[chat + giveaway] Ashley Wolff on How to Help a Pumpkin Grow

Today we’re happy to welcome back Ashley Wolff to talk about her latest picture book, How to Help a Pumpkin Grow (Beach Lane Books, 2021).

This delectable charmer about gardening and unexpected friendship is the perfect way to celebrate fall and will definitely make you want to wrap your lips around a piece of freshly baked pumpkin pie. 🙂

The star of this toothsome tale is an amiable, dedicated dog farmer — a handsome border collie modeled after Ashley’s own dog Rufus. Decked out in a red bandanna and matching yellow gloves and boots, Dog eagerly plants his pumpkin seeds in spring, then carefully protects, feeds, weeds, waters, and guards his precious sprouts from any barnyard creatures who may wish to take a nibble.

When hungry Crow eyes up the sprouts, Dog asks him if he wants to “help a pumpkin grow,” so Crow helps with weeding. As time passes and the plants get bigger, Dog also asks Rabbit, Duck, and Goat if they’d like to help too. As the new friends work together, they take pride in vining, twining, and watching their beautiful pumpkins flourish until it’s time to harvest them.

The fun continues as they then gather in the kitchen to “roast,” “toast,” and roll out dough for perfect pumpkin pies. After feasting on them, they happily carve jack-o-lanterns in time for a glowing Halloween.

With its spare, pitch-perfect rhyming text and richly hued and textured acrylic gouache illustrations, How to Help a Pumpkin Grow is sure to become a favorite autumn read aloud (observant munchkins will also love following a wee mouse from spread to spread). With its gentle themes of patience, industry, friendship, cooperation, and pride in accomplishment, this heartwarming story also reminds us that sometimes perceived enemies can turn out to be good friends.

Big thanks to Ashley for stopping by (yes, she’s also sharing a favorite pumpkin recipe). Enjoy!


Ashley with Rufus and Wayne Kingsley.

Where did you get the idea for this book?

Right down the road from me is a small produce farm with an honor system farm stand. Wayne Kingsley is famous for his sweet corn but he grows all sorts of veggies including rhubarb, herbs and pumpkins.

For several years my son Rowan helped Wayne out during the summer by picking beans and corn, driving tractor and harvesting pumpkins. One September day I helped out too and the three of us harvested 96 pumpkins, some as heavy as 30 lbs. We loaded them into the bucket of Wayne’s tractor. MY pumpkin farmer meets a helpful goat willing to pull the cart.

Pumpkin farmer Wayne Kingsley

How does your dog Rufus feel about starring in his very own book? 

Four years ago I heard about a nearby litter of ½ Border Collie/ ½ Aussie Shepherd pups and went to see them. There were 8 in all, 5 looked like their Aussie mom and 3 like their BC dad. I knew I wanted a girl and luckily 7 of the pups were girls. After an hour of watching them all toddle around I pointed to the one I loved. Of course, he was the only boy! 

Dad, one of the girls, and Rufus before Ashley knew he was “the one.”

Rufus is named for Rufus Wainwright, son of Canadian singer/songwriter Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III. His name follows my ancestral family dog-naming rule: it must contain 2 syllables and contain the letter U. He has no opinion on his starring role other than it results in increased contact with Wayne.

Rufus character studies.

How does his personality compare with that of your very first border collie Pumpkin?

He is a boy…what can I say?

Rufus showing off early gardening skills!

How did you go about deciding which other animals to include in the story?

Like many stories, this one went ‘round and ‘round the mulberry bush before it emerged in a final version. Every character evolved, including Farmer Rufus, considering that he wasn’t even alive when I first wrote it!

The most notable was the transformation of a donkey to a goat. I wanted a helper capable of pulling a cart and I love donkeys, but my neighbors got two kids and I was enchanted with their faces and personalities, even when they were using Ian as a climbing structure.

Donkey character studies
Rabbit character studies

Are you an avid gardener? If so, what have you been especially successful at growing?

I’ve loved to garden since childhood when my beloved babysitter and surrogate grandma taught me the rudiments. I moved from zone 4 to zone 9 and back again, adapting as I went.

The one constant through all my gardens from childhood on has been a love of zinnias.

This year’s are looking pretty moth eaten at the moment but they are still my faves.

What was your favorite fall activity when you were little? 

Halloween was my autumn obsession.

 I was abetted by a very creative mother who was never at a loss for great costume ideas. She made all our costumes and later, made all of my son’s too!

One year my sister and I went as Anne Boleyn and Marie Antoinette, both carrying our severed heads under our arms!

Berlin Halloween

In the year we lived in West Berlin, Germany my sister Peri dressed up as Jack Frost and I was a Scottish ‘something.’ See our mom in the background?

Ashely (bat) with her sister Peri (frog) and her mom (wolf).
Ashley as Red Riding Hood with her fifth grade friends.

 Were you an artsy pumpkin carver? 

Not as a child-it was fun but not my art form!

Ashley’s son Rowan (age 2).
Ashley’s son Brennan (age 9).

How did you make the pictures for this book? Please use your favorite spread to show us your process.

I used one of my favorite techniques to illustrate HTHAPG. I use gouache both in a watercolory way with loose, wet on wet washes and in an opaque way when I want to add layers. For the line I used a brownish gray acrylic ink and a fine brush.  Particularly on this piece I used pan pastel to deepen the shadows as well as create the impression of candlelight.

Final Glow spread.

Earlier version sketches:

What did you like best about working on this project?

This story has been dear to me for its association with my son Rowan and our friend Wayne. I remember the pumpkin picking day vividly, even a decade later. 

Rowan and Wayne harvesting pumpkins.

It is certainly a comedy, ending in a celebration. I consider this a true “hybrid” picture book. By that I mean that it combines genre elements such as a charismatic main character, has a clear embedded concept, unfolds over a period of time and has an amusing supporting cast. 

Early pumpkin carving sketch.
Early pie eating sketch.

I plotted it so that, even taking place over a period of months, it progresses from morning to night so it can sit comfortably on the bedtime book shelf too.

Finally, I carefully considered the role of the animals as human stand-ins. In the end, Rufus became the only character who wears any clothing, or acts human in an obvious way.

What do you hope kids will take away from this story?

I’m hoping there is a kid out there who reads this and thinks I want to grow a pumpkin too. I hope she rips up some grass, digs the earth to loosen it, discovers worms and bugs, plants some seeds, feeds and nurtures her plants, and grows a life-long love of messing around in the dirt. 

Finally, please share a favorite pumpkin recipe.

I’ve never been a big fan of pumpkin pie. Give me rhubarb or cherry any time. My favorite parts of a pumpkin are the seeds. Toasted seeds have that crunchy, salty, spiciness that I crave. This recipe really guilds the lily and combines salted, toasted seeds with caramelizing and spices.

Spiced and Caramelized Pumpkin Seeds

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print


  • 3 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 pinch (it can be a big pinch) cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups raw whole pumpkin seeds, washed and dried
  • Olive oil to coat
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar



Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.


In a large bowl, stir together 3 tablespoons of sugar, the cumin, cinnamon, ginger, and cayenne pepper, and set aside.


Toss the pumpkin seeds with olive oil to coat, place on the prepared baking sheet, and sprinkle with salt to taste. Bake the seeds in the preheated oven until lightly golden, 20 to 25 minutes.


Heat the rest of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, and stir in the toasted pumpkin seeds along with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Cook and stir the seeds until the sugar forms a coating on the seeds, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir the caramelized seeds into the bowl of sugar-spice mixture, toss to coat, and let cool.

~ from Ashley Wolff, as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup



written and illustrated by Ashley Wolff
published by Beach Lane Books (July 2021)
Picture Book for ages 4-8, 40 pp.

♥️ Signed copies may be ordered via The Vermont Book Shop.



Ashley is generously offering a signed copy of How to Help a Pumpkin Grow for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. To enter, please leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EDT) Wednesday, September 22, 2021. You may also enter by sending an email with PUMPKIN in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good Luck!


The lovely and talented Denise Krebs is hosting the Roundup at Dare to Care. Sashay on over there to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up around the blogosphere this week. Have a nice weekend!

*Interior spreads posted by permission, text and illustrations copyright © 2021 Ashley Wolff, published by Beach Lane Books. All rights reserved.

**This post contains Amazon and Bookshop Affiliate links. When you purchase a book using a link on this site, Jama’s Alphabet Soup receives a small referral fee at no additional cost to you. Choose Book Shop to support independent bookstores. Thank you!

**Copyright © 2021 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

52 thoughts on “[chat + giveaway] Ashley Wolff on How to Help a Pumpkin Grow

  1. What a delightful early morning read. I’m in love with Rufus. Our border-aussie, Dinah, passed on in May and my husband and I are missing her lovey, protective funny doggie ways. i may need to write about her soon. And, I love story behind the story. Friendship can accomplish great things! It shows in the book and it shows in the making of the book. Thanks for the recipe too. Jama, I’m so glad you’re back from summer break. And, I can’t wait to share this title with other librarian friends I know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rufus is definitely very lovable — I’ve been admiring him since he was a puppy. Sorry to hear about losing Dinah; I do hope you write some poems about her!


  2. Loved this story on so many levels! As a grandmother, I can picture sharing this with my granddaughter and trying our hand at growing pumpkins ourselves! As an aspiring illustrator, I loved that you included sketches of the book and the story behind its creation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely think you should grow pumpkins with your granddaughter . . . and just like in the story, make pumpkin pie and toasted seeds after harvesting them, and then carve jack-o-lanterns for Halloween. The entire process/progression would be such a rewarding experience.


  3. Granddaughter Imogene will be delighted by this new book about pumpkins by Ashley, Jama. She is excited because pumpkin pies have arrived at the bakeries, her favorite ‘sweet’. What an endearing book it seems. I love the idea of the story and Ashley’s art is wonderful. Thanks for every bit you, & Ashley, shared. The memories make it special, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I remember Imogene loves pumpkin pies (a girl after my own heart). I’m excited about pumpkin pie season too (though I can definitely pass on the “everything else pumpkin” that we’re bombarded with every year).

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is such an adorable book! I’m a sucker for both Aussies and Border Collies as well as for farms and country life. The art for Rufus and friends is just wonderful. I love books that encourage kids to get outdoors and do real things in the real world. I raised my kids outside as much as possible. Our favorite activity was hiking in the woods, which we could do on our own property but also went to every park we could find. We never had good growing ground due to living in the woods and now in swampy dirt, but we planted things in pots, and the kids loved watching it all grow.

    I loved seeing her character sketches! Her art is just so sweet and appealing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Love hearing all those great outdoorsy memories, Jan. I can identify with not having good growing ground because of living in the woods. We simply don’t get enough sun here. We do miss homegrown tomatoes, blueberries and strawberries . . .


  5. Jama, as always, your beautiful and comprehensive post inspires and elevates us. Ashley’s book, along with the background information about the process is really great. I loved the questions you asked and her answers were so interesting and helped us get to know her and love her. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed the interview, Denise. Ashley is always so generous with her answers and personal photos. I learn something new about her every time. 🙂


  6. Got this book from the library to check it out and fell in love. I’d be delighted to have a copy for our own bookshelf (though if I don’t win it I’m just going to buy it, so I’ll reach that goal either way!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great to hear you already like the book, Sarah. And even more wonderful that you plan to add a copy to your personal bookshelf one way or another. Good luck with the giveaway. 🙂


  7. A lot of connections for me here… my grands have 3 Aussies, I have grown (just a few) pumpkins, and love to grow “cut and come again zinnias.” And then the encouragement to go out and try it… I love that idea. And lovely art. Thanks for sharing!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great book! When I taught first grade, the kids obviously couldn’t use knives. I had students sit in a circle around me on the rug and laid down newspaper. I got a big pumpkin and cut the “hat,” then let the kids take turns scooping out the goop. They got to vote on variations of each feature, like triangle eyes pointing up or down? Scary or cheery? etc. I did the actual cutting, of course. Then we lit the jack-o-lantern up with a small flashlight and turned out the lights. I taught them a couple of Halloween songs, too. It was very fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, what a fun memory, Kate! Lucky kids! I don’t remember doing anything with pumpkins when I was in grade school. I also don’t remember ever visiting any pumpkin farms in Hawaii.


  9. My dad was a Master Gardener and always grew a field of pumpkins along with his other vegetables. Every October, all the family would gather for Pumpkin Day, our special holiday. My mom would prepare a lunch to eat around the ping pong table, which was big enough to hold all of us. There would be three-legged races and bobbing for apples. Grandchildren would carefully choose pumpkins to take home. Both my parents are gone now, and I think Pumpkin Day is the holiday that we all miss the most.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never had pumpkin oatmeal cookies (must try them some time). Ashley outdid herself with the illustrations for this book. Love them!


  10. I follow Ashley on Instagram and love the photos of Rufus (pawsome!), her art and lovely nature in Vermont! This book looks wonderful! Excited to read it!! Thanks for sharing, Jama 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Ashley knows I’ve been a fan forever… and this new work is just delightful! Thanks to both of you for sharing; the behind-the-scenes peeks and the family/neighbor photos are wonderful. (And, even though this isn’t a story with a gavel-pounding message, there is MUCH to learn/admire/appreciate in the relationships and problem-solving….) May I also add, as another daughter of a creative Halloween-loving mama, that the Anne Boleyn and Marie Antionette costume references made my day!) XO

    Liked by 1 person

  12. What a delightful post, book, story, and adventure you took us on for its making, I love every inch covered Jama! Ashley’s art is wonderful, so lively and animated, and I love her use of colors and line. Also really enjoyed and appreciated seeing the rough spreads, and additional pics. Congrats on this superb book Ashley and many thanks Jama for sharing Ashley and her new book with us! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m always fascinated learning about backstory and process too. A good takeaway from this post is also remembering that each project comes to fruition in its own time. The seeds of this story were planted awhile ago. It takes patience, perseverance and keeping the faith sometimes . . .


  13. Utterly delightful post from beginning to end. I loved all the backstory here, Jama, from Rufus to Rowan and Wayne, to gouache techniques. Love, love, love!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed the interview, Karen. It’s always fun to see the real people and/or animals that inspire a book. Wish we had a farm stand like Wayne’s near us too.


  14. Since I am a lover of autumn and pumpkins, I found this post exceptionally delightful. The interview was great and the recipe looks delicious. The Glow spread is my favorite illustration. I think that this book is going to be a hit. Thank you, Jama, for bringing this post to us.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. So much fun! I’m connecting to Rufus, who looks so much like our English Shepherd Bess, to the constant of zinnias, to the preference of pumpkin seeds over pumpkin pie. The book looks fabulous, and Ashley’s hope for it is just perfect.


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