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


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.  

. . .

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


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!



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

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.


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  

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

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


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?


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?


Cindy’s website –

Cindy on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook

Amanda’s website –

PitchWars website –

Cindy & Amanda’s blog hop PitchWars post –

Pragmatic Mom website –

What We Do All Day website –

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)


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 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

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 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!


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.



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.

Interview: Cindy Baldwin — Plus: WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW Book Trailer Premiere!

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I was super excited when Cindy Baldwin reached out to us about sharing her book trailer for WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW at the MG Book Village. Book trailers are such a great way to invite viewers into the world of a book, to give them a small taste of what they’ll find behind the cover. And making sure that taste is tantalizing enough to get those potential readers to actually pick the book up and give it a read is no easy task. I was curious to learn about the process behind the creation of Cindy’s trailer — and, of course, to see it! Check out our interview below, and stick around to view the trailer.

~ Jarrett

Thanks, Cindy, for choosing the MG Book Village as the place to host the premiere of your book trailer! Before we get to that, though, can you tell readers who aren’t familiar with WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW a bit about the book?

Sure! It’s a middle grade novel set in rural eastern North Carolina (about two hours from where I grew up!). Twelve-year-old Della would do anything to heal her mother’s schizophrenia permanently—even trying magic honey from the Bee Lady, whose honeys have tended the wounds and woes of Maryville for generations—but when all her efforts fail, Della has to realize that loving her mama means accepting her just the way she is.

The book has been out for a month and a half now. What has this time been like for you? Is it as you expected? What has most surprised you about finally having your book out there in the world for others to read, share, and discuss?

It has been so, so much more wonderful than I expected, actually! For much of this year I’ve felt like an anxious, neurotic mess of nerves, and I was really afraid that my release month would be the same, just more intense. But it hasn’t been like that at all! It’s been so cool to see people all over the country reading a book I wrote. It’s been especially meaningful to me how many people have privately shared with me the ways that their lives resemble Della’s, and how much the book resonated with them. That’s been really special.

Now, onto the trailer. Many books have trailers these days, though not all do. What made you decide that WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW should have a trailer?

I have always been intrigued by book trailers, and I also really enjoy doing little video projects in my spare time. (Every Christmas, for instance, I make a family year-in-review video for us to watch on Christmas Day.) Initially I wasn’t planning to make a trailer, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to try! I also know that middle grade book trailers can be really helpful, because teachers and librarians are able to use them to get students excited about the book. I don’t know if I’ll be doing trailers for future books or not—probably just if inspiration strikes me again—but it was a really fun project to do this time.

Were there other book trailers you looked to for guidance, ideas, and/or inspiration?

I really loved Ellie Terry’s trailer for Forget Me Not last year, and I knew that I wanted mine to be somewhat similar, in terms of having real people and a voiceover, rather than just text. I looked at a LOT of other book trailers, too, to get a feel for length, pacing, and tone.

I know you made the trailer yourself. Can you tell us what that process and experience was like? Did you have a vision for it straightaway? Did it evolve?

I had a couple of different ideas to create a trailer, and I ran them all past some critique partners who had read the book. All of them voted unanimously for the one we ended up doing! I knew that I wanted the voiceover to be a girl with a wonderful Southern accent, so I outsourced to some of my friends who still live in the South (I now live in Oregon) and ended up using a friend’s granddaughter, who did the job beautifully. The actress in the video is actually a different girl—a local friend’s daughter, who was a great sport when I gave her instructions like “okay, now take a bite of the watermelon and smile. Okay, now sit on this uncomfortable gate and do it all again.” We shot the trailer at a local farm, Stoneboat PDX, whose CSA I’ve participated in for several years. It’s a really gorgeous property, with rolling hills and big trees and beautiful vistas! Originally I’d planned to share the trailer in late spring, and so we shot the trailer in May and actually had to buy watermelons from the grocery store to make it look more like a watermelon patch. That was kind of funny. It’s not often you roll up to the checkout lane with nothing in your cart but ten watermelons!!! My husband and I also had way too much giggly fun dropping a watermelon off the roof for the closing shot.

Most book trailers are about a minute long. That’s 60 seconds to tantalize potential readers, to compel them to go out and get their hands on YOUR book as opposed to the countless others vying for their attention — a tall order, for sure. How did you come to decide what to include in the trailer?

Like I mentioned, I ran a couple of different ideas by critique partners, and they picked what they felt was the most compelling and best representation of the book. I spent several days working on the voiceover script—it’s based on some text in the book, but also very different. I wanted to make sure that it was short and concise, but also showcased some of the things I love best about the book, like the tension and the lyrical language. Much of the trailer mirrors the first chapter of the book, and both have the same goal: to hook a reader and get them excited about reading further.

Let’s take a look at the trailer!

It’s wonderful!

Thanks! I really enjoyed making it.

One last question before I let you go. In the coming months and years, your book is sure to reach many, many more readers. What do you hope those readers — the young ones especially — take away from Della and her family’s story?

I always feel like there are two kinds of children I wrote this book for—children like I was, who feel like their lives are very different from (and much more difficult than) the kids around them, and struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation as a result; and children like my daughter, who are growing up with disabled mamas who love them very much, even if their mothering, and what they’re capable of, doesn’t always look quite like other mothers. I hope that Where the Watermelons Grow is a reminder to children in all kinds of difficult situations that their lives have meaning, value, and beauty, even if they look different from the lives of their peers!

headshotsmallCindy Baldwin is a fiction writer, essayist, and poet. She grew up in North Carolina and still misses the sweet watermelons and warm accents on a daily basis. As a middle schooler, she kept a book under her bathroom sink to read over and over while fixing her hair or brushing her teeth, and she dreams of writing the kind of books readers can’t bear to be without. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and daughter, surrounded by tall trees and wild blackberries. Her debut novel, Where The Watermelons Grow, was published by HarperCollins Children’s Books on July 3rd of this year.

Cover Reveal: UP FOR AIR, by Laurie Morrison


I am so excited to welcome Laurie Morrison to the MG Book Village for the cover reveal of her latest novel, UP FOR AIR. I’ve been a huge fan of Laurie’s work since her debut novel Every Shiny Thing, and I can’t wait to read this story!  A big thank you to Laurie for letting us host the reveal and for taking the time to answer a few questions about UP FOR AIR.

~ Corrina

. . .

Hi Laurie! Before we reveal the cover, can you tell us a bit about Up for Air?

Hi, Corrina! Thanks so much for having me on MG Book Village! Up for Air is a contemporary middle grade novel about self-esteem, swimming, summer, social pressures, shifting friendships, academic challenges, and an intense crush. Here’s the description from my publisher:

Thirteen-year-old Annabelle struggles in school, no matter how hard she tries. But as soon as she dives into the pool, she’s unstoppable. She’s the fastest girl on the middle school swim team, and when she’s asked to join the high school team for the summer, everything changes. Suddenly, she’s got new friends, and a high school boy starts treating her like she’s somebody special—and Annabelle thinks she’ll finally stand out in a good way. She’ll do anything to fit in and help the team make it to the Labor Day Invitational, even if it means blowing off her old friends. But after a prank goes wrong, Annabelle is abandoned by the older boy and can’t swim. Who is she without the one thing she’s good at? Heartwarming and relatable, Up for Air is a story about where we find our self-worth.

You’ve mentioned that this novel was inspired by your students. I’d love to hear more about that!

Yes! The short answer is that one student told me to write Annabelle’s story after reading a (now shelved) manuscript in which Annabelle was a secondary character. Then my conversations with several other students about the kinds of books they wished they could find convinced me to go for it.

The long version is this: I taught 6th, 7th, and 8th grade English Language Arts for ten years, and it was a challenge to find contemporary realistic novels that felt geared toward my 11-14 year-old students. A lot of middle grade novels felt too young to them, so many of them (especially the 7th and 8th graders) read young adult books instead.

There was nothing wrong with that at all! Except that I wanted them to know that their current experiences were important and worth reading about, too. And I saw how much it meant to them when I could hand them a book that was about a 12, 13, or 14 year-old character they related to—one who was confronting some of the same pressures and changes they were dealing with.

But I couldn’t find many books that explored things like the attention some middle school girls started to get as their bodies developed—attention that was thrilling in some ways but scary and isolating in others. And I struggled to find books that delved into the way some of my students were ready for certain kinds of experiences, friendships, and flirtations, and others just weren’t yet…or some of them were ready for these things in one moment and then eager to retreat to something innocent, silly, and kid-like in the next.

I wanted to write an upper middle grade novel that would address topics like these and appeal to 10-14 year-old readers, but I’d been warned against writing something that would fall into the unmarketable gray area between middle grade and young adult fiction. So I wrote a YA novel called Rebound, which featured a fairly innocent teen protagonist I thought older middle schoolers would relate to…and that teen protagonist had a younger stepsister named Annabelle.

One of my 7th grade students read Rebound in 2014 and said, “I want Annabelle’s story next.” I loved that idea! I loved Annabelle and knew her story could explore many of the adolescent pressures and changes I saw my students confronting. But I was apprehensive about pouring my heart, time, and energy into something unmarketable, so I held onto the seed of her story but didn’t do much with it….until I shared Rebecca Stead’s Goodbye Stranger with a group of 7th graders the next year.

Goodbye Stranger prompted incredibly rich, passionate conversations. Students were so eager to talk about the storyline that features a 7th grade girl getting attention for her developing body. And then I led a book club group of 5th-8th graders who read Natasha Friend’s Where You’ll Find Me. That book was a hit with all of the participants regardless of their age, but the older readers in the group especially talked about how good it felt to read a novel about an 8th grade protagonist who “really felt like an 8th grader.” They wanted more books like Goodbye Stranger and Where You’ll Find Me. They wanted a story like Annabelle’s, and I wanted to write it.

And so, finally, I did. I’m so happy that my critique partners, agent, and editor believe in Annabelle’s story as much as I do, and I can’t wait for it to be out in the world! I’m especially excited to give an advance copy to the student who asked me to write about Annabelle back when she was in 7th grade. She’s now about to start her senior year in high school, but better late than never, I figure!

Who is the artist that designed your cover?  And what did you think when you saw the final version?

The cover artist is Nishant Choksi, and the designer is Hana Nakamura. And I was so thrilled to see the final version! I love the bright colors, the way the title looks in those bubbles, and the way Annabelle looks simultaneously grown up and kid-like. I think it’s really eye-catching and vibrant, and it captures the story so well.

Laurie – thank you for letting us take a peek at the cover of Up for Air!  When can readers get it, and where is a good place to preorder?

It’s my absolute pleasure! Up for Air will be out on May 7, 2019 from Abrams/Amulet Books. Readers can preorder on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or IndieBound.

Thank you! And now let’s take a look!

up for air correct cover.jpg

Laurie Morrison Headshot 1Laurie Morrison taught middle school English for ten years and is the author of two middle grade novels: Every Shiny Thing (Abrams, 2018, co-authored with Cordelia Jensen) and Up for Air (Abrams, 2019). She collaborates with other authors to run Middle Grade at Heart, an online book club and newsletter. Laurie holds a BA from Haverford College, an MA from The University of Arizona, and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.  She lives with her family in Philadelphia, and she loves iced coffee, freshly baked pastries, the ocean, and (of course) books.

Interview: Patricia Newman

Newman-Eavesdropping on Elephants cover.jpg

First, can you introduce yourself to our readers?

Writing about myself is harder than any other type of writing that I do. My official author’s bio lists the titles I’ve written and the awards I’ve won, but I imagine you’d like to go deeper. Here’s a compromise—a snapshot list.

I like:

The ocean better than the desert

Sunshine better than rain

Thunder better than lightning

Research better than writing a first draft

Life science better than physical science

Dogs better than cats

Breakfast better than lunch

Pasta better than steak

Game of Thrones better than Westworld

Board games/card games better that role-playing games

Outdoors better than indoors

Reading better than…um, well, anything

Oh, and I’m a Gryffindor

Now to the new book: EAVESDROPPING ON ELEPHANTS. What’s it all about?

Elephants! (That was for the elephant lovers out there, because for us that’s enough.)

But for those of you who don’t already love these magnificent animals, Eavesdropping on Elephants takes you deep into the forests of Central Africa to listen to the little-known forest elephant.

You probably already know that elephants live on two continents, Asia and Africa, but did you know there are two species of African elephants? Savanna elephants (which get most of the attention in books and nature documentaries) and forest elephants. Instead of roaming the wide-open plains of East Africa, forest elephants hide in the dense forests of Central Africa.

The Elephant Listening Project studies these complex creatures by eavesdropping on their conversations. Scientists hope to understand how elephants use the forest and decode what they’re saying to one another to save them from extinction.

I included QR codes in this book because it’s difficult to write about sound without the benefit of hearing it. Scanning the QR codes will transport you to the forest for elephant audio and video just as the scientists saw it!

What did your research for the book look like?

The story of the Elephant Listening Project (ELP) spans many years and involves several people—most of whom I interviewed during a cold rainy trip to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Technically, ELP belongs to Cornell’s famous Lab of Ornithology. Are you scratching your head trying to figure how birds and elephants mix? You’re not alone. Actually, it’s more about the technology. The Bioacoustics Research Program is housed at the Lab, and bioacoustics recording devices are used by ELP to listen to forest elephants.

I spoke with ELP founder Katy Payne (who (with her former husband) discovered humpback whales compose songs for each other). Katy, now in her 80s, took me back to that first day she proved elephants communicate with infrasound, sounds too low for us to hear. The sort of discovery every scientist dreams of, and one that launched a significant body of elephant research.

I interviewed Peter Wrege, the current director of ELP, about his trekking through the forest to put acoustic recorders in trees, and Daniela Hedwig, a young German scientist newly hired to study the language of elephants. Liz Rowland showed me around the ELP lab where she analyzes the forest sounds that Peter brings back. And I met several student volunteers trained to listen to the sounds and categorize them.

I also spoke with Andrea Turkalo, an elephant researcher from the Wildlife Conservation Society who partnered with ELP. Andrea knows thousands of elephants by name. I studied some of her index cards on which she recorded their features, such as sex, tusk length and shape, ear markings, and family relationships. By the time I finished my research even I could identify some of the elephants!

Scientific studies are always part of my research, and I waded through my fair share. Best of all I watched hours of elephant videos, learning their behavior and listening to their conversations.

Each book I research is truly a labor of love because of the hours spent questioning, describing, writing, and revising. Meeting the scientists was one of the highlights of Eavesdropping on Elephants. They are dedicated, generous people who want the world to step up and save elephants.

What was the most surprising and/or fascinating thing you learned during your research?

I already knew elephants communicated using infrasound because my daughter volunteered for ELP as an undergraduate. But I wasn’t prepared for the variety of sounds they make. We’ve all heard elephants trumpet, but have you heard them rumble, roar, and aooga? You will if you read this book and take advantage of the QR codes.

Of course these sounds are cool from a novelty perspective, but they’re also cool from a scientific perspective. The Elephant Listening Project is trying to find out what the sounds mean in combination with one another. Does a roar-rumble mean something different than a rumble-roar? What sounds do infants make when separated from their mothers? The answers to these questions are important because they help scientists decode elephant messages when they can’t see their behavior in the forest.

Why do you think it’s important for kids to have non-fiction books as part of their reading diet?

By now we’re all probably familiar with how children’s fiction acts as a window and a mirror, but the same is true for nonfiction—especially science nonfiction. I’ve written about marine debris, zoo scientists who promote conservation, Ebola, sea otters that save entire ecosystems, and now elephants. Every scientist was once a child who rescued animals, loved horses, participated in Earth Day clean-ups, or geeked out on technology. I hope my readers see themselves reflected in these inspiring scientists and dream big dreams for their futures.

Nonfiction books also act as windows onto the natural and physical world, filling kids with TRUE stories, connections, and facts. We all know kids who recite shark facts or pour over all things outer space, but nonfiction also promotes diversity by forging bonds between kids of different ethnicities interested in things such as sharks or space. Nonfiction expands the perspective of young readers beyond home and family to the wider world. It points out connections between us and the STEM fields. By understanding these connections, kids realize their place in the world and how they affect it.

What about conservation do you hope readers take away from EAVESDROPPING ON ELEPHANTS?

Conservation is about connections and balance. How the natural world affects us and vice versa.

For instance, in Sea Otter Heroes, I show kids how sea otters have a huge impact on the food chain in a seagrass ecosystem. No sea otters? No seagrass. Without seagrass, baby fish (our future food supply) wouldn’t have a place to grow up, our shores would erode because of waves, and climate change would be worse than it is now.

Let’s take that to present day politics. The White House plans to scale back protections on threatened species (such as sea otters), and allow economic factors to be considered before protecting species or habitats. Would this mean that an urchin or abalone fisher would have the right to kill a sea otter eating from the fishery? No one knows. But if sea otters suffer, so do seagrass ecosystems, and ultimately us.

In Eavesdropping on Elephants scientists from ELP are desperately trying to save elephants from poaching, mining, and other human intrusions into the forest. Not simply because elephants are the largest living land mammal on Earth, but because as Andrea Turkalo says, “Elephants are the architects of the forest.” They range widely eating fruit as they go and their feces contain seeds that sprout new trees and keep the forest alive. While the forest lives, it mitigates the effects of climate change, supports a huge array of mammals, insects, reptiles, birds, and plants, and sustains the native people who call the forest home.

I want kids to understand that the planet is not ours—we share it. Sharing always means compromise and compromise is a balancing act. Economic gain is not a divine right, but must live in harmony with the natural world that sustains us. I hope that my environmental nonfiction provides the appropriate connections so kids not only find their place in the world, but are moved to ACT.

Patricia_Newman.jpgPatricia Newman’s books inspire kids to seek connections to the real world. Titles such as SEA OTTER HEROES, EAVESDROPPING ON ELEPHANTS, and NEEMA’S REASON TO SMILE encourage readers to act and use imagination to solve problems. A Robert F. Sibert Honor recipient, her books have received starred reviews, two Green Earth Book Awards, a Parents’ Choice Award, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists. Her author visits are described as “phenomenal,” “fantastic,” “mesmerizing,” “passionate,” and “inspirational.” Visit her at

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Haven’t had enough elephants? Check out the EAVESDROPPING ON ELEPHANTS book trailer here, and learn even more about the book here. You can also find Patricia on Twitter at @PatriciaNewman and on Facebook at Patricia Newman Books. Below is a bit more about some of her other books.

NEEMA’S REASON TO SMILE is the story of a young Kenyan girl who wants to attend school but can’t. Winner of a Parents’ Choice Recommended Award, this beautifully illustrated picture book includes themes of equal access to education and financial literacy.

ZOO SCIENTISTS TO THE RESCUE is about three remarkable scientists who use scientific investigation to save endangered species. The book is a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year; A Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Book; a Junior Library Guild Selection; and a Eureka! Gold winner from the California Reading Association.

SEA OTTER HEROES: THE PREDATORS THAT SAVED AN ECOSYSTEM is a Sibert Honor book; a Green Earth Book Award winner; and a Junior Library Guild selection about Dr. Brent Hughes’ discovery that the sea otter, an apex predator in Elkhorn Slough off Monterey Bay, helps protect the seagrass ecosystem. The book received a starred review in KIRKUS and made the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Longlist.

EBOLA: FEARS AND FACTS tells the story of the 2014 Ebola epidemic and the amazing healthcare professionals and volunteers who helped stop it. The book received a starred review in BOOKLIST and was ranked one of the Best Books of the Year by Bank Street College

PLASTIC, AHOY! INVESTIGATING THE GREAT PACIFIC GARBAGE PATCH follows three female scientists who are among the first to study the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The book received the Green Earth Book Award sponsored by The Nature Generation, is a Junior Library Guild Selection, and was selected as a finalist for the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Award.