Monday, November 25, 2013

A Book is More Than Pictures and Words — Even When It Rots

 ‘Tis the season, the rotting season. As far as pumpkins are concerned.

My new book, Rotten Pumpkin, was billed as a Halloween book, but really it’s a post-Halloween book, a paean to decomposition, pumpkin-style. With gloriously disgusting photos by Dwight Kuhn, it documents the demise of the pumpkin after its glory night on October 31st. Each of the characters in the drama  — the pumpkin itself, the slugs that scrape away at its skin, the flies that help dissolve pumpkin flesh, molds that take hold and never let go (including that celebrity mold, Penicillium), and many more — all tell their stories from their own voices and point of view: “My vomit dissolves pumpkin nutrients so I can lap them up,” declares the fly. “A delicious, nutritious morning smoothie!”

So that’s an overview of the book, but to me a book is more than its words and the pictures. Holisitically, it includes the effect a book has on its readers. In a hyperlinked world, I wish I could include an appendix that expands in real time to include the questions, observations, experiments and projects that the book has generated. Regrettably, there is no way I can ever know but a fraction of them. Yet knowing that a book has a life beyond its own pages is one of the joys of the authoring life. It says to me, “This was worth doing!”

And so, last week my heart soared to  heights of decompositional joy as I entered the multi-purpose room at Summit School of Ahwatuckee in Phoenix. Waiting for me on the stage: big jars. It was a little difficult to see through the clear plastic containers clouded with moisture, but I knew the contents immediately: the remains of rotting pumpkins! Classes at this school had done more than read my book. They had taken it to heart (and they had managed to stomach it). They’d read the suggested investigations at the back of the book and on the Creston Books website: and (In addition to the science experiments, there’s a reader’s theater script on the site - And they had rotted some pumpkins. Yum! Classroom discussions had focused on the concept of experimental variables  — changing one factor but not others so that any differences in effect can be attributed to the changed condition (variable). Hence, at Summit School, one container was marked “Water” and its companion “No Water.” I noted with interest that the mold growth in the container with added water was hardly distinguishable from that in the one without. I don’t know if the class had speculated on why this might be, considering that molds require moisture. (I would guess that in a closed container, the pumpkin’s own moisture is sufficient.)

And their rotting romp extended beyond pumpkins. In the school library, I saw a jar containing an entire lunch covered thickly in greenish gray fuzz. Somewhere in there is what’s left of PB&J, Cheetos and grapes. I hope they keep it there to see what becomes of it.d

British author C.S. Lewis, who died 50 years ago on the same day that President Kennedy was assassinated, once said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” I don’t know about the tea, but one way to extend the length, or at least the reach, of a book is to use it as a jumping off point for observations, speculations and experiments  — even if they rot.

1 comment:

Loreen Leedy said...

Love it...what a fun way to learn about decay!