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Book Review

The Pumpkin War by Cathleen Young has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Billie has treated Sam poorly for a year because he beat her in the previous year’s Pumpkin Race. Each participant in the Pumpkin Race hollows out an enormous pumpkin as a boat, and then paddles it to the finish line. Billie is convinced that Sam cheated by ramming his pumpkin into hers, causing her pumpkin to explode, just before she crossed the finish line.

As the school year winds down, Billie plants her pumpkin seedlings in preparation for the autumn race. After going to bed, Billie hears her parents asking her grandma to stay with Billie and her younger sister, Marylee, while they go to the hospital to have a baby.

Her new baby brother, Joey, is brought home the next day, which changes the family’s comfortable routine. Her parents fight more frequently, look exhausted and prepare healthy food less often. Billie doesn’t mind because she’s focused on her pumpkin patch.

After discovering cucumber beetles in his pumpkin patch, Sam warns Billie to check her plants. He extends suggestions and offers of assistance, but she stubbornly refuses to be nice to him or forgive him. Back when they were friends, the two used to raise bees together and split the honey profits. When Sam offers to help Billie with the harvest, she reluctantly accepts his help, knowing that she can’t lift the heavy vats of honey on her own.

As the two work to collect the honey, they accidentally leave the lids off the bee enclosure. Because of the smell of honey, other bees from different hives begin to make their way toward their beehive. Bees will fight to the death to protect their honey. Billie and Sam rush to protect their hive of bees by slamming the lids back into place. Billie blames Sam for his carelessness, and the two storm off.

The previous year at the Fourth of July celebration, Billie and Sam were crowned polka king and queen. This year they have to dance together before passing their crowns to new winners. Billie grudgingly pulls out her old polka dress before heading to the fair. There she sells nearly all of her honey except for the last few jars.

A kind old stranger with an Irish accent approaches her booth and asks to sample her honey. She allows him one sample of each kind, and he amazingly tells her which flowers each kind of honey came from.

Just before it’s time to dance the polka, Billie rushes to change into her polka dress. She meets Sam stony-faced on the dance floor. He takes her hands, and they begin to dance. Sam greatly improved his dancing abilities since the previous year. This surprises Billie.

At the end of the song called, “Kiss Me, I’m Polish,” the crowd roars for Sam to kiss Billie. He obliges and pecks her softly on the cheek. That night, though still furious with him, Billie can’t help feeling something special toward Sam.

The next morning, Billie wakes up to her dad shouting at the stranger who knew types of honey so well the day before. The man, apparently her grandfather, has traveled from Ireland to try and reconcile with his son, but Billie’s father won’t have him. Her grandpa sleeps in a ratted old sleeping bag under the stars in her family’s yard and showers in their outdoor shower. Billie and her grandfather grow closer during his stay. As Billie ignores Sam and her dad ignores her grandpa, Billie sees how foolish her dad is being.

One day, Billie and her grandpa go fishing just as the weather begins to change. Concerned about their safety when a storm arises, Sam calls the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard pulls them both out of the water just in time. Billie and her grandpa remain in the hospital for a while.

This crisis breaks her dad’s hard heart, and he reconciles with his father. Finally convicted that she should let go of her grudge against Sam as well, Billie makes her way to thank him for saving both her and her grandpa’s lives. However Sam has given up trying to make things right with Billie, and he barely acknowledges her gratitude.

Because of the heavy rainfall, the storm has ruined many of Billie’s largest and best pumpkins. But the race doesn’t seem to matter to Billie as much anymore. She chooses a pumpkin and hollows it out in preparation for the race. Once in the water, although her pumpkin is smaller than the average, Billie catches up to Sam.

The two are neck-and-neck when Billie stops paddling and starts laughing because of ridiculousness of what they’re doing. Sam stops, too, and the two laugh together. That evening, Billie apologizes for her unkindness toward Sam, and Sam apologizes for ramming her pumpkin the previous year. The two return to being best friends.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

Billie’s Grandma is an Ojibwe Native American. She partakes in many of the cultural traditions of her people, including singing the prayer song and telling stories to celebrate their ancestors, specifically the prophets.

Billie refers to “Mother Nature” and “Mother Earth” on occasion. Obsessed with science, Sam and Billie share many conversations about the creation of the universe that happened independently through the Big Bang billions of years ago.

Authority Roles

Ms. Bagshaw, Billie’s teacher, tells the students that they could turn into idiots overnight if they don’t utilize their brains at all during the summer holidays.

While supporting Billie and gently giving her good advice, Billie’s mom and dad are depicted fighting with each other throughout the book, with capitalized letters to indicate volume. Billie’s dad refuses to acknowledge his own dad when he comes to visit from Ireland. He yells at his dad, his wife and his children.


Billie keeps bees and mentions that if a bee stings your eye, you could go blind. She also helps Cami, her friend, shear her llamas and accidentally cuts one of the llamas while doing so. That same llama bites Billie on the backside.

Billie throws a worm into Marylee’s hair, and Marylee screams and claws at her head. While responsible for feeding her baby brother, Joey, Billie sees him choke until he can clear his airway. Billie wishes Sam would disappear into a black hole. Sam puts peanut butter under the floorboards of Billie’s tree house to attract field ants, which proceed to bite Billie and her friends.

Billie and her grandpa get caught on Lake Superior in a storm. Grandpa gets a gash on his head and Billie blacks out. Both nearly contract hypothermia and remain in the intensive care unit for a few weeks. Grandpa’s heart only beats periodically while hooked up to a machine.


After completing their polka dance to the song “Kiss Me, I’m Polish,” Sam kisses Billie on the cheek to appease the roaring crowd.

Discussion Topics

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Additional Comments/Notes

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

8 to 12


Cathleen Young






Record Label



Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC


On Video

Year Published





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