Halloween stories abound, but only one, “The Pumpkin Smasher,” can claim a special Princeton connection. In 1972, disheartened by mean-spirited kids who would smash jack-o’-lanterns outside homes, Princeton resident Anita Benarde wrote and illustrated a children’s book about the Princeton-esque fictional town of Cranbury whose Halloweens are ruined by a ruthless pumpkin smasher.

In 2012, 40 years after the book was first published, Benarde reported that the book, long out of print, was still much in demand, and expressed her hope that it would once again be available for Halloween 2013 (U.S. 1, October 31, 2012).

Now in 2019, at age 94, Benarde reports that the book has had a far greater renaissance than what she envisioned in 2012. She writes:

The book had a very long run and finally went out of print. I really didn’t think about it until Thanksgiving 2012 when our grandson Zach noticed people were looking for “The Pumpkin Smasher” on the internet. Parents had read it to their children, teachers read it to their students every Halloween, and eventually it turned into a fond childhood memory for all. Everyone wanted the book and those memories to live on and on.

I tried to find Walker Publishing, the original publisher, again, but all I could reach were machines. There were no humans answering the phones. A different time, a different world. Machines were everywhere, so it was reprinted with Amazon-Create Space. Soon I saw the original, hardcover book in “rare book” stores selling for huge prices. Shortly after readers learned it was available, I found out it was in demand across the country and even in Great Britain …

An attorney in Pennsylvania called me asking if he could buy some of the original illustrations for his children. It amazed me. I received a call from the “ Mayor of Neato Coolville” in the Ozarks, who wanted to do a blog interview. Kirkus, unrequested, gave it a good review; Publishers Weekly said “the illustrations are equally charming” and the Chicago Daily News, “For tiny-trick-or-treaters, we suggest ‘The Pumpkin Smasher.’”

And there were 43 great reviews on Amazon. So many were so happy to find “The Pumpkin Smasher” again. Children had become parents, and they wanted it for their children; teachers remembered it and wanted it for their students. They were reliving a happy childhood memory, and they wanted a fond memory for the little ones.

Then one day I found myself at a children’s book conference at Princeton University’s Cotsen Children’s Library, part of Firestone Library. There I was telling the curator the story and about all the original items I had saved since 1972, including the illustrations and how different the artwork was at that time. The collection included contracts, an original hard cover copy, which was then bought over and over and moved on to paper back. I also had the first film used to shoot the cover as well as the “dummy” used to show to editors. I included thank-you notes from various classes thanking me for writing their favorite book — all handwritten, not using thumbs only. The collection was fabulous. The curator at Cotsen was so excited and couldn’t wait to see it all. After all it was all about how books were done then, yesteryear. The Cotsen Library took everything and more.

Then I received an email from a person in Chicago who wanted to turn it into a TV special for Halloween (there is only “Charlie Brown & The Great Pumpkin”). So many readers wanted to see it on the big screen, including a friend who writes for the New York Times. In addition, the Big Muddy Brewing Company in Illinois bought a dozen copies as they brew a Pumpkin Smasher beer. Who would have believed it?

On January 13, 2017, I received a request from a TV station in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, asking for permission to read their favorite book on the program: “The Pumpkin Smasher”!

There was a great article in Entertainment Weekly last year and other newspapers. At present a company in Los Angeles is working on a TV special.

Amazingly, the book continues to sell very well every Halloween and throughout the year.

Recently I received a wonderful message from a fan who wrote: “Dear Anita, you don’t know me, but I am so thrilled to find you on Facebook. My name is Kathleen Bunner, and I live in Marietta, GA. Your special book, ‘The Pumpkin Smasher,’ has been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember. My grandmother, Jane Delaney, was a librarian in Providence, Rhode Island. She would always send books to me and my sister, and I give her great credit for helping me to love books as I do. I have four children, ages 21, 19, 16, and 14. They all love your book, as it was always a part of our Halloween memories. My old copy of your book will be a book they will all want, so I will make sure to purchase new copies of your book for them to enjoy with their children someday. I just want to thank you and let you know how much I appreciate everything about your wonderful story. The illustrations are the very best and help set the mood of Halloween in Cranbury. I love it. May God bless you and all you do.”

Can there be any greater accolade than a note like this?

Benarde also shared the history of “The Pumpkin Smasher” in an interview on “Backstory with Joan Goldstein,” which will be airing on Princeton Community TV through mid-November on Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. and Sundays at 5:30 p.m.

“The Pumpkin Smasher” is available in paperback on Amazon.com for $10.99.

Call for Writers

Attention writers and freelance journalists (and those aspiring to be): U.S. 1 and other Community News Service publications seek freelance correspondents to tell the stories of Central New Jersey’s people, businesses, arts, and culture.

Tell us about yourself and interests and/or sign up for an info session on Thursday, November 14, at 7 p.m. Contact Dan Aubrey: dan@princetoninfo.com.

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