MG at Heart Book Club Book Review: WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW, by Cindy Baldwin

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Our August book club pick was the beautiful and lyrical WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW by our contributor and co-founder, Cindy Baldwin!

Twelve-year-old Della feels responsible for her mother’s schizophrenia and hopes that taking on extra responsibilities around the house will give her mom time to rest and get better. She even turns to her community’s Bee Lady hoping that magic honey will help. But the Bee Lady tells her that the magic in her honeys “is that they bring out the strength a thing—or a person—has already got inside.”

Della learns that even though she can’t get “fix” her mother’s illness, their family will get through their struggles together, because sickness doesn’t make their love for each other less real. Their strength lies not just in themselves but also in the supportive community around them.

In the opening chapters of the book, as Della is coming to terms with the fact that her mother’s sickness is returning, we see her drawing a half-blue, half-yellow sun. Her best friend says that the colors are depressing, but Della has a different idea about the drawing:

“…I liked it because of that, because of the way the happiness and the sadness swirled together in the middle, two halves of a whole.” 

In the same way that Della loves her drawing of the sun, we love this book because it is both sweet and somber, difficult and uplifting. We love the relationships between Della and her mom, her Dad and sister, her best friend, and her community. We love them because they’re real.

“It just looked real. Good and bad. Sad and happy. Worrying and laughing.”

This lovely and important story will transport young readers right into the middle of a hot southern summer and leave them begging for a taste of the Bee Lady’s watermelon blossom honey. But this book, I think, carries the same sort of magic as the honey: its bittersweet but optimistic ending leaves you with a glow that’ll linger long after you finish reading.

To learn more about Cindy, or for printable drawing pages, activities, recipes, and discussion questions, check out our Middle Grade at Heart newsletter devoted to WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW here.  

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The Middle Grade @ Heart book club pick for September is THE HOUSE THAT LOU BUILT by Mae Respicio! Stay tuned for more posts about this awesome book and don’t forget to join us for our Twitter chat on WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW on September 4!

How Novels in Verse Help “Reluctant” Readers

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I work tirelessly, it seems, to keep my sons immersed in books; to encourage them, when bored, to pick up a book; to foster their love of reading. It’s important that my boys love reading; books, I believe are important for teaching kids as well as connecting them to the world around them. Reading well—measure by literacy rates—has the potential to lift children from the generational cycle of poverty.

I know. I was one of them.

But one of my sons has historically been a “reluctant” reader. He loves graphic novels, so I keep him well stocked with them. He enjoys lots of white space, and as I began to notice this about him, I had what I believe was a brilliant idea: in addition to pointing him toward graphic novels, point him toward novels in verse.

I put some on hold. He opened them. He read. He started getting more excited about reading.

One summer, I chose only novels in verse for his summer reading list. At the beginning of every summer, I ask my sons how many books they want to read during their vacation (the minimum is ten), and they get to pick half the books while I pick the other half. This “reluctant” reader flew through his list and beat all his brothers.

Novels in verse are the perfect stories for “reluctant” readers, because they have an abundance of white space in them, which means reluctant readers don’t feel overwhelmed by the wall of text they would see when opening a lengthy book written in prose. Readers flip through pages quickly, so they feel like they’re making actual progress—that they might be good at reading, even. And novels in verse are written sparsely, with no extra, unnecessary words, so readers are reading only what they need to know and are imagining the rest.

Readers become “reluctant” for many reasons. Sometimes they don’t yet have the confidence in their reading abilities to tackle a book that looks too long; it’s intimidating. Sometimes they don’t have the attention span (yet—it comes with practice) to read a lot of words on a page. Sometimes they’re tired.

My son comes third in a line of competent, voracious readers. My main concern was building in him the confidence he needed to become a proficient reader and, in the process, cultivate a love for reading.

The building block of literacy is the confidence readers have in their own reading abilities. Novels in verse foster that confidence: the white space on the page gives readers a place to breathe, pages through which to fly, and the time to look at their progress and believe they are fast, proficient readers.

The other day, my son was sitting in the wing chair where I write in my journal every morning. I was reading on my bed. He was reading Forget Me Not, by Ellie Terry, which was on his summer reading list this year. After a few minutes of silent reading, he said, “Mama! I’m almost done with this book!”

“That’s awesome!” I said, before I glanced up from my book and noticed that he had read only about a quarter of it and was not, in fact, almost done.

But the important thing was: he thought so.

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Rachel Toalson is an author, essayist, and poet who regularly contributes to adult and children’s print and online publications around the world. She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband and six boys. The Colors of the Rain is her first traditionally published novel. You can visit her online at www.rltoalson.com.

#EverydayMagicKindnessCampaign

Believe. Give. Trust. These are the three rules of Everyday Magic.

For the next four weeks, I want to focus on the GIVE part of that equation as I kickoff the countdown to the release of THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC with the #EverydayMagicKindnessCampaign!

“When you make something for someone else, you give them love they can hold. That’s where the magic comes from. Anytime love becomes visible, there’s magic.”

-The Three Rules of Everyday Magic

I’m going to try to do an act of kindness everyday from now until 9/25. I’ll take pictures or post about it on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #EverydayMagicKindnessCampaign. Not only would I love for you to follow along, but I want you to join me!

Give someone some Everyday Magic in the form of an act of kindness and share it on the hashtag. I’ll send you a signed bookmark, a temporary tattoo that says “Believe Give Trust,” and a post card with an illustration by Remy Lai of a scene in the book! (While supplies last.)

Not only that, but you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a hat knitted by yours truly! And I’m pretty good at knitting hats! You can share as many posts on the hashtag as you want. The more the better! But I’ll only send one swag pack per person. Unless…you’re a teacher participating with your class.

If you are a teacher and want to participate as a class, I’ll send a signed bookmark and tattoo to everyone in your class, as well as do a free 20 minute Skype session with you guys to talk about the importance of kindness and empathy in life and in writing.

Below, I’ve provided graphics that you can use as printables to hand out with an act of kindness, or to hang up to remind students or patrons to participate.

Remember the following quote from the book.

“Grammy said that magic happens when love becomes visible, when you give people something they can hold. But I think she was wrong about that, because some things you can’t hold, not really. Like a firm squeeze that says it’s okay, or a song that makes you feel better. Like a family that’s always, always a family no matter what. You can’t knit that, or cook it, or draw it, or write it. But all those things are magic.”

Your act of kindness can be something physical like a plate of cookies. But it can also be something you can’t hold, like a kind word, an extra turn on the swings, or your seat on the bus.

Whatever it is. I hope you’ll share it with me and spread the #EverydayMagicKindnessCampaign.

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The World of Cryptozoology!

The Cryptid Catcher

Hello everyone! It’s my book birthday! Today, THE CRYPTID CATCHER, is released into the wild and I’m very excited to share some information about it with you.

To begin with…what is a cryptid, anyway?

A cryptid is a hidden animal, meaning an animal that is thought to be real but whose existence has never been verified by science. Animals such as Bigfoot and the Yeti are all examples. Cryptids are different than myths in that some people truly believe that cryptids are real, whereas it’s generally agreed upon that Zeus and the other Gods are a work of fiction. But some people (perhaps you?) believe that The Loch Ness Monster and other cryptids actually inhabit our world. There’s even a science dedicated to the search for such creatures…cryptozoology. Some scientists call it a ‘pseudo-science’ because these creatures can’t possibly exist…but for those who believe they do, the world of cryptozoology can be very interesting.

THE CRYPTID CATCHER is a middle-grade adventure novel about Clivo Wren, a 13-year-old-boy who discovers that his dad was a world renowned tracker of these hidden beasts. Unfortunately, his father dies mysteriously, leaving Clivo to figure out how to find a legendary creature that isn’t supposed to exist and protect it from the bad guys. It turns out there’s one beast who can do something very special…grant immortality, and boy does the evil resistance want it!

If you’re in the mood for a humorous adventure novel that explores the world of cryptozoology, then I hope you enjoy THE CRYPTID CATCHER!

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Lija Fisher is the author of THE CRYPTID CATCHER, a middle grade humorous adventure novel coming August 2018 with Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and THE CRYPTID KEEPER coming out in 2019. Yes, she believes in Bigfoot! She was the Writer in Residence in 2017 with Aspen Words. You can find her on Twitter @LijaFisher, or at LijaFisher.com.

Let’s Be Honest

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Comments on your writing always stick with you. It’s why reviews are a blessing and a curse.

One comment that has stayed with me came from an agent that passed on the manuscript that would go on to become my YA debut, So Not The Drama. She said, “It’s a bit too earnest.” And I remember thinking – but isn’t earnest good?

Shortly after her thanks but no thanks, I realized a few things:

  • Every comment is the right and belief of the commenter
  • My writing style is what it is
  • Being earnest with young readers is the job of every kidlit author, and so…
  • I’m really glad it happens to be the natural way I tell a story

Reading serves many purposes – escape, information gathering or to sate curiosity. When a young reader dives into a book, they want an honest reflection of the world at their fingertips.  Some books relay that honesty through humor. Some through suspense. Others wrap the story in an essence of fantasy. No matter the package, the delivery must contain kernels of truth that allow a young reader to process happiness, pain, death, injury or joy.

That agent passed on my work because of its honesty. Many years later, a book packager’s counsel to me was that my voice was more MG than it was YA. They too nodded to my YA’s earnestness as to why.

I owe that packager a tip of the hat. Their comment would years later wake in me an urge to tell a tough story through the lens of a thirteen-year-old. As I wrote So Done and the book that will follow, I worried their content might be too much. And for some, it may be. But the last thing we should want from MG authors is drama draped in the fake veneer of life lessons. Kids live in the same world that we do.  Sometimes they’re targeted for harm, by adults. Books are a way for young victims to find their voice. Books may lead them out of darkness. Books may push them to speak out or ask for help.

I’ve never set out to teach any lesson through my books. I leave teaching to educators. I leave a reader’s parents to help them understand what my book exposed them to.

But no matter how tough the topic, I’ll always be honest with readers. I don’t know how not to.

I salute today’s MG authors who are tackling topics that, maybe even two years ago, would have been deemed too complex for MG readers.

Traditionally, MG has never shied away from tough topics. But, by definition, tough is relative to the times. Social media and broadcast news expose young people to complex topics like sexual abuse, drug use and, of course, racism daily. Why would today’s MG not reflect how young citizens of the world are impacted by these issues?

And if you’re going to do it, honestly is the only way.

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Paula Chase hasn’t slept in eleven years. She also feels like people are speaking a foreign language when they use the term “free time.” Her awake hours are spent split between her work with a municipal association, mothering two, wife of one, and authoring MG and YA books. She is a co-founder of The Brown Bookshelf and can be found on Twitter @paulachase or at www.paulachasebooks.com  

Cindy Baldwin (Where the Watermelons Grow): Books Between, Episode 58

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hey everyone and welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, librarians, parents, and anyone who loves middle grade books!  My goal is to help you connect kids between 8-12 with fantastic reads and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of two girls, a teacher of 5th graders, and starting to have my annual back-to-school nightmares again. Last night it was that I had no clue what my schedule was, I had no plans prepared and was just winging it the entire first day! And – the worst part? I got to the end of the day and…FORGOT to include a read aloud!!! *shudder*

This is episode #58 and today I am giving you a quick first impression of three new books, and sharing a conversation with Cindy Baldwin – author of Where the Watermelons Grow.

A quick update on our Middle Grade at Heart Book Club schedule. The September pick is The House That Lou Built. And in October we are reading The Three Rules of Everyday Magic and The Hotel Between by Sean Easley is our November pick.

And remember to set yourself a reminder for Monday nights at 9pm EST so you don’t miss the #MGBookChat Twitter chat!  We’ve got some really interesting topics coming up like ending gendered labels, the importance of immigrant stories, and how teachers and public librarians can support each other.

Book Bites

First up this week is Book Bites – where I’ll give you a quick taste of a few upcoming books. And share first lines and first impressions from reading the first chapter. This week I am previewing The Right Hook of Devin Velma by Jake Burt, The Lighthouse Between the Worlds by Melanie Crowder, and  Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground by T.R. Simon.

The Right Hook of Devin Velma

The first novel I want to talk about is The Right Hook of Devin Velma by Jake Burt, author of Greetings from Witness Protection. This novel is about Addison Gerhardt and his best friend, Devin Velma, who is trying to become a social media sensation9781250168627.JPG by pulling a risky stunt at a nationally televised pro basketball game. Devin seems to have some secret reasons for doing something so dangerous, and Addison wants to help his friend but his introversion and anxiety often cause him to freeze up when he’s put on the spot.

First lines: 

Chapter One: Narrowed Down

“I finally figured out why my best friend Devin punched me in the face. At first I thought it was because I saved his life, but that wasn’t it. For awhile, I blamed my freezing, only it wasn’t that either. It wasn’t even Twitter, the Velma Curse, that stupid dishwasher, or the Golden State Warriors. Nope. It was the Double-Barreled Monkey Bar Backflip of Doom.”

First impressions: I love this book! And could not stop reading at just that one short chapter. The banter between the two boys is clever and I’m intrigued by the possibility of this book exploring the power and pressures of social media on kids. Twitter is a space where I spend some time but I do have concerns about that. And I’m curious about how Addison’s anxiety plays a part in the plot later on. The Right Hook of Devin Velma is out October 2nd and is definitely one I want to order for my classroom.

The Lighthouse Between the Worlds

The second novel I’m featuring today is by Melanie Crowder – author of  Three Pennies – a book from a couple years ago that I just loved. This novel – The Lighthouse Between the Worlds is about a young boy named Griffin who lives with the-lighthouse-between-the-worlds-9781534405141_hr.jpghis father on the coast of Oregon where they tend to their lighthouse. Every day they follow the same routine – a walk on the beach, placing a new piece of sea glass on his mother’s grave, and learning how to cast prisms in his father’s glassmaking studio. Things are routine. Until…one day a group of mysterious strangers appears and Griffin discovers that the lighthouse contains a portal to other worlds and that his father has far more secrets that he ever realized.

First lines:

Chapter 1: The Apprentice Glassmaker

“The day began normally enough, for a Tuesday. Griffin and his father, Philip Fen, ate breakfast (juice and apple-butter toast for one, coffee and oatmeal for the other). They buttoned up their thickest flannel shirts and stepped out into the gray morning. Mornings are almost always gray on the Oregon coast. But that’s what makes the green of the mosses and the ferns and the scraggly trees so very green.”

First impressions: My first thoughts on reading the first chapter were how… atmospheric and lush the language is.  And the fact that the mother’s grave has no headstone but only a suncatcher was both beautiful and also sent tingles up my spine – I’m sensing something…off there. This novel is out on October 23rd – the perfect time to read something with a blend of mystery and fantasy.

Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground

And book number 3 – Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground by T.R. Simon – sequel to the award-winning Zora & Me – a fictionalized account of the early life of author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston. Like the first book, this novel is set in a small Southern town during the very early 20th century of the Jim Crow era, and this 51gMECT-nZL._AC_UL320_SR222,320_.jpgbook is about Zora and her best friend, Carrie who uncover a tragic mystery centered around an enslaved girl named Lucia.

First lines:

“There are two kinds of memory. One is the ordinary kind, rooted in things that happened, people you knew, and places you went…..”

First impressions: I am intrigued – and so fascinated by that concept of the memory of the community and how it impacts all of us in subtle ways we don’t even fully realize. The first chapter launches us into a mystery with the adventurous Zora pulling her friend out into the night into trouble against her friend’s better judgement. It’s so good – and I loved Simon’s beautiful use of metaphor that adds such zing to the language. So be on the lookout for  Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground on September 11th. And if you are like me and haven’t yet read the first novel yet, add that one to your list, too!

Cindy Baldwin – Interview Outline

Our special guest this week is Cindy Baldwin – debut author of the acclaimed Where the Watermelons Grow. We discuss honey, the importance of accurate depictions of disability in children’s literature, Pitch Wars, the Anne of Green Gables adaptation on headshot1.jpgNetflix, and of course her novel!  And joining me this week to chat with Cindy is one of the founders of the MG at Heart Book Club, and Cindy’s Pitch Wars partner, Amanda Rawson Hill.

Take a listen…

Where the Watermelons Grow

Your debut middle grade novel, Where the Watermelons Grow, was just released this past month…

CA: For our listeners who have not yet read the novel, can you tell us a bit about it?

CA: Would you mind reading a favorite passage?

AH: I love how you slip into this southern accent when you read. I think every time you do it, people are surprised. But those who know you aren’t. What’s your history with the setting of this book?

CA: I know that your novel is mostly associated with watermelon, but it’s really more about honey! Is watermelon honey a real thing?

CA: Cindy –  I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, BUT – reading your book made me feel sooooo hot and sweaty!

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Paula and I discuss the ending of the novel, and if you’d like to hear that conversation, I moved that part of the recording to after the end credits of today’s episode at the 42:27 mark.

CA: How is the final version of the novel different from earlier drafts?

AH: While the book is about Schizophrenia, you are not Schizophrenic yourself. And yet, your own personal experience with disability helped shape this narrative. How?

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Your Writing Life

AH: For those who don’t know, Cindy has Cystic Fibrosis which has her spending a lot of time every day doing breathing treatments and affects her energy levels. On top of that, you have this wonderful spitfire of a child, who Della’s little sister is based on. And if that’s not enough, I know that in the past year you have also suffered from a lot of pain while writing. Yet, you just finished another novel (and it’s beautiful by the way, I’m reading it now.) Talk to us about some of your strategies for getting the writing done even with all these things in your life that make it a bit difficult.

CA: What are you working on now?

CA: While I have both of you here, I have a writer related question to ask.  On Twitter, I keep seeing this thing called PitchWars. What IS that?

Your Reading Life

One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians and parents inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books.  CA: Did you have a special teacher or librarian who helped foster your reading life as a child?  And if so, what did they do that made such a difference?

AH: I’d love advice on reading aloud when you have a precocious child, like Kate.

CA: So Cindy – I’ve gathered that you are a fan of Anne of Green Gables. What do you think of Anne with an E adaptation on Netflix?

CA: What have you been reading lately?

Links:

Cindy’s website – http://cindybaldwinbooks.com

Cindy on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook

Amanda’s website – https://amandarawsonhill.com

PitchWars website – https://pitchwars.org

Cindy & Amanda’s blog hop PitchWars post – http://blog.cindybaldwinbooks.com/2018/08/2018-pitch-wars.html

Pragmatic Mom website – https://www.pragmaticmom.com/booklists/

What We Do All Day website – https://www.whatdowedoallday.com/category/books/

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

Horton Hears a Who (Dr. Seuss)

Clementine series (Sara Pennypacker)

Anna Hibiscus (Atinuke)

E.B. White

Dick King-Smith

James Harriot

Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)

The Anne of Green Gables graphic novel (Mariah Marsden)

Race to the Bottom of the Sea (Lindsay Eager)

Amal Unbound (Aisha Saeed)

Mostly the Honest Truth (Jody J. Little)

Closing

Alright, that wraps up our show this week!

If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Books Between is a proud member of the Education Podcast Network. This network EPN_badgefeatures podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org. And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher so others can discover us as well.

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!

CorrinaAllen

Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

Corrina is the host of Books Between – a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect children between 8 and 12 to books they’ll love.

Find her on Twitter at @corrinaaallen or Instagram at @Corrina_Allen.

 

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MG at Heart Writer’s Toolbox: Using Word Choice to Create Atmospheric Setting

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The MG at Heart team is back again with a mid-month post about our August pick, Cindy Baldwin’s Where the Watermelons Grow. A heartfelt story that explores mental illness and its effects on family.

Twelve-year-old Della Kelly has lived her whole life in Maryville, North Carolina. She knows how to pick the softest butter beans and sweetest watermelons on her daddy’s farm. She knows ways to keep her spitfire baby sister out of trouble (most of the time). She knows everyone in Maryville, from her best friend Arden to kind newcomer Miss Lorena to the mysterious Bee Lady.

And Della knows what to do when the sickness that landed her mama in the hospital four years ago spirals out of control again, and Mama starts hearing people who aren’t there, scrubbing the kitchen floor until her hands are raw, and waking up at night to cut the black seeds from all the watermelons in the house. With Daddy struggling to save the farm from a record-breaking drought, Della decides it’s up to her to heal Mama for good. And she knows just how she’ll do it: with a jar of the Bee Lady’s magic honey, which has mended the wounds and woes of Maryville for generations.

She doesn’t want to hear the Bee Lady’s truth: that the solution might have less to do with fixing Mama’s brain than with healing Della’s own heart. But as the sweltering summer stretches on, Della must learn—with the help of her family and friends, plus a fingerful of watermelon honey—that love means accepting her mama just as she is.

The entire setting of the book is in Maryville, North Carolina, and every word in the story points to the character and atmosphere of the little Southern town. Besides the Southern drawl of the characters, lines like “Anybody who knew Mylie knew that she had been born with mischief in her hands and big ideas in her head” and “I could see where Thomas got his springtime smile from, Miss Lorena’s liked to light up the whole town” immerse the reader in the setting. (And I’m not even talking about the lovely symbolism of the heat throughout book.) Della’s observations are seeped deeply in Southern lingo, which helps the character of the town come alive. Couldn’t you hear the drawl as you read?

Using the right descriptive words is important. I feel that, in middle-grade novels, it’s especially important. A budding scientist wouldn’t use “doodad” in her internal dialogue much like an aspiring fashion designer wouldn’t say “that pink thingy you’re wearing” (or similar 😉 ). Those words aren’t part of their world and definitely are not part of their vocabulary, so they wouldn’t be on the page.

I feel like the Holy Grail knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Choose wisely…and your words will immerse your reader in the world you’ve created.

And while you weigh your word-choice options, enjoy Where the Watermelons Grow, where Cindy Baldwin utilizes this art to the very best.