I’m pretty sure I would have stuck around long enough to become an Eagle Scout if there had been more activities like the shrunken heads we made for Halloween out of decaying apples and potatoes one year early in my scouting career. Apparently that fondness for rotten vegetables hasn’t faded, or else I was just happy to see an affirmation of my annual laziness in removing jack-o-lanterns far past their prime from our front porch, because I thoroughly enjoyed David M. Schwartz’s new book, Rotten Pumpkin , when I saw it recently on the Children’s new non-fiction shelf. In a series of striking photographs and testimonials from 15 “voices” in the process (“Hear this, all you molds and rots: I the sow bug, owe you!”) ranging from squirrel to slime mold, the book documents the gradual decline of a typical jack-o-lantern, from fresh orange pumpkin flesh to black goo. But not to worry, you who may expect to find such a tale depressing; Schwartz leaves us with a redemptive ending (spoiler alert, literally) in which a seed, missed by the pumpkin carver’s hand, finds nutrients in the heap of goo and sprouts the following spring. So it’s a great book not only for the young gross-out aficionado in your life, but the budding gardener, as well.
I found an argument for putting off another dreaded annual chore when a quietly beautiful animated short film called The Man Who Planted Trees caught me completely by surprise. The chore I love to ignore is removing thousands of acorns dropped each year by the giant pin oak with whom I share my front yard. Inspired by master chef Piglet’s fondness of acorns as an entree, I’ve dreamed of hiring out a herd of pigs to take care of the problem. But as The Man Who Planted Trees so beautifully illustrates, maybe the acorns are actually a solution. In flowing, hand drawn images reminiscent of Raymond Briggs’ classic The Snowman, Canadian animator Frederick Back’s Academy Award-winning fable recalls a lone shepherd who resolves to plant 100 acorns per day in a desolate region of Provence, France. As decades pass and trees take root, the shepherd’s dedication to this simple task works a miraculous transformation of the natural and human geography of his small part of the world. The Library’s DVD set includes 8 more films by Back, all worth watching, as well as interviews with the animator and Jean Giorno, the French author upon whose work The Man Who Planted Trees is based. If you enjoy the film, a print version of the story is also a nice check out, if only to compare Back’s colorful imagining of the tale to Michael McCurdy’s precise wood engravings. At any rate, book and DVD should at least provide a few extra hours to avoid whatever item on your to-do list needs neglect.