Even for an author/illustrator as iconic as Tasha Tudor, there is always a beginning. For Tasha, her beginning came with the publication of the little book “Pumpkin Moonshine”, which this year will be celebrating it’s 82nd anniversary. I thought this would be the perfect book to delve into for a little Tasha Tuesday post as we approach the height of autumn and the coming of Halloween!
In this book, Tasha writes about a little girl called Sylvie Ann and begins “Sylvie Ann was visiting her Grandmummy in Connecticut. It was Hallowe’en and Sylvie wanted to make a pumpkin moonshine, so she put on her bonnet and started out for the cornfield to find the very finest and largest pumpkin.” What follows is a charming story of a runaway pumpkin rolling through the barnyard causing mischief, with ‘Grandpop’ coming to her aid to help her carve the ‘pumpkin moonshine.’ In the end, Sylvie Ann saves the seeds from the pumpkin to plant in the spring.
What I find so interesting about this little book is that while the theme and setting of the story is iconic Tasha Tudor, the illustrations are not what we think of as “Tasha Tudor” at first glance. The artwork is done in pen and ink with a bit of a watercolor wash. Published in 1938, the illustrations are stylistically like a lot of storybooks of that era, and they are quite small. I am impressed that all the illustrations are printed in color, as that wasn’t always the case in picture books of the time. As Tasha continued to work, publishing books and collections of Christmas cards, she came more into her own style and in less than a decade would have made enough money to purchase her own farm in New Hampshire.
The story of how Pumpkin Moonshine came to be is in itself and interesting story. In 1938, Tasha married Thomas L. McCready, Jr and together they began their new life living in her mother’s old home in Redding, CT. (if you’d like to go down an interesting rabbit hole, that house was put on the market a few years back and you can see photos from the listing on THIS blog) McCready’s 5 year old niece Sylvie Ann came to visit from Scotland, and Tasha came up with the idea of giving her a unique present— she would write a storybook about a little girl called Sylvie Ann visiting Connecticut.
In a very Beatrix Potter-like twist, Tasha decided that the book initially made as a private project for a child might be enjoyed by a larger audience and sought to publish it. However, that was easier said than done. According to Tasha, the manuscript was rejected by every publishing house in New York City. She felt that they were unable to understand the diminutive book she envisioned, so she sewed the booklet together with calico cloth, and thus her series of ‘calico books’ came to be.
Luckily for Tasha— and us— her second round with the book met with success, with Eunice Blake of Oxford University Press accepting the book. This publishing house would publish Tasha’s work for the next 16 years.
Young Tasha Tudor just two years after the publication of her first book, Photographed by her friend Nell Dorr
From 1938 onward, Tasha more or less worked constantly and consistently as an illustrator or author/illustrator. In 1942 she began designing Christmas Cards for Herbert Dubler, Inc. and in 1945 her illustrations for Mother Goose was selected as a Caldecott Honor Book. It was that book that helped secure the McCready their own homestead, and they left Redding for Webster, New Hampshire, where Tasha would live until her son Seth built her home in Vermont, Corgi Cottage in the early 1970s.
As for Pumpkin Moonshine, this little book is still charming after more than 80 years, and I love the bits of old timey vernacular in it, who knew carved pumpkins were called ‘pumpkin moonshines’ in old fashioned Connecticut? I sure didn’t. But it’s a charming name, as is ‘grandpop’ and Mr. Hemmelscamp, who was another barnyard victim of the rolling pumpkin.
I also enjoy seeing Tasha find her style— as I think she quickly gave up the pen and ink and went for a softer, more unique style of watercolor tones. You can see how Tasha grew and improved as she worked, and wasn’t afraid to try new things. I think that’s exciting to see– we never stop growing or learning.
And good news for those who would like to own a copy of Pumpkin Moonshine of your own– it is STILL in print and available pretty widely among booksellers. You can find it online for less than $10 in paperback, and it is also available through Tasha Tudor and Family. I am very lucky to have a first edition from 1938 and it is one of my most favorite Tasha Tudor momentos. And not only is it a charming read for little ones, it is a pretty little book to add to a seasonal display or sit out on the coffee table for a bit of sweet Halloween decor.
I hope that you are having a lovely autumn with a few simple, homey delights, and that you too have found the best pumpkin in the patch. Until next time, have fun carving your Pumpkin Moonshine! And—