Book Review: A History of Pumpkins

Posted by Big Universe on Nov 15, 2012 3:45:18 AM

I am in a cinnamon-spice-peak-of-autumn kind of mood. When I get in one of those moods, I want a "just so" book to go along with it. In this case, something tasty ... smooth like a warm custard pie right out of the oven. So glad I found Pumpkins by Jacqueline Farmer (Charlesbridge Publishing).

In a word: YUM!

Yum because Phyllis Limbacher Tildes' illustrations are perfect.

Yum because this looks like a picture book but it is pure nonfiction.

And yum because there are great-sounding recipes in the back.

Farmer has packed this slim volume with SO much information. Now I knew that pumpkin is a fruit not a vegetable, but I had no idea that people have found pumpkin seeds that are more than 11,000 years old. Did you know that pumpkin family is one of the Three Sisters of Native American culture? There are lots of cool facts like that (dare I say) scattered throughout the book.

I read a lot of nonfiction and what stood out for me is that the text is informational, just like you'd expect, but the illustrations are more like a picture book. There are no insets to sidetrack distractable readers or listeners; the imagery tell pieces of the story not put into words. For example, the spread on pages 12 and 13 cite the fact that nine out of ten pumpkins are used to make jack o'lanterns. Now look at the illustration.


There are nine carved pumpkins on the right-hand page and one pumpkin pie on the left. Ten pumpkins. Your reader can explore their faces and shapes while you read, and when you're done you can count them together to do the math. What a great way to help kids see what 'nine out of ten' pumpkins looks like.

On page 11, two young students are reading a report about the Pilgrims of Plimouth (sic). Yes, we all know it is "plymouth" but a young reader could probably use the help of the "i" in decoding the word. Massachusetts might LOOK harder, but it is easy to parse. Ply-mouth ... not so much. Last but not least, the illustration in the back is a glossary with a translation of "pumpkin" in 12 languages. What a great way to show kids in one image that pumpkin is a universal / global product.

This is a book that covers lots of ground. It can be shared as a picture book, but there is a LOT more

  • Social Studies - use the material about Native American and European cultures to talk about traditions (turnip carving anyone?);
  • Language Arts / Social Studies - take the jack o'lantern story to talk about folklore and traditions;
  • Science / Health - grab a pumpkin and try one (or all) of the activities: carving, roasting seeds, baking and cooking.
This is a book you can get out in the spring when the planting season begins and then pull out in the fall when its time for harvesting.

Before I go though, I do have one lingering question. Why are so many pumpkin-related records in Ohio? The world's heaviest pumpkin (1,725 pounds) grew in Jackson Township, OH; The world's largest pumpkin pie (2,020 pounds) was made in New Bremen, OH; and Jerry Ayers of Baltimore, OH carved 2,000 pounds of pumpkins "with detailed designs" in seven hours and 11 minutes.

Hmmm. Think I'll need a piece of pie to figure that one out. You?

You can read and enjoy Pumpkins by Jacqueline Farmer on

Topics: Reviews

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