Pumpkin tales make for great seasonal reading

What would a kid's life be like at this time of year without a few pumpkin books?

A seemingly innocent patch turns into eventual mayhem in "Sixteen Runaway Pumpkins," written in bouncing rhyme by Dianne Ochiltree and buoyantly illustrated by Anne-Sophie Lanquetin ($16.95, Margaret K. McElderry Books). As an overall-clad girl raccoon sets off to get Gramps some of the bright-orange vegetables, her wagon fill up rapidly -- all too rapidly. Eventually, "Sixteen pumpkins slam-jam together" and the wagon ride ends in a crash that fortuitously turns into a pie-baking session. The simple, funny counting story is told with lively language, and colorful pictures set a festive tone that is welcome during the pre-Halloween season.

Children will laugh and clap along with the verse and watch the rotund, rolling, perfectly orange runaways with glee as they meet their crashing end. No ghosts or goblins here -- just a black cat that's scared to death of the out-of-control pumpkins. The story is general enough to be suitable all month long, not just around Oct. 31.

Slightly more spooky is "Mrs. McMurphy's Pumpkin," by Rick Walton, with vibrant illustrations by Delana Bettoli ($8.99, HarperFestival), in which multiple pumpkins appear to Mrs. McMurphy with "wicked, wicked" grins and threaten to eat the seemingly-placid Mrs. McMurphy.

No matter how many threats the various pumpkins make, day after day Mrs. McMurphy keeps her cool, warning a vegetable at one point, "Let's remember our manners." Obviously, the creepy alternates effectively with the mundane.

Of course, none of the pumpkins do remember their manners and they all end up getting a comeuppance. The ending is somewhat predictable but still will be satisfying to little ones, who want to be certain who really deserves to be eaten. Youngsters will soak up the story's atmosphere through the paintings, which bring cheery visions of harvest and a satisfying trick-or-treat scene that will make all little kids antsy to get their costumes out. At $8.99, this book is quite a bargain.

"Mr. Murry and Thumbkin" is a story that's really just starting to take shape as October ends. Reminiscent of the old "ant and grasshopper" fable, this picture book written by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Ard Hoyt ($15.99; Little, Brown & Company), creatively features the pumpkin as an impractical house and its mouse inhabitant as a rather foolhardy but still-likeable soul. He literally begins eating himself out of house and home by slicing off pieces of his pumpkin for dinner. The resulting disaster isn't surprising.

Wilson's narrative is amusing and touching at the same time. She poses a universal situation: Thumbkin doesn't worry at all, until the end, and his friend Mr. Murry worries endlessly. Yet, finally, they find a solution that levels the playing field and leaves them both satisfied. In this clever story, a pumpkin ends up forging a friendship, something that will be relevant regardless of the season.

That's a fine way to end things, this third story being a reminder that seasonal delights can linger even after a holiday is over.


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