The Pumpkin Runner

Illustrator: Brad Sneed

Dial Books for Young Readers

The Story Behind the Story

pumpkinlapThe first time I heard the true story, on which The Pumpkin Runner is based, I was attending a workshop led by my friend, Jim Halm. To demonstrate perseverance, Jim told the story of Cliff Young, a 61-year-old farmer who had entered a 500 mile race from Melbourne to Sydney. All Jim had was a clipping from a sports magazine, just one paragraph.

When I heard this heartwarming story, I knew I wanted to write about it. I used this as the base for my story, but almost everything else is pure imagination.

What I discovered in my research was that Cliff was the oldest of 11 runners. Amidst ridicule, Cliff won the inaugural (the very first!) Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra Marathon. He took two days off the record and shared his winnings with all the other runners!

pumpkinbubbleIn stories, truth and imagination often mix. When I wrote this story, I could find very little information about Cliff. Today, you can find lots of information on the Internet, but there are many discrepancies. Sometimes that's what happens when people are captured by a story. They add a little here, change a little there. The story becomes part fable, part legend, part myth, part truth. My book, THE PUMPKIN RUNNER, is fiction. It was inspired by Cliff Young, his love of running for the joy of it, and his perseverance.

The Australian Information Service informed me that Cliff trained for the race by running in gumboots around the farm, herding cattle. They told me he didn't actually run the race in gumboots and overalls, but I thought it made a good story. So that's how my character Joshua Summerhayes runs the race in my book. However, if you look on the Internet today, some sources say Cliff actually ran the race in gumboots and overalls. That's not true. If you look at video of the 1983 race, you'll see otherwise. Other videos do show him running/training on his farm in gumboots.

When I wrote THE PUMPKIN RUNNER, my sources said Cliff Young was a potato farmer and helped his brother raise cattle. I decided to make my character, Joshua, a sheep rancher because there are lots of sheep ranchers in Australia and because I thought sheep would make great illustrations. But as I write this today, in late 2011, I can find sources that say Cliff was a sheep rancher, that he had both cattle and sheep on his farm. I'm not sure what is true. I did find a newspaper article from the Melbourne Herald, dated April 7th, 1983, that describes Cliff as a potato farmer. Another 1987 newspaper article describes Cliff chasing cows in his gumboots. Maybe some of those web writers read my book and decided Cliff should be a sheep rancher!

That same 1983 newspaper article says, "It appears that 'Little Cliffy' will have about 11 opponents in the event." But some information on the web today says there were 150 runners. That's just not right. Sometimes it's hard to find the truth when you're researching. I'm glad my story is fiction!

Cliff Young passed away in 2003, but he remains a folk hero in Australia. Many stories, some true and some not so true, are told about him.

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This book is dedicated to Cliff Young. I never met Mr. Young, but I did visit Australia, two years after the book was published.

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  • Awards & Honors

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  • Smithsonian's Notable Book 1998
  • Outstanding Book of 1999, Westchester Library Master List
  • Missouri Show Me Readers Award Nominee 2000-2001
  • Arkansas Diamond Primary Book Award Nominee 2000-2001
  • Has been first story in the Houghton Mifflin 4th grade reader for over 10 years

From Smithsonian: "Arnold's spritely narration of a marathoner's triumph is a delight from start to finish."

From Publisher's Weekly: "Sneed's cleverly skewed perspectives and Arnold's engaging style make this book, like its star, an easy winner."

From The Florida Times-Union: "This story is beguiling...Pumpkin Runner is as close to perfect as read-aloud books come. It's got an interesting story, a happy surprise, enthralling oil-on-canvas illustrations and a good-for-the-soul lesson."

From The Atlanta Constitution: "Bold, energetic illustrations and good old-fashioned storytelling make this modern-day fable about setting and achieving goals a real treat."

From Kirkus: "...Arnold pens a folksy, aw-shucks piece. Sneed's drawings are done in a Midwestern vernacular style, with the undulating rhythm of Thomas Hart Benton. They place this legend of a long-distance, Down Under runner somewhere between a tall tale and a picture-perfect front-porch anecdote."

From The Five Owls: "More important than Arnold's familiar construction is her use of an adult hero. Yes, children like to read about themselves. But too few stories show children what they can be, not today, not tomorrow, but in that wide, unfathomable "someday" - which really isn't so different from today or tomorrow, if we just have a chance to look at it."

From Press-Telegram, Long Beach, CA: "If you didn't know it was based on fact you'd swear that this is a tall tale. Arnold embellishes the truth with such verve that you cheer for the old pumpkin-eating farmer from the first steps of the race."

From The Houston Chronicle: "Brad Sneed's pictures look as though he painted them while sitting on Ayres Rock in Australia. They are smooth and golden, their tone echoing Arnold's sincerity tinged with whimsy."

From Contra Costa Times: "The author, inspired by an actual incident, has woven the facts into a breezy tale with the hallmarks of a legend to be told for years."

From Christian Home and School: "The vibrant illustrations jump off the page and make the Blue Gum Valley of Australia come to life. This tale of a modest hero who loves to run can spark a conversation about what it means to be a winner."

From MetroKids: "a delightful fable that squashes the image of pumpkins as dowdy garden malingerers and exposes the disdain with which society views those who opt for a simpler life."

From Booklist: "Kids should enjoy the idea of someone running a race on pumpkin power, and they will respond to Yellow Dog, Joshua's faithful companion. All of the art is suffused with a lively glow."

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