Soup by Robert Newton Peck, 1974.
This is the first book in a series about the author’s childhood best friend. His friend’s real name was Luther Wesley Vison, but he always hated that name. Because Luther refused to come home whenever his mother called his name for dinner, his mother took to just yelling, “Soup’s on!” when she wanted him to come home to eat. After that, everyone else just started calling him “Soup”, which he liked a lot better than “Luther.”
Together, Soup and Robert had a reputation for getting into scrapes in their small town in Vermont. The book is a series of short stories about the funny things they did as kids, like how they got revenge on the school nurse for asking embarrassing questions, how Soup got punished for breaking a window other than the one he’d actually broken, how Soup talked Rob into rolling down a hill in a barrel, and how Robert’s aunt let him tie her to a tree right before a lightning storm.
Some of the stories are laugh-out-loud funny, and some of them have kind of a moral lesson to them, like the time when Rob realized that he didn’t have the heart to lie to his mother even if it would allow him to escape punishment for talking back to the school nurse, the time when Soup and Rob tried to cheat Mr. Diskin out of some money so they would have enough to go to the movies but ended up feeling guilty, and how the boys made themselves sick by attempting to smoke cornsilk. Others are just stories of childhood events and friendship, like the story of how Rob and Soup played football and how Soup loaned Rob his new shoes when his were ruined. Even though Soup often got Rob into trouble, he really was a good friend and went out of his way to make Rob feel better when he needed it the most.
Although it is a short chapter book that is easy to read, a couple of the stories might require some further explanations for young children reading them, like the one where the boys smoke cornsilk using homemade pipes and the one where Soup says that someone told him it was all right to cheat Mr. Diskin because he’s a Jew (a belief that they come to rethink when they feel guilty for cheating someone who was always fair with them and was kind to them even when he discovered the deception). They deal with older practices and prejudices and can be the start of discussions about the lessons people learn by making mistakes. Other than that, these stories present a fascinating look at what it was like to grow up in the country during the 1920s.