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!

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.

MG at Heart Book Club’s August Pick

And the MG@Heart Book Club’s pick for August is….


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Fans of The Thing About Jellyfish and A Snicker of Magic will be swept away by Cindy Baldwin’s debut middle grade about a girl coming to terms with her mother’s mental illness.

When twelve-year-old Della Kelly finds her mother furiously digging black seeds from a watermelon in the middle of the night and talking to people who aren’t there, Della worries that it’s happening again—that the sickness that put her mama in the hospital four years ago is back. That her mama is going to be hospitalized for months like she was last time.

With her daddy struggling to save the farm and her mama in denial about what’s happening, it’s up to Della to heal her 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, North Carolina, for generations.

But when the Bee Lady says that the solution might have less to do with fixing Mama’s brain and more to do with healing her own heart, Della must learn that love means accepting her mama just as she is.

“Della’s voice will tug at readers’ heartstrings as she tries to hold her family together. Middle grade stories about mental illness, particularly those that focus on empathy and acceptance, are rare. This heartfelt story will stay with readers. A top choice.” (School Library Journal (starred review))

“[Della’s] first-person narration is realistically earthy without crossing into gritty. This debut novel gushes with Southern charm. This story’s as sweet as Della’s daddy’s watermelons but never saccharine.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Della’s story is a reminder that even under the toughest rinds of troubles we can find the cool, sustaining sweetness of friendship.” (Kirby Larson, author of the Newbery Honor Book Hattie Big Sky)

“Baldwin has written a heartbreaking, yet heartening, story that explores mental illness and its effects on an entire family. Readers will connect with the novel’s well-formed characters and be absorbed by the plot, which pulls no punches but doesn’t overwhelm.” (ALA Booklist (starred review))

“This has a tenderness that will appeal to fans of DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie.” (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)

Where the Watermelons Grow takes a close look at the unpredictable and debilitating nature of schizophrenia. Baldwin writes with a genuine voice.” (Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA))

Where the Watermelons Grow is a spot-on, insightful novel about a preteen learning to live with and accept a parent’s mental illness.” (

“Cindy Baldwin’s graceful debut is an ode to family and community. Hints of sweet magical realism touch Where the Watermelons Grow, balancing this exquisite novel’s bittersweet authenticity.” (Shelf Awareness (starred review))

The newsletter will go out 8/27. The Twitter chat will be 9/4!

Happy reading!

MG at Heart Book Club’s 2018 Book Picks

February: SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS by Jack Cheng

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Amazon   Indiebound


March: THE VANDERBEEKERS OF 141ST STREET by Karina Yan Glaser

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Amazon   Indiebound


April: THE PARKER INHERITANCE by Varian Johnson

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Amazon   Indiebound


May: EVERY SHINY THING by Laurie Morrison and Cordelia Jensen

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Amazon   Indiebound


June: THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER by Diane Magras

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Amazon   Indiebound


July: JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS by Melissa Sarno

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Amazon   Indiebound



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Amazon     Indiebound


September: THE HOUSE THAT LOU BUILT by Mae Respicio

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Amazon     Indiebound


October: THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC by Amanda Rawson Hill

(cover not yet revealed)

Amazon     Indiebound


November: THE HOTEL BETWEEN by Sean Easley

(cover not yet revealed)

(not yet available for pre-order)