Our Cottonwood leaves are turning brown and crinkly. There are splashes of yellow on the Ash.
This morning the air was cool enough we needed sweaters on our walk.
My daughter survived her first day of preschool while I loitered at the grocery store sniffing pencils and snapping a few binders open and closed.
School’s back in session.
The seasons are changing.
It’s time to read.
Sophie’s Squash, by Wisconsin author Pat Zietlow Miller with illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf (Schwartz and Wade Books, 2013) is one that we will be reading over and over again this fall.
On the cover of the book is Sophie, lying on her stomach beneath the yellow, orange and red-turning leaves of a Maple tree. With perky red-bowed pigtails and bright eyes Sophie is smiling at her Squash, who is smiling back, thanks to the “markers [Sophie] used…to give her squash a face.”
The book begins: “One bright fall day, Sophie chose a squash at the farmer’s market.”
“Sophie chose a squash,” (as it must be read aloud) because clearly, Sophie didn’t care about dinner.
Miller writes, “Her parents planned to serve it for supper, but Sophie had other ideas.”
After an afternoon of holding her squash, bouncing it on her knee and naming it, Sophie and her squash drop by the kitchen.
“…Sophie’s mother looked at the squash. She looked at Sophie. ‘I call her Bernice,’ Sophie said. ‘I’ll call for a pizza,’ said her mother.”
Miller’s story magically captures the beauty of a young girl’s imagination.
Bernice and Sophie are inseparable—attending story hours at the library, visiting other squash at the farmers’ market, and my favorite, “practic[ing] somersaults by the garden”—together.
The irony, of course, is that we know, and Sophie’s parents know, that Bernice’s days are numbered.
I love Sophie’s parents as much as I love Sophie (and Bernice). Their portrayal through both text and illustration is of an Earthy/Organic/Responsible/Devoted couple (Mom wears funky patterned dresses; Dad has his button-down shirt buttoned up to his chin). They are parents who make “blueberry waffles” and walk hand-in-hand with their daughter to the library.
They are loving, yet realistic.
Sure they spare Bernice from the butcher block that first night, but Sophie’s Mom goes on to say things like this:
“‘Sweet pea…Bernice is a squash, not a friend. If we don’t eat her soon, she’ll get mushy and gross. Let’s bake her with marshmallows. Won’t that taste yummy?’”
Mushy and gross. Mushy and gross….
The juxtaposition makes this my favorite passage.
And that line, “Won’t that taste yummy?” makes it my daughter’s, too.
“Won’t that taste yummy?”
“Won’t that taste yummy?” my daughter echoes after I read it.
“‘Don’t listen, Bernice!’ Sophie cried.”
At the “Family Meeting,” Sophie’s Dad (who calls Sophie “Sugar Beet,” her second food-related nickname making the potential EATING of Bernice even more tragic) says, “‘Why don’t we donate Bernice to the food pantry before she rots?’”
Rots. Rots. Rots.
Which is sadly, what Bernice begins to do.
Desperate, Sophie heads back to the Farmers’ Market and learns from a farmer that “‘Fresh air. Good, clean dirt and a little love,’” are all that Sophie’s needs to keep a squash healthy.
“Well, Sophie thought. I have all that.”
And so, can you guess what she does?
And what happens that following spring?
In the garden is a small green sprout, something: “strangely familiar.”
“‘Bernice!’ Sophie said. ‘How was your winter?’”
There are more somersaults.
And eventually one somersault that lands Sophie practically underneath Bernice’s now giant leaves with…
Not one, but TWO new squash.
Bonnie and Baxter, of course.
This book has an ending even more yummy than, say, squash baked with marshmallow…
Really, on every page there is a word or an image that my daughter attaches to, like a squash vine twining up a garden fence.
For example, on one page there is a picture of one foot entering Sophie’s room—just one foot coming in ahead of the rest of an otherwise unidentified person. It wasn’t many readings in before my daughter was delighted to guess (even though she knew!) WHO COULD THIS BE?
She is delighted with Sophie’s wardrobe and asks, “what is she wearing?” just to hear me say, “a little flower-print jumper” every time we get to the library/freckles/being rude page.
She is delighted, as I wrote, by lines like, “Won’t that taste yummy.”
“Wont’ that taste yummy?” she whispers, turning her head to peek at me and smile.
Already this book has wound its way into our beings. I am Sophie. I am the Mom. My daughter is Sophie. And I can promise you one of this year’s squash will be Bernice.
There are few things better than cool mornings, the rustle of fallen leaves, the smell of newly sharpened pencils, and a book, a book as perfect as Sophie’s Squash, this fall.