Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Richard Egielski, The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin (Harper Collins, 2003)

My not-quite-three-year-old son has had a love for pumpkins as far back as he can remember. Last Halloween, before he was even two years old, my husband brought home some pumpkins for us to carve. The minute he walked in the door with them my son shouted out "Pumpkin!"- and surprised us all. He didn’t have a very large vocabulary at the time, and we had no idea he even knew what a pumpkin was.

This fall, as soon as pumpkins and Jack-O-Lanterns began appearing on television, in stores, and just about everywhere else we went, my son became obsessed with them and my husband decided that this year we needed to find a way for him to participate in our much-loved autumn ritual of pumpkin carving.

We started by reading The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin to him a few weeks before Halloween. The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin tells the story of a small green pumpkin the size of an apple who grows to become a fat yellow pumpkin, then finally a fiery orange-yellow pumpkin. As he grows fatter the pumpkin becomes more and more full of himself, and aspires to someday be as fierce and frightening as a nearby scarecrow he greatly admires. It is a dream come true for him when one day three children carry him home and carve him into a Jack-O-Lantern with a frightening face.

During my stint as a children’s bookseller, I became thoroughly sick of Margaret Wise Brown’s ridiculously popular Goodnight Moon. Goodnight Moon is a simple, sweet, boring little picture book that -- judging from the number of copies I personally sold -- must make duplicate appearances at nearly every baby shower in the United States. The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin is much more interesting, and bears no noticeable resemblance to that book, nor to Brown’s other immensely popular picture book The Runaway Bunny.

Told in Brown’s typical captivating rhythmic style and illustrated beautifully, emotionally, and atmospherically by the talented Richard Egielski, this story about a little pumpkin with one big ambition is almost startlingly unique. I consider myself very well-versed in the area of children’s picture books and I can’t recall ever having read about pumpkin carving from the perspective of the pumpkin itself. The fact that Margaret Wise Brown died nearly half a century ago and that this story is just now being published somehow makes this singularity even more impressive. More than just an entertaining story, The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin is also subtly instructional and helped my toddler gain an understanding of how pumpkins get from pumpkin-hood to their exalted Jack-O-Lantern state.

Fans of the saccharine and sentimental The Runaway Bunny and Goodnight Moon may be hoping for something else entirely from this presumably last offering by Margaret Wise Brown, and I doubt this story will hold a candle to those books as far as sales numbers are concerned. Nonetheless, The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin is one of the best autumn-themed children’s picture books I’ve yet to experience.

[Christine Doiron]

You can visit the Margaret Wise Brown Web site, or go here for information about illustrator Richard Egielski.