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Princeton Author's Love of Halloween Inspires Her To Write Children's Book

Candace Braun

Princeton author Margery Cuyler has published a new children's book, The Bumpy Little Pumpkin, just in time for Halloween. It is one of several books the author has written around the haunted holiday.

Ms. Cuyler said part of her love for this time of year comes from the Edgehill Street house she grew up in and now owns herself. The house, one of the oldest in Princeton, is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a Hessian soldier who lived there at the time of the Battle of Princeton.

"I love Halloween, I love pumpkins, and I love dressing up," she said, noting that her 15-year-old son also loves the spirit of the holiday and enjoys decorating their house each year for trick-or-treaters.

While many of the author's books for children come from her imagination, her latest, The Bumpy Little Pumpkin, is loosely based on her own childhood, and how it felt to grow up as the youngest child.

The ninth child in the family, Ms. Cuyler lived with her three older brothers, a sister, and the four cousins who came to live with them after their mother died.

Having been raised by children, she said she's always found it easier to identify with younger people than adults.

She also found it easy to appreciate children's books, thanks to a father who felt that storytelling was an act of love.

"I was read to constantly....I realized later how fortunate I was....A lot of parents don't have the time to read to their children."

The love of creativity led her and other members of her family to take on artistic careers as adults.

"All of my siblings went into the arts. None of us have 'normal' jobs," she said. "We're just a very artistically-inclined family."

Growing up here, Ms. Cuyler attended the Princeton public schools through eighth grade, after which she attended Ms. Fine's School, a private school for girls, which is today the Princeton Day School.

Following high school she attended Sarah Lawrence College, where she earned a bachelor's degree in writing. One of her first jobs out of school was as an assistant editor for a publishing company in Boston, which led to other jobs at other publishers, including Henry Holt and Company, Golden Books, and Winslow Press. She also worked for 21 years as editor-in-chief of Holiday House, Inc., a children's book publisher in New York.

Today she is the director of the trade program at Marshall Cavendish in New York, a job that allows her free time at home during the week to write.

Altogether Ms. Cuyler has authored well over 30 children's books. When asked if she has ever considered aiming for a different age level, Ms. Cuyler responded: "This is the only thing I'm interested in writing."

She said that most authors write for the age they are most able to identify with, and "I'm five years old inside."

She added that one of her books, The Battlefield Ghost (1999), is geared toward slightly older children. Inspired by her 300-year-old house and the tale of the Hessian soldier who haunts it, Ms. Cuyler worked Princeton's role in American history into a ghostly novel intended for children both to enjoy and learn from.

Not always a Princeton resident, Ms. Cuyler moved to Connecticut following college and lived there with her husband until 1989. Following the death of her father, her mother put their house up for sale, which led her to come back and purchase her childhood home.

"I just had this feeling that the house was going to leave the family....the house is my family," she said.

Now her mother lives just down the street, and her sister, Julianna McIntyre, the former head of the Princeton Junior School, lives next door.

"We are all very close," she said, mentioning that two of her cousins also live close by.

While many of Ms. Cuyler's books stand on their own, some are part of a series, like the one about a character named Little Nell, who is the youngest of her siblings and often feels left out.

"She's marginalized by her family and they don't let her participate in things," said Ms. Cuyler.

In the first Little Nell book, The Biggest, Best Snowman (1998), the young girl becomes friends with the animals in the woods, who help her make a snowman without the help of her family.

The Bumpy Little Pumpkin is the next book in the Little Nell series. In this one, which is illustrated by Will Hillenbrand, the author emphasizes how everyone and everything around the main character is big, while she is very small. In the story Little Nell and her siblings go to a pumpkin patch where her sisters pick out the biggest, nicest pumpkins, but she becomes attached to a small, misshaped one sitting on its own. Soon Little Nell herself is left on her own in the patch, until her animal friends come along and help her carve the pumpkin into a beautiful Jack-o-Lantern.

The story teaches children that "even if you're little you can accomplish great things," said Ms. Cuyler.

One of Ms. Cuyler's best-selling books for the Halloween season is Skeleton Hiccups (2002). A book illustrated by S.D. Schindler, it tells the story of a skeleton trying to get rid of the hiccups.

The odd thing about this book, said the author, was that when she first tried to sell it to a publisher no one was interested.

"It's always a mystery to me why one editor takes a book and another doesn't," she said.

One of very few non-fiction books Ms. Cuyler has written is The All Around Pumpkin Book (1980), which tells the reader little-known facts about pumpkins, and provides recipes and projects that use pumpkins. In the late 1970s the author also helped compile five books of Halloween poetry containing traditional, as well as contemporary poems on monsters, witches, giants, ghosts, and fairies.

At the Princeton Battlefield's Fall Festival, to be held on Sunday, October 30, from 1 to 5 p.m. at Princeton Battlefield State Park, Ms. Cuyler will read from The Bumpy Little Pumpkin and The Battlefield Ghost, and will have copies of both available for purchase and signing. For more information on the festival, see the story on page 3.

For more information on Ms. Cuyler and her books, visit www.margerycuyler.com.

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