Today I’m looking out my office window at falling leaves, whipping winds and autumn showers. It’s only a few days before Halloween, and we’re getting excited about pumpkin carving and Trick-or-Treating with my girls (even though some might consider them too old, we’re going anyway :). Today’s fall picture book favorite has all of these images and more rolled into one sweet, old-fashioned story…
Pumpkin Moonshine, written and illustrated by Tasha Tudor (Oxford University Press, 1938, Tasha Tudor, 1966, Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers edition, 2000)
This picture book has all the charm of its day, as the dedication, “A wee story for a very sweet wee person,” invites young readers into the world of Tasha Tudor. The first page demonstrates the just-right elements every good picture book should, as it sets the stage for young Sylvie Ann’s pumpkin-moonshine adventure…
“Sylvie Ann was visiting her Grandmummy in Connecticut. It was Hallowe’en and Sylvie wanted to make a Pumpkin Moonshine, so she put on her bonnet and started out for the cornfield to find the very finest and largest pumpkin.”
From these first lines, readers understand what this story is about and what to expect on the coming pages. All children who have ever searched for the perfect pumpkin will connect immediately with Sylvie Ann and her mission: to find the best pumpkin for making a pumpkin moonshine (jack-o-lantern).
What is special about this book is how even in the first few lines we learn something new about the time period in which the book was written. Jack-o-lanterns were called pumpkin moonshines, and Halloween was written with the apostrophe in tact to indicate that it is short for “All Hallows Eve,” or “Hallow Evening.”
But what I really love about Tasha Tudor’s approach is how in the next few pages the pumpkin turns from an object into something with a personality! The naughty pumpkin gets away from Sylvie Ann and rolls through the barnyard, causing all kinds of mischief. It feels exactly like what the perfect jack-o-lantern pumpkin might do if it knew it was going to be carved into something spooky!
Of course Grandpawp steps in to help Sylvie Ann and saves the day by cutting the top off of the naughty, runaway pumpkin. Together they scoop out the seeds and carve eyes, nose and big grin with “horrid crooked teeth.” Sylvie Ann even remembers to save the seeds and plant them in the spring so she has plenty of pumpkins to choose from for next year.
If you are a picture book writer and illustrator and aren’t familiar with Tasha Tudor, spend some time getting to know her artwork and style of story telling. Although old fashioned by today’s standards, her attention to detail in both descriptions and paintings, and her incredible use of color are something to cherish. And then share this little gem with a “sweet wee person” of your very own. Happy Halloween!
Sensibility- Look for the artistry in picture books. Some of the most beautiful paintings in the world are between the covers of a children’s story.
Sense- Although many older stories to not fit today’s model, writers can learn much from the attention to detail shown in the work of yesterday’s children’s authors and illustrators.
What are some of your favorite Halloween picture books?