I have a thing for pumpkins — their orangeness, their roundness.… I’m not sure what it is, exactly. They’re sort of a harbinger of autumn, my favorite season, so maybe that’s it. Really, I just find them satisfying somehow.
Given my love of the orange autumnal globes, it’s a little odd, perhaps, that my favorite pumpkin book is about a woman who hates pumpkins. In fact, said favorite book opens with blatant pumpkin derision. “Rebecca Estelle hated pumpkins.…” we are told on the first page of Linda White’s Too Many Pumpkins. I sort of flinch when I read this sentence to kids. They look at me with a wary, uncertain look in their eyes. I can hear my father saying, “Hate is a very strong word.…”
In this case, it’s a strong word for a strong feeling — Rebecca Estelle does indeed hate pumpkins. She ate too many as a kid. (Apparently, she grew up in a time before pumpkin-spiced everything took over the world.) A lean season in Rebecca’s childhood left her family with nothing but pumpkins to eat one year, and she’s never gotten the taste of baked, steamed, boiled, stewed, mashed pumpkins out of her mouth. Rebecca Estelle hates pumpkins so much you know right away that that she will somehow wind up with a full crop of them.
This book breaks a couple of pretty hard and fast picture book rules. It’s long and full of “unnecessary” detail. It’s about an older woman, not a child. And yet…kids are pretty well mesmerized by it. I’ve read it many times over the years, in many places, to older kids and younger kids, at Halloween Parties and Harvest Festivals, before Thanksgiving dinner, as post-trick-or-treat treat.… I’ve read it a couple of times just in the last week, in fact. It never fails to bring the kids under its spell.
The art is gorgeous. The pumpkins are large and round and the perfect shade of orange — they almost pop off the page they are so beautifully done. The green vines climb and twine through the story. The details of Rebecca’s home and person are a joy. And there’s a cat named Esmerelda who somehow looks just like a cat named Esmerelda should. This book is a happy marriage between writer (Linda White) and illustrator (Megan Lloyd) and the total package is exquisite.
Too Many Pumpkins is about pumpkins, to be sure; but more importantly, it’s about personal struggle, community, and the possibility that something you loathe just might turn into something you love. I wonder if this last thing is why kids love Too Many Pumpkins. Children have strong feelings — they love and loathe with abandon. How interesting things become when something you previously loathed becomes something you love. And even more interesting: when that loathed thing is what brings you good things like friends, pumpkin-spiced treats, and fun.