Cover Reveal: Beginners Welcome by Cindy Baldwin

Happy Monday everyone! It’s the start of a new week and I can think of no better way to kick things off than a super exciting cover reveal! Today on Pop! Goes The Reader I’ll thrilled to welcome Cindy Baldwin back to the blog as we host the exclusive cover reveal for Cindy’s sophomore novel, Beginners Welcome! Cindy is no stranger to Pop! Goes The Reader, having shared beautiful, heartfelt posts for both the New Kids On The Block and Her Story: Ladies In Literature events in the past, so I’m really touched that I was able to help her with today’s reveal. Beginners Welcome will be coming to a book store and library near you February 11, 2020 by HarperCollins and the charming cover below was designed by Erin Fitzsimmons with accompany artwork by Harriett Russell.

About Cindy Baldwin

Cindy Baldwin is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Where The Watermelons Grow and the forthcoming Beginners Welcome. 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.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramGoodreads

My second novel, Beginners Welcome, was the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. At one point, I felt so insecure about the book that I secretly hoped my editor would pass on it, because I was sure it was just irredeemably bad. Writing that book felt enormously vulnerable, because I knew it was going to go out into a world where people had already read and formed opinions about my first novel, Where The Watermelons Grow. Because my debut had had really positive reviews and been named to some important lists, I worried that Beginners Welcome — the book I’d struggled with at every point of the writing process — would be a major letdown, the kind of sophomore novel that people read and set aside because it just couldn’t live up to its predecessor.

Choosing to press forward into that vulnerability, to keep working on the book even when I was certain it would be a colossal failure, was — in a strange way – not unlike the journey that Annie Lee, the protagonist of Beginners Welcome, takes. After her beloved daddy dies unexpectedly and her two best friends drift away from her, Annie Lee is determined to make herself invisible, close herself off from love and friendship so that nobody can ever hurt her that way again.

It’s not until she meets Ray Owens, an elderly pianist who’s fallen on hard times but manages to make magic through his music anyway, that Annie Lee starts to wonder if staying invisible might mean cheating herself of potential happiness. With Ray’s encouragement, Annie Lee tentatively starts to open up again — taking piano lessons, befriending the tough skater girl at her school, getting to know Ray and others who work at the local mall where Ray plays piano. When Ray goes missing, it’s the ultimate test for Annie Lee: will she stay visible and vulnerable and fight for the people she loves, even if it might cost her everything? Or will she pull her invisibility cloak back on and let go of the people who have enriched her life?

When I first opened the file with the cover that Harriet Russell and Erin Fitzsimmons had created for Beginners Welcome, I was amazed. It was so unique and colorful, incorporating so many of my favorite details from the story — the bright umbrellas, the scooter Annie Lee uses to explore her hometown of Durham, NC, the beanie that Annie Lee’s skater friend Mitch wears regardless of the season.

My very favorite part was the musical staff that both girls travel along. It felt like the perfect metaphor for the story, because in a very real way, music is the path Annie Lee rides out of her unhappiness, the thing that carries her from the darkest day of her life toward a brighter, more hopeful future. It’s music that teaches Annie Lee the power that exists in vulnerability, in allowing herself to be seen and known. Through music, Annie Lee comes to learn that brokenness can be as beautiful as perfection, that opening your heart and letting others hear your truth can create literal magic.

Beginners Welcome is a deeply personal book — and not only because it incorporates so many details from my own childhood, like my hometown of Durham, or the fact that I spent many years as a serious violinist and pianist and even played several Christmas concerts at Brightleaf Square, the mall where Ray volunteers. It’s personal, because the central question Annie Lee wrestles with — whether or not to open herself up to relationships even when each connection means a potential loss — is one I’ve spent my own life pondering.

In the end, after more than half a dozen intensive revisions, I’m proud of Beginners Welcome. Although I loved my debut, Where The Watermelons Grow, I think I feel more pride in this second book, because it was a much harder writing process and required so much more courage. Just like music is the thing that teaches Annie Lee the power of vulnerability and brokenness, writing and revising Beginners Welcome did the same for me. There is power in continuing to show up for something that requires you to be brave and optimistic, even when you’re sure you won’t succeed.

I hope that readers love Annie Lee and her story as much as I do, and that it can encourage the kids who find it to be the brave, wise versions of themselves!

Cover design by Erin Fitzsimmons, Cover art by Harriett Russell

Title Beginners Welcome
Author Cindy Baldwin
Pages 320 Pages
Intended Target Audience Middle Grade
Publication Date February 11, 2020 by HarperCollins
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.caAmazon.comChaptersThe Book DepositoryIndieBoundBarnes & NobleAnnie Bloom’s

(If you pre-order from Annie Bloom’s, Cindy’s local independent bookstore, you can order a signed and personalized edition!)

Annie Lee’s daddy won’t stop leaving his record player on. His whiskers are in the sink every morning. And he always keeps the TV turned to Duke basketball. Except Annie Lee’s daddy died eighty-three days ago. 

Annie Lee doesn’t like the word “ghost,” but whatever is going on isn’t making things easier for her and Mama. It doesn’t help that Mama works around the clock, barely making ends meet, and Annie Lee’s best friends ditched her over the summer. She’s starting middle school without a soul to sit by at lunch — until she meets tough skater girl Mitch. Mitch might need a friend as badly as she does, but after losing so much, Annie Lee can’t handle the possibility that another person might leave her.

When Annie Lee sneaks out one afternoon while Mama’s at work and rides her scooter downtown, she meets Ray, an elderly pianist whose music is pure magic. Ray sees right through her imaginary invisibility cloak, and when Annie Lee begs for piano lessons, he agrees to teach her — and convinces her it’s worth letting people into her heart.

But after Ray goes missing, finding him means breaking a promise to Mitch. Faced with once again losing the people that mean the most to her, Annie Lee will have to make a choice: hide under the invisibility cloak that’s been keeping her safe, or risk admitting how much she needs Mitch and Ray, even if it means she might get hurt.

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