It's a term of endearment. It's a mode of transportation in a popular fairy tale. It's rich in fiber and low in carbohydrates. It is a popular and main ingredient in food especially during the autumn season. Scientifically, it's known as a fruit but there are those who argue it's a vegetable.
As October 31st draws nearer, grocery stores and farmers' markets are featuring it prominently. Children can hardly wait to find the best one. Stumpkin (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, July 24, 2018) written and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins (A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals) is about a pumpkin who believes his perfection is flawed.
It was a few days before Halloween. Outside a little shop in a big city, a shopkeeper placed some pumpkins on the shelves.
Immediately a little girl stopped, looked at the pumpkins and walked away with one in her arms. Those still on the shelves wondered what was going to happen to their companion. That evening they had an answer.
In one of the apartment buildings on the other side of the street, a jack-o-lantern glowed in a window. The pumpkin turned jack-o-lantern had fared fantastically according to his buddies. They could hardly wait for the same fate except for one. He realized he had no stem just a stump. He was literally pumpkin perfection except for this one detail.
As it got closer and closer to Halloween more and more pumpkins left the shelves and filled windows with happy grins across the street at night. As each pumpkin left Stumpkin knew he would be the best jack-o-lantern of all. Would his turn to leave be tomorrow?
People walked by and picked pumpkins. The shop keeper's cat settled on top of Stumpkin. A child picked him! YES! Oh, no! He changed his mind when a dog did what dogs do around cats. (sigh) Soon it was just a gourd and Stumpkin on the shelves. It was now Halloween day. A boy walked up and picked one of them. You won't believe which one he picked. Someone got a new home that night. Someone else was already in their special space.
When Lucy Ruth Cummins writes a story you know she will take something ordinary and expand your thinking. In her capable hands it becomes extraordinary. In this narrative she smoothly moves from narrator to the thoughts of the pumpkins and the thoughts of Stumpkin. She builds descriptive reasoning into the tale which leads us to humor and the glowing, grinning conclusion. Here is the bottom portion of a passage.
Poor little . . . Stumpkin.
Still there was plenty to like about Stumpkin.
He was a handsome pumpkin---as orange as a traffic cone.
He was as big as a basketball---and twice as round!
Some people might even prefer a stemless pumpkin.
Could there be more excellent colors for a book about a pumpkin and Halloween? The rich black on the dust jacket extends flap edge to flap edge. On the left it's entirely like a moonless midnight except for a sliver of Stumpkin in the lower right-hand corner. And without even opening the book case we know Stumpkin is not happy about his physical state. The placement of his eyes and angle of his eyebrows conveys his emotional mood. The texture of the paper for the jacket is rough like tiny, tiny weaving.
On the book case we move in closer to Stumpkin on the front. We see a hint of his stem but our eyes are drawn to his eyes and lots of orange. A wide black band extends from the spine. Stumpkin is also highlighted on the back but he is much different; much happier. On the matching opening and closing endpapers in orange and cream are rows of bricks like the walls of the apartment buildings.
Lucy Ruth Cummins begins her pictorial story on the title page with a truck driving left to right, almost off the page. The back is filled with pumpkins and one gourd. Rendered in gouache, pencil, ink, and brush marker the images invite interpretation. Many of the elements are in shades of black and gray to accentuate the pumpkins. We never see details on the people. Details are seen in other items; the signs on the shop windows and door and the plants and fruits on display. (Take note of those fruits, page to page.)
The perspective changes from larger views of the shop and apartment buildings across the street to close-ups of the shelves. This allows us to see the eyes of the cat and the pumpkins as their expressions shift. The change in visual sizes, double-page to full page, elevates the emotions Stumpkin is feeling. It also surprises us with six very special pages toward the end which are masterful.
One of my many favorite illustrations spans a full page crossing the gutter to the left. It's a close up of the shelves outside the shop. It draws our attention to three shelves. There are four elements on each shelf; nine pumpkins, a single gourd, Stumpkin and the black cat with brilliant green eyes. All the eyes are looking at Stumpkin. He is most definitely worried. He has just noticed his lack of a stem.
Is this a stellar choice for a Halloween read aloud? It certainly is! Is this a super-duper choice for reminding us imperfections in our minds are likely perfections to others? Yes, it is! Stumpkin written and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins is a book you need to add to your professional and personal collections. It is destined to be a holiday classic.
To learn more about Lucy Ruth Cummins and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name. At the publisher's website you can view interior images and portions of the story. Lucy Ruth Cummins maintains an account on Twitter and Instagram.