The Tale of the Pumpkin Seed Squad
by Carolyn Mitchell
Westwood Books Publishing LLC

"Are you NUTS?” blurted Ralph. ”You can’t play with that ball . . .
Can’t you see it’s too big for someone so small?"

Riley Chester-field Mouse lives near a human’s house under a post where there are many other mouse-families with mouse-kids with whom he plays. Riley and his friends are adventure seekers, and sometimes they roam away from their safe havens. So that all may enjoy them, their escapades are recorded in stories and poems. This is the second collaboration of Mitchell and illustrator Brenda Timms. Just as the first was, it is also written in verse. The major difference between the two is that the little field mouse who helped Santa out on Christmas Eve in the first offering (The Tale of the Christmas Hero) now has a name. The author uses the book’s dedication to recognize and thank the children who contributed ideas for the hero mouse’s name. Children should appreciate this interesting backstory which can lead to building creative skills in writing through their invention and naming of characters for their own stories.

The action is set in autumn on a day when there is no school. The rhyming poetry gives a rhythmic flow to descriptions of leaves changing color and Riley’s inclination to dive into the piles of various-hued leaves that to his delight make a marvelous crunching sound when he steps on them. As the little mouse enjoys himself in the crackly piles of leaves, his friends appear to remind him of all the fun they have planned for the day. His friend Gus has arranged a game for the group of young mice. In fact, the game they had played the past weekend had almost ended in tragedy when Riley was squashed by a human-sized football. Gus offered to provide a ball they could throw without the fear of being crushed. The group is flabbergasted when Gus shows up pulling a huge pumpkin on a boy’s skate. What kind of game can they play with a pumpkin? “’What ARE you thinkin’, Gus?’” they hollered in disbelief, / “’We can’t throw that pumpkin! . . . Are you crazy? . . . Good GRIEF!!’”

Mitchell’s book is a wonderful choice for one searching for a children’s book set in the fall. Parents will find much to discuss concerning the various activities that happen during the autumn of the year. For example, they may want to discuss the changing colors and the shedding of leaves from the trees. There’s also the opportunity to engage children in conversations about the seasons and the characteristics of each one. As Riley was almost squashed by a football the last time they were together, parents can instigate a conversation about sports and how certain ones are played during each season. Concepts such as shapes can be discussed by addressing the similarities between the football and the pumpkin seeds. Other learning opportunities that may arise from the text of the book include sportsmanship, team play, and selfishness, making it an excellent choice for teaching social concepts to small children. The colorful depictions of the characters and their actions enhance the text, making it easy for even very small children to follow along with the reading while adding to the overall enjoyment of the book.

Children will relate to the mice having to navigate a world in which others are much larger than they. As they have been told many times they aren’t big enough for certain activities, they will naturally feel empathy for Riley as he desires to play football with the humans only to find he is too small, and his size makes it dangerous for him to try. In addition to the relatable plot, young children will find the rhyming poetry fun to listen to while older children will enjoy reading it for themselves. Flowing couplets, inventive mice, and the juxtaposition of two very different worlds make this an enjoyable read for both children and adults.

Return to USR Home