Rotten Pumpkin


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Have you ever wondered what happens to all the Jack-o’-Lanterns after Halloween? They shrivel up and get nasty, but what is really going on in this process? This informational book reads like a narrative of the slow demise of the Jack-o’-Lantern and all the players involved. Young readers will be drawn to it due to its gross, furry, repulsive content that for all its nastiness is what happens to so many pumpkins. This title was selected from the book list in Children’s Literature, Briefly. Young, Bryan, Jacobs and Tunnell (2020)point out, “full-color photographs and a glossary augment the playful primary text, providing for young readers an unusual means through which to explore nature concepts revolving around ecosystems and food chains, producers and consumers, and decomposition” (p. 103). The aspects I found to be compelling include the engaging way in which Schwartz tells the story of decomposition, the often extreme close up of color photos offered by Kuhn and the hopeful message of rebirth.


This is a creative way to inform readers of the process of decomposition. It is a great addition to a library because it can be easily themed around Halloween. In this way, it plays out seemingly related to Halloween, but in reality is rather a vehicle to inform the reader of first the process of decomposition in a pumpkin. Secondly, Schwartz craftily includes who and what is are involve in the demise of the pumpkin. In this case, the players include such things as slime mold, yeast, penicillium and slugs to name a few. The presentation is clear, and the decomposition is narrated by 15 different voices ranging in things that might make one squirm.

Kuhn’s photography combined with Schwartz’s writing perfectly compliment each other. The images track the demise of one pumpkin, so that the reader sees how one jack-o-lantern can change so much. Each photograph is clear, playful and complements the narration. The photography includes the closeups ranging from a photo of a squirrel to a sow bug. As Schwartz, for instance, informs the reader of how exactly a fly helps in the pumpkins decomposition, Kuhn offers a giant photo of a closeup of the front part of the fly. The most fascinating photograph to my eye were the extreme closeups of mold, and plasmodium. My 3 year old daughter giggled when she saw the picture of plasmodium saying, “little balloons!” Kuhn masterfully captures the different phases in Rotten Pumpkin, while providing essential companionship to Schwartz’s writing.

In addition to the principal work, the book offers a glossary of seven terms. This seemed lacking in terminology though. Not all the insects and terms are included. I wonder, however, if this is by design. The book is meant to be fun and pique interest, not meant to be a textbook. The last page of appendices includes what I think are the most important aspects of learning- questions. Schwartz poses questions in order to play around with ones own experimentations. The ending is particularly poignant, heart felt and hopeful. Whereas another author might lament the wastefulness of American tradition of purchasing pumpkins, decorating them, this author does something different. There is rebirth from decomposition. In one of my favorite lines as the reader sees side by side pages of dirt, “I think of myself as a mother…and what happens to these molecules when the plants die? They return to me” (Schwartz & Kuhn, 2013). This is a hopeful message, which is something with which science as a subject is not usually associated. The reader sees that the pumpkin goes back from where it came, only to be reborn again.


Rotten Pumpkin is a clever, fact based, yucky information book that tells the story of the demise of a sweet and happy Jack-O-Lantern. As opposed to a pedantic, textbook like informational book, this work anthropomorphizes all the little creatures, bacteria and fungi that all help in the deterioration of the pumpkin. The photographs range from close up, to microscopic, giving young readers a delightfully disgusting view into how the pumpkin rots. Schwartz, an author of many scientific informational books, brings this gem that includes even more information and project ideas after the book is done. This book is recommended for any school who serves children and young adults. School libraries, in particular, would serve science classes and subjects in particular as this book is the antithesis of a textbook. It is funny, gross and oddly compassionate.


Schwartz, D.M. and Kuhn, D. (2013). Rotten pumpkin. Creston Books, LLC.

Young, T.A., Bryan, G., Jacobs, J.S., Tunnell, M.O. (2020). Children’s literature, briefly. Pearson Education, Inc.

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