Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Pumpkin War

Young, Cathleen. The Pumpkin War
May 21st 2019 by Wendy Lamb Books
Copy provided by the publisher

Billie lives on Madeline Island in Wisconsin, and her family has bees, llamas, and some crops. Every year, the community has a pumpkin race, and Billie has been the champion most years. Last year, her best friend Sam beat her, and the two have had difficulties for a variety of reasons, even though they reigned as polka king and queen at the last year's festival. Sam has gotten his pumpkin seeds in early this year, but Billie is facing many challenges with her family. Her mother goes into labor early and brings home a colicky younger brother for Billie and her sister Marylee, and a grandfather she has never met shows up unexpectedly. Billie sells honey at a local farmer's market, so much of her energy is focused on her hives, and the family llamas (who spit a lot!) are her responsibility as well. As the summer progresses, she and her friend Cami work on their pumpkins and hope for the best. Can Billie make sure her family gets along, her pumpkins are successful, and her friendship with Sam gets repaired?
Strengths: I loved the island, agricultural setting, and all of the details about what it would be like to live on an island. For example, when Billie's mother goes into labor, they have to call the doctor AND the ferry. Her family life is also great-- both parents are alive, she has a grandmother who babysits (there needs to be more of this in middle grade!) and hangs out with them in her diner. I even liked the estranged grandfather and his wish to reconnect. Summer books are always good to have. The cover is very nice.
Weaknesses: I wish I had known more about Billie's original fight with Sam. The conflict is spot on, and similar to one I had in third grade with Mark T.--deep and unending anger leading to strained personal interactions-- but as a reader, it would have helped to know more about what started it. In the case of Mark T., he stole and broke my purple crayon. I appreciate a good grudge, but they are hard to understand from the outside.
What I really think: While I think it's great that Billie's grandmother is Native American from the Ojibwe tribe, I cannot personally say if the information presented about the culture is correct. According to the publisher, "the book was read for accuracy by Robert Flashingbird, a member of the Eagle clan who is a tribal historian for Red Cliff and the Ojibwe expert at the Madeline Island Museum."

I love books about farming, but my students are less interested. This has been compared to The Secrets of Blueberries, Brothers, Moose & Me by Sara Nickerson and Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, and those books have not circulated well, so I am a bit conflicted about this one for my library. 

There are actually more books about pumpkin farming than you might think!

Meyerhoff, Jenny. Pumpkin Spice (Friendship Garden #2) (2015)

Kaya, Anna, and Reed hope their pumpkin, Herbert, will take home first prize at the Windy City Pumpkin Fest, but when Herbert suddenly disappears, the friends must catch the thief in time for the festival.
Hill, Melanie Heuiser. Giant Pumpkin Suite (2017)

Twelve-year-old Rose Brutigan has grown seven inches in the last eight months. She’s always been different from her twin brother, Thomas, but now she towers over him in too many ways. The gap in their interests continues to widen as well. Musically talented Rose is focused on winning the upcoming Bach Cello Suites Competition, while happy-go-lucky Thomas has taken up the challenge of growing a giant pumpkin in the yard of their elderly neighbor, Mr. Pickering. But when a serious accident changes the course of the summer, Rose is forced to grow and change in ways she never could have imagined. Along the way there’s tap dancing and classic musicals, mail-order worms and neighborhood-sourced compost, fresh-squeezed lemonade, the Minnesota State Fair — and an eclectic cast of local characters that readers will fall in love with.

Springer, Kristina. Just Your Average Princess (2011)

Working in her family's pumpkin patch every year, seventeen-year-old Jamie has dreamed of two things--dating co-worker Danny and being crowned Pumpkin Princess--but her beautiful and famous cousin Milan's visit may squash all of her hopes.

Bauer, Joan. Squashed (1992)

Humor, agriculture and young love all come together in Joan Bauer's first novel, set in rural Iowa. Sixteen-year-old Ellie Morgan's life would be almost perfect if she could just get her potentially prize-winning pumpkin to put on about 200 more pounds—and if she could take off 20 hopes of attracting Wes, the new boy in town.

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