When Pumpkins Fly
When Pumpkins Fly
No, these pumpkins don’t have wings. And there is no hocus-pocus in the story except for the magic conjured by a child’s imagination.
In a small Nunavut village, everyday supplies are not always easy to come by. Everything has to be brought in by air. On this occasion, there is something special coming in to Sanikiluaq.
On the last cargo plane to fly into our community
before Halloween, there are boxes, crates, and bags
of groceries, snowmobile parts, and mail.
At the back of the cargo hold, there are also some
passengers. They aren’t wearing seatbelts to keep
from rolling around because the seats have been taken
out of the plane. The passengers are heavy, hard cold –
This is the time of year when pumpkins fly!
Some of the children here have never seen a real pumpkin. When the principal asks for some pumpkins to be delivered to the school, eyes open wide and mouths gape.
When the pumpkins arrive, some older students help
to bring a pumpkin to each of the classrooms.
I look at our big, orange guest. What kind of thing is a
pumpkin? What are we going to do with it?
Well, empty out the squishy insides, carve a face in the flesh, and roast some pumpkin seeds, of course. Then there is a draw for the pumpkin in each classroom, and our young narrator is the lucky one to have his name selected from the teacher’s mug.
Although the pumpkins are a novelty here, the kids (and adults) know all about trick-or-treating. Every member of the village, from toddlers to Elders, joins in the activity. There are jack-o-lanterns glowing on front steps, and, after the excitement of ghosts and skeletons running from house to house collecting as much candy as they can, there is a dance at the community hall featuring games and a costume contest.
When it’s very late, the families disperse to their homes. Finally, the boy is alone in his dark room, thinking about the pumpkin out on the porch, candle extinguished, already starting to shrivel from the cold. He also thinks about the tunaat, the “ancient and wise beings” who roam the tundra and sometimes come near human habitation “looking for things they need”. Maybe right now they need a pumpkin?
Author Margaret Lawrence is an educator who has spent much time in the Nunavut. She has written a highly descriptive story with an original setting which deftly works in references to the lifestyle of the far north. After school, there is a snack of tea and bannock, and the narrator mentions that a later meal might include pork chops, fish or goose soup. Weather and a connection to the land figure large.
Lawrence has collaborated with Amanda Sandland, a Toronto graphic artist, to provide the lively, richly-coloured illustrations. The line is crisp, the backgrounds simple. You feel the joy of the occasion in the eager faces of the children at the school, the figures running along the dark streets. The pumpkins, themselves, almost assume personalities as they are carved, placed in front of homes and later visited by wildlife.
The contents of When Pumpkins Fly will be a delightful experience for northern children who do not often see their communities depicted in books for young readers, and it will provide an introduction for southerners to a different way of life. There is a helpful note about Inuktitut pronunciation and a link to the publisher’s website for more language resources at the end of the book.
When Pumpkins Fly gives libraries and classrooms something new and unusual for the primary Halloween bookshelf.
Ellen Heaney is a retired children’s librarian living in Coquitlam, British Columbia.