with Toestomper and the Caterpillars (see Keeping Books in Print, 2000 Copies at a Time), and I have ordered these twice. Teachers like to get classroom sets. Parents like to read the book aloud with their children. Organizations want to have resources for people to deepen their understanding.

A limited supply remains. To bring Phoebe home, visit Soul Moon Soup and order at ABCD Books. Also, download a free copy of A Kid’s Guide to Hunger and Homelessness, part of my Service Learning for Kids series. You will find an excerpt from Soul Moon Soup in this workbook-style publication complimented by a variety of ways to inform and engage youth in action.

When you order Soul Moon Soup, email me and I am glad to send a copy of an interview with Lindsay Lee Johnson.

What other book would I save?

The Adventurous Chef—The Story of Alexis Soyer is a remarkable book about a chef in London circa 1830s (documented as the first celebrity chef) who fed the wealthy by day and saw people who were poor and hungry on the streets at night. He decided he would cook for them as well and organized the philanthropic women of London and opened soup kitchens. When the potato famine hit Ireland, he was asked to  open a sop kitchen in Dublin that would feed 5000 people a day. He agreed, and set up a soup kitchen to feed 9000 people a day plus built a giant pot on wheels to move soup through the streets of London to reach more people. His story of great giving continues. Also if you are a foodie, he did much toward redesigning kitchens. Be amazed!

Your comments and questions more than welcome by contacting me directly at

Cathryn Berger Kaye