At first glance The Ugly Pumpkin may appear to be a Halloween story: it begins in early October and takes place, partly, in a pumpkin patch with witches and skeletons taking home pumpkins. But this story is more than that. It’s a delightful twist on the “Ugly Duckling” story. From the author’s biography on the back flap of the book comes the reason why it's not a Halloween story: “Dave tied the Ugly Pumpkin’s story to Thanksgiving because he feels Thanksgiving, too, is underappreciated, the middle child of all holidays.”
It’s early October and the pumpkins in the patch are being picked left and right – all except one, the Ugly Pumpkin. He’s been waiting all October to be picked and taken home but no one seems to be interested in him. Even the other pumpkins tease him. After he “walked into November,” the Ugly Pumpkin meets some trees who invite him to “Take off yer boots and spread yer roots….” He becomes hopeful. But when the trees throw apples at him he realizes it was just another trick.
The Ugly Pumpkin's angst is played out in a moment of deep sadness. “I AM THE UGLY PUMPKIN! I shouted at the sky.” And soon after he seeks shelter in an overrun garden where he finds, to his great joy, his place in the world.
Dave Horowitz has created a wonderful story of friendship and acceptance as seen through the eyes of the Ugly Pumpkin. Rhyming verse and simple, colorful illustrations work together to make this story unique.
The rhyming makes this story fast-paced and exciting: “A skeleton came for pumpkins one bright and crispy day. I asked if I could get a ride … He laughed and said No Way!” Horowitz uses great imagery to enhance the text: “bright and crispy day” and “So I walked into November.” The image of walking into November was very interesting and the reader could almost envision this happening on a paper calendar. The use of the word “crispy” to describe an October day was terrific. It’s true — if you go out on a clear, beautiful fall day it is crispy, like a crisp, crunchy apple.
The Ugly Pumpkin's illustrations add some humor to this slightly serious story. As the skeleton is loading pumpkins into the back of his truck, the pumpkin is shown, on the lower right-hand corner holding a sign that says “Going My Way?” and on the next page we see him on the lower left corner holding his sign upside-down. The Ugly Pumpkin appears to be looking straight at us, imploringly.
What makes this story truly unique, though, is the first person narrative. This is, after all, one pumpkin’s search for self, and it really connects the reader to the story.
What is the Ugly Pumpkin? You’ll have to read The Ugly Pumpkin, by Dave Horowitz, to find out.