On The Pumpkin Runner

If you’ve read my blog for even a short while, are my friend on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or any of the other kajillion social media sites out there, then you know that I talk a lot about two things: picture books and running. (Okay, and my cuter-than-you-would-think-humanly-possible-kids, so make that three things that I talk about in a totally unbiased way.) And I am about to start a new feature here, On Tuesdays, where I will talk even more about writing and running and probably a bit about those charm-your-gumboots-off kiddos as well. (hint, hint….come back on Tuesday!) So I can’t imagine how it took me so long to discover this week’s simply fascinating, based on a true story picture book about a runner. And not just any runner. An ultramarathoner. Did you know that they call anything more than a marathon an ultramarathon? Three miles more than a marathon = ultramarathon. Ten miles more than a marathon = ultramarathon. The Pumpkin Runner? He ran FIVE-HUNDRED-FORTY-TWO miles. I think he deserves a few extra “ultras.” So join me as we take a look at the story of Joshua Summerhayes, the ultra-ultra-ultra-ultramarathoner, aka, THE PUMPKIN RUNNER.


  • Written by: Marsha Diane Arnold
  • Illustrated by: Brad Sneed
  • Published by: Dial Books for Young Readers, September 1998
  • Suitable for: Ages 4-8
  • Topics/Themes: Running, Pumpkins, Australia, Individuality, Fair Play, Generosity
  • Opening: “Nearly all the sheep ranchers in Blue Gum Valley rode horses or drove jeeps to check on their sheep. But Joshua Summerhayes liked to run…with Yellow Dog trailing behind him.”
  • Synopsis: (from jacket flap) “For fifty years, fueled by the pumpkin from his special pumpkin patch, Joshua has been running to check on newborn lambs and rescue injured sheep. Folks say he’s getting too old to run around a ten-thousand-acre ranch, but Aunt Millie knows better. ‘As long as he’s got pumpkins to eat, he’ll keep running,’ she says. Then Joshua hears about the Koala-K, a race from Melbourne to Sydney. With Yellow Dog at his side and Aunt Millie cooking up his favorite pumpkin dishes, Joshua figures they can ‘see two cities and get in a little run as well.’ People laugh when old Joshua shows up in his overalls and orange gumboots, calmly nibbling a slice of pumpkin. But before long, folks start to take notice…especially Damien Dodgerelle, who everyone says is a shoo-in to win.”
  • Links to Resources: Marsha Diane Arnold (who I have featured before here) has a wonderful activity guide on her website here. It provides some great discussion questions about subjects such as cheating, perseverance, and health. She also has a quite interesting “story behind the story,” which introduces you to Cliff Young, the real-life runner upon whom the character of Joshua Summerhayes is based. I also found a lesson plan for this book at Aussie Pumpkin Patch which had some activity sheets that would be great for a study of Australia.
  • Why I Like this Book: This story is such an interesting combination of fact and fiction! It reads much like a tall tale, and as I turned the pages, I found myself marveling over the reality that there was indeed a 61 year old man who ran and won this race! Marsha Diane Arnold and Brad Sneed have crafted this story beautifully through their spot-on combination of words and art, with just the right amount of humor and suspense. Aunt Millie and her pumpkin stew, Yellow Dog, orange gumboots, hot air balloons, and a shady competitor named Damien Dodgerelle make for memorable details that kids are sure to love. And I love to see longer picture books like this one still on the shelves, as this is one that both my 7 and 10 year old kids find simply fascinating.

Please go on over to Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog and see what else is happening on Perfect Picture Book Friday. And don’t forget to come back On Tuesday and check out what I’ve got cooking here!

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  • http://stacysjensen.blogspot.com/ Stacy S. Jensen

    This sounds like a great mix of fiction and non-fiction. I hope to be able to run a race at 61! I hope I can find this one at our library. Fingers crossed.

    • http://writingamillion.tumblr.com Amy Dixon

       I do think this would appeal to kids who prefer non-fiction…it is a good mix of the two! Thanks for the comment, Stacy!

  • http://twitter.com/CatherinePoet Catherine Johnson

    I just hope I run another race nevermind at 61 lol. Great pick!

    • http://writingamillion.tumblr.com Amy Dixon

       It really is inspiring. And really his only method of “training” was being a farmer. Amazing!

  • http://twitter.com/ThisKid_Erik This Kid Reviews Bks

    This looks like a really good book! The cover art is magnificent!

    • http://writingamillion.tumblr.com Amy Dixon

       I know, I didn’t really talk about the art too much but the illustrations are really unique and lend themselves to the “tall tale” feel.

  • Joanna Marple

    I love fictional stories based on fact and as a runner one great story. Love that he runs in his dungarees and Yellow dog comes too. Definitely want to get my hands on this one!

    • http://writingamillion.tumblr.com Amy Dixon

       I knew the runners among us would be drawn to this story. You will love it!

  • http://susannahill.blogspot.com/ Susanna Leonard Hill

    This sounds SO GOOD, Amy!  I totally want to read it.  Although I don’t do distance myself, my husband is a marathon runner and so is my brother, and we are always having books about running in our house, like Born To Run and that one about the ultra marathon guy whose name I can’t think of right now.  Anyway, this book looks great – like you said, a nice combo of fact and fiction with a tall tale flavor – who could resist that?  Thanks so much for adding it to the list!

    • http://writingamillion.tumblr.com Amy Dixon

       Yeah, I thought I didn’t do distance either, Susanna, but have found myself signed up for a half-marathon in the fall :-)

      My husband loves Born to Run and I want to read it, but he keeps lending it out to friends! When it finds its way back to our house, I am sure I will pick it up. And you are probably talking about Dean Karnazes (Ultramarathon Man). We have seen him speak at our local race expo and he was great. Another one you might like is A Race Like No Other by Liz Robbins since you are a NY gal – takes you through the NYC marathon…fascinating! I read it when I was researching my book and loved it.

  • Dorina Lazo Gilmore

    This book looks super fun! Another running book to add to our wish list. I love your own writing in this post, teasing us with talk about your cuter-than-cute kiddos…I will definitely be back in Tuesday!

    • http://writingamillion.tumblr.com Amy Dixon

       Thanks, Dorina! I can’t believe it took me so long to notice this one, especially since I always talk about how there aren’t any books about running! Thanks for coming by and see you Tuesday!

  • http://www.writeupmylife.com/ Julie Hedlund

    Wow, how fascinating and fun! The title sounds preposterous, so it’s interesting to think it’s based on a real person.

    • http://writingamillion.tumblr.com Amy Dixon

      He is real, but it is interesting to see which story bits are fact and which are not. You should check out the “story behind the story” that I linked to, it is fascinating!

  • Tiltonph

    An inspiring choice.  I like that it is longer and for older kids too. The story reminds me a bit of Forest Gump.  I love the cover and would read this in a heartbeat.  Love everything you shared about the book. 

    • http://writingamillion.tumblr.com Amy Dixon

      Yes, Pat, there is definitely a bit of Forrest Gump in Joshua Summerhayes! Glad you liked the book, thanks so much for stopping by!

  • Pam

    Glad I stopped by.  This book sounds like a great read.  Thank you, Amy!

    • http://writingamillion.tumblr.com Amy Dixon

       I’m glad you stopped by, too! Thanks, Pam!

  • Penny Klostermann

    This is a very interesting combination. It sounds great. I’m putting it on my Pinterest “Books I Want to Read” board :-)

    • http://writingamillion.tumblr.com Amy Dixon

       That’s great, Penny! I will have to go over and find you on Pinterest!

  • Christie Wild

    As a runner, I bet I’d love this book too! Thanks for the recommendation. 

    • http://writingamillion.tumblr.com Amy Dixon

      Wow, so many runners! I think you will love it, Christie!

  • Kirsten Larson

    Wow, that is a fascinating tale. When I read the title, I wasn’t sure how a pumpkin would tie in. I love historical fiction, so thanks for the recommendation. (And I love running too! I just did my first 10K in February.)

    • http://writingamillion.tumblr.com Amy Dixon

       I do think you will like it, and as runners I think we appreciate even more how much it would take to run 542 miles! I just did my first 10K in March, and have somehow signed up for a half-marathon in October. Yikes!

  • Andi Osiek

    Brad is a good friend… and I agree… This is a fantastic story! Thanks for the review!

    • http://writingamillion.tumblr.com Amy Dixon

      Looking back at my post, I really feel I didn’t say enough about Brad’s great illustrations! He has such a unique style that lent itself so well to the tall-tale feel of the story. I loved the art! Thanks for stopping by, Andi!

  • Marshaoak

    Thanks so much for this wonderful post about Brad’s and my THE PUMPKIN RUNNER.  I so appreciate your spreading the word about a truly remarkable and generous man, who ran just for the joy of it.

    • http://writingamillion.tumblr.com Amy Dixon

      Yay!  So glad you are here and like the post, Marsha! I am happy to help spread the word about your wonderful book. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  • patientdreamer

    Love this story and set in down under to! Cool!  Great choice.

    • http://writingamillion.tumblr.com Amy Dixon

       Thank you, Diane!

  • KellyHashway

    Hi. I found you on the blue boards. It’s nice to meet another writer/runner mom!

    • http://writingamillion.tumblr.com Amy Dixon

       Hi Kelly! I recognize your name from Verla’s :-) Thanks so much for stopping by my blog, and I’m on my way over to yours now…

  • Brad Sneed

    Thanks for writing about THE PUMPKIN RUNNER, Amy.  It took me about two seconds after reading Marsha’s manuscript for the first time to know that I HAD to illustrate this story!!

    • http://writingamillion.tumblr.com Amy Dixon

       Thank YOU Brad, for your beautiful illustrations! I enjoyed this book so much and am happy that you stopped by to read this post!

  • http://outonalimbshywritergoessocial.blogspot.com/ Ruth Schiffmann

    Great review, Amy. Thanks so much for introducing me to this book. Sounds like an interesting PB story. 

    • http://writingamillion.tumblr.com Amy Dixon

       It is really interesting! It’s one of those books that will make you marvel at the perseverance and resilience of the human race. I hope you enjoy it!

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