Ode to an October Classic: The Pumpkin Smasher

Long, long ago, back in the October days of my youth, visits to my grade school library meant finding a secluded corner to hunker down with a stack of Halloween picture books and diving into illustrations of amazing autumn days and murky, monster-filled nights. I can’t really remember most of the book titles, just page after page of spooktacular images.

Except one. I do remember one book: The Pumpkin Smasher.

I count circling The Pumpkin Smasher on my Scholastic book order form as one of the very best decisions of my entire life. This book isn’t just my favorite Halloween book, it’s one of my favorite books, period.

The artwork? Fabulous. Smasher was written and illustrated by mixed media printmaker and handmade paper artist Anita Benarde, and published in 1972. I don’t know anything about Anita, but I’m confident history will recognize her as…just really awesome. The entire book is colored in only black and orange, with gorgeous illustrations of a small town called Cranberry.

Every year just before Halloween, someone (or something) appears in the dead of night to smash every pumpkin in Cranberry. The town almost cancels Halloween until some troublemaking twins take matters into their own hands.

© Anita Benarde

As an adult, you’ll get a strong ’60s or ’70s vibe from the book, which creates a much richer tone, as if the story, decades later, may have become a kind of urban legend.

Looking over the illustrations, I quickly realize how this book pretty much defined autumn and Halloween for me—it hardwired certain images into my head which became the gold standard for how this time of year is supposed to look. A creaky old wooden wagon stuffed with pumpkins and hay. Kids in warm coats climbing scraggly trees to hang up ghosts. A giant orange moon looming over a black town square.

Years ago, I tried to find my old copy of the book within the dusty boxes of childhood junk my parents keep in their basement. But it was gone. And it was also out of print. You could find used copies online, but they were pretty pricey. I wasn’t sure I’d ever see The Pumpkin Smasher again.

Until 2013. Because in the summer of 2013 the book was reissued (to much rejoicing), making it way more affordable (to much rejoicing). That year, my family surprised me with our very own copy (to much, much rejoicing).

So I beg you—go find a copy and make your autumn season that much better.


P.S. Our very own MORE catalog has a copy. (Thanks, Chetek!) There used to be more in circulation, including a handful of copies here in Eau Claire’s collection, but the quality of the reissue is unfortunately kind of flimsy, and it looks like most are gone.


 

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