Review: Stumpkin by Lucy Ruth Cummins
By Lucy Ruth Cummins
Atheneum (Simon & Schuster)
If you read to kids a lot then you know the power of the great season-specific book. For most of these sorts of titles, the main draw is that it’s about a special day – a case of timeliness before quality. But when a book about a special day also happens to be excellent, it feels like a secret weapon. Sweet but not sappy and subtly innovative, Stumpkin stands apart from the pack.
It was a few days before Halloween.
Outside a little shop in a big city, a shopkeeper
placed some pumpkins on the shelves.
One by one the pumpkins are purchased, brought to their new homes and turned into jack o’lanterns. One stemless pumpkin begins to worry. Will Stumpkin be chosen? When Halloween arrives, Stumpkin finds himself alone on the shelf. But maybe the home Stumpkin was hoping for was right under his yet-to-be-carved triangle nose.
Cummins’s writing style is a blend of formal and familiar, giving the story weight while never alienating the reader. Repetition is used well, returning to familiar scenes, but with a twist, always keeping things engaging.
The illustrations (created with gouache, pencil, ink, and brush marker) are loose and wonderfully disencumbered, giving the proceedings an inviting lived-in feel. The palette is appropriately monochromatic save for the bright orange and green of the pumpkins, allowing them to take center stage. Humans are rendered in silhouette, further focusing attention on Stumpkin and crew. My favorite illustration moment comes at the climax of the story, when sucessive spreads use a whole lot of black and two simple triangles to reveal Stumpkin’s fate. It’s an inventive surprise that makes the conclusion that much more satisfying.
It’s a book about differences. It’s a book about acceptance. All that AND it has the best-feeling cover of the year (thanks to a nicely textured jacket). Stumpkin is a book you’ll want to return to whenever you start to feel a chill in the air.
Review copy purchased.
Filed under: Reviews
About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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