Teaching Life Science with Children’s Literature: Pumpkin Circle


The beauty about having four seasons is the distinct characteristics that come along with each.   The changing of each season is especially exciting for children, for they anticipate their favorite activities that may come only once a year. As a child, I was often very anxious for the start of fall.  Not only did I get to start back at school, but I also loved to watch the leaves change colors and celebrate Halloween.  There was one thing that always embodied the heart of fall for me–pumpkins.  Pumpkin Circle by George Levenson celebrates the growth of pumpkins with the story of their life cycle.

Using bold photographs taken by Shmuel Thaler, Pumpkin Circle explores the growth of a pumpkin.  Levenson explains the process starting at the beginning, with a seed, and completes the cycle, where it first began, with pumpkin seeds.

How did this begin? What is this pumpkin thing?  Is there Mother Nature?  Is there a Pumpkin King?  We can be sure of this: It’s a circle without end.  It’s pumpkin seeds to pumpkins to pumpkin seeds again!

Levenson explains that pumpkin seeds come in all different shapes and sizes, yet once they are planted in soil, they can grow to become pumpkins!  First the seeds sprout into two small leaves, with roots deep down in the earth.  Then with the help of the sun and water, the plant sprouts grow into large leaves that create the perfect place for a pumpkin flower to grow.  Levenson then introduces animals into this life cycle, as bees buzz near the gold, velvet flowers, and grasshoppers make adventures throughout the garden.  As summer turns to fall, it is time for the pumpkins to be picked, so they can be enjoyed!  Levenson encourages the reader to due this by creating their own personal jack-o’-lantern.  However, the cycle does not end here.  The pumpkin then shrinks into the earth, dispersing its seeds into the ground once again!

Pumpkin Circle is told with rhyming text and great close-up photographs.  Along with the descriptions of the life cycle, Levenson uniquely places the text in designs that outline the shape of the photograph, emphasizing the characteristics of a pumpkin at that stage.  For example, as he writes about the twisty tendrils of the pumpkin plant, he places one line of text in an upward arch and the next in a downward arch, replicating the shape of the tendrils.  This technique enhances the text and provides further visuals for the reader.  Together the rhyming, photographs, and placement of text make Pumpkin Circle a book that will surely keep children’s interest.

On the last page of the book, Pumpkin Circle includes advice on how to grow pumpkins.  Levenson includes tips on the varieties, reproduction, protection, special effects, and harvesting of pumpkins.  This serves as a great follow up activity for children!  I’m sure they will eagerly want to grow a pumpkin after reading this story!

Curriculum Connections
Pumpkin Circle’s theme, the life cycle of a pumpkin, is a great way to teach children about the life processes of living things as they grow and change.  It emphasizes the need for water, sunlight, and care.  Students can also gain knowledge about the different parts of a plant, such as the seeds, roots, stems, leaves, and flowers (VA SOL K.6 and 1.4).  However, this book can also be linked to a physical science standards and investigation themes.  As students learn about the different stages of a pumpkin, they can use their observational skills to compare the physical properties of a pumpkin as it grows from a seed, to a leaf, and to a pumpkin.  Pumpkin Circle serves as a great extension into a history lesson as well, emphasizing the importance of pumpkins to the lives of early settlers and Native Americans.

Additional Resources

  • Visit the Pumpkin Circle Project Website for information on the Pumpkin Circle video.  This site offers both the video and book for purchase in English and in Spanish.
  • Learn how to grow a pumpkin! Plant a pumpkin seed and watch it grow as a classroom activity!  Directions and tips on gardening are also available.
  • Check out this site for pumpkin lesson plans for language arts, math, science, social studies, cooking, and creative thinking!  Ideas include measuring the circumference of a pumpkin, using pumpkin seeds to create popcorn, and investigating the history behind jack-o’-lanterns!

Book: Pumpkin Circle
George Levenson
Photographer: Shmuel Thaler 
Tricylce Press
Publication Date: 
40 pages

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