In 1972, frustrated and upset at how a pre-Halloween tradition in Princeton called “Mischief Night” was ruining the holiday, I decided I had to do something. Kids soaping windows and unfurling paper rolls over telephone wires, leaving them blowing in the wind, was one thing. But I was especially upset with the kids who were smashing the ornately carved pumpkins that were found on the doorsteps and yards in the neighborhood.
What an awful thing to do! Families had put hours of imagination and artistry into creating them, and with one mischievous slash the pumpkins were pulverized and splattered across yards. Yes, my yard, too! For weeks neighbors had thought about costumes and invented wonderful, playful decorations to join in the fun.
I simply had to tell the story. The result was “The Pumpkin Smasher,” originally published by Walker & Co. in1972. It became very popular, had quite a long run, but had been out of print for many years.
With this Halloween marking the 40th anniversary of the publication of my book, my grandson Zach Lichstrahl, a videographer, now 26, decided out of curiosity to Google the title.
He wasn’t prepared for what he found — and neither was I, for that matter. Forty years later “The Pumpkin Smasher” is still getting four and five-star reviews on Amazon.com. On Barnes & Noble one reviewer praised it as better than “The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.” Fans of the story are still raving about the book their parents read to them when they were children — and reading from well worn copies to their own children. Schoolteachers across the country are still reading it to their students, probably because of its subtle lessons of doing the right thing as individuals, and the value and importance of community to solve problems. (There’s a a lesson in how to deal with bullies, too.)
Even more surprising, my grandson discovered that copies of the now rare book are being sold on the Internet for as much as $400. (Some paperback versions are available for as little as $40.) Not bad for a children’s book that retailed for $7.50 in 1972.
The tale of how a town banded together one Halloween to put an end to the mysterious annual vandalizing of dozens of the community’s carved Jack O’Lanterns was so popular upon its publication that Johnson & Johnson purchased two of the original illustrations for the corporation’s children’s library, and a Pennsylvania attorney bought three more as mementos for his three children.
And just a few days ago a teacher in Iowa wanted to buy a copy for her school and read it to her students. Unfortunately I only have a few keepsake copies.
But I hope that changes soon and every teacher will have it in time for Halloween in 2013. I am once again shopping the book to major publishing houses, hoping another generation of children can enjoy the colorful illustrations and the beloved tale. No matter what happens, however, as far as I’m concerned, 40 years later, my Halloween tale is still a smashing success.