New Kids On The Block 2018 with Cindy Baldwin

New Kids On The Block is a year-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader meant to welcome and celebrate new voices and debut authors in the literary community.

Are you a debut author whose book is being published in 2018? It’s not too late to sign-up! If you want to participate in New Kids On The Block this year, please don’t hesitate to get in touch! You can send a tweet or DM on Twitter to @Pop_Reader or email me at Jen@PopGoesTheReader.com. I would love to collaborate with you!


About Cindy Baldwin

Cindy 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 named an Indies Introduce/Indie Next pick for 2018, and has received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramFacebookGoodreads

The Book I Wish I’d Had

As a young teenager, I spent a lot of time lurking around a specific set of books in my library’s young adult collection. It was a white wire rack of paperbacks, the kind that spins so that all the featured titles are easily visible. All the books had dreamy-looking girls on the covers and titles that promised tears.

All of them were about teens like me — teens with serious illnesses, who spent time in hospitals, who knew what it was like to have something living inside them that made them different from everyone they knew.

My mom never let me check them out. She knew what I didn’t: that all of these books — 100% of my library’s books for kids about disabilities like mine — featured chronically ill characters who largely existed to touch the lives of other people before they either died tragically or experienced an unlikely miracle healing. None of this, my mom felt, was what I needed to read, as a teenager who was struggling to come to terms with the progressive effects of my cystic fibrosis.

Four years ago, I was singing the children’s song “Down By The Bay” to my daughter when I became captivated by the story at the heart of the song: a child who had run away from home because their mother was losing touch with reality, and they couldn’t bear to see their mom so sick.

I found myself thinking often of that little girl and her mother over the next year — their difficult, complicated love for each other; how hard the mother’s illness would be for both of them. The idea rang with reminders of my own struggle to raise my growing daughter, my own fears that she would grow up resenting me for everything I could not give her. I was going to write this story, I decided. And as soon as I had, before I even knew the main character’s name, I knew one thing for certain:

This story wasn’t going to end with the mother being cured.

Like many disabled readers, I find myself craving stories that don’t fall into the dichotomy of those paperbacks my mom wouldn’t let me read — the stories where the disabled character earns either an inspirational death or a magical cure. These stories are saturated with the idea that a disabled character can only fulfill her character arc, can only be truly brave or strong or happy, if they are healed of their disability first.

I was born with cystic fibrosis, a progressive, life-shortening genetic illness. As a teenager, I became disabled after a particularly bad case of mono left me with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, barely able to climb the stairs to my bedroom every day. Much of my life has been a journey to accept that my physical problems will never go away. Instead, I’ve had to learn and relearn that I can have a full, happy, and enriching life just as I am — even if my life, and the things I’m able to do, likely will never look quite like anyone else’s.

As I began to outline Where The Watermelons Grow, I knew that I wanted this to be the character arc that my protagonist, Della, experiences. I knew that I wanted Della — who starts out convinced that the only way for her to find happiness is to “cure” her mother’s schizophrenia — to learn, through the course of the novel, that her mama is perfect just the way she is, and that their family can still be happy and filled with love even if it might look “different.” In the end, Della — and the reader — are left not knowing exactly what is going to happen with Suzanne’s illness, but knowing, also, that the whole Kelly family will pull through it with love, acceptance, and respect.

After becoming disabled as a teen, I worried about how other people would perceive me — too embarrassed to go to the mall with my friends if it meant being in a wheelchair, not sure how to explain to people that even talking on the phone was exhausting. As an adult, I’ve wished so many times that I’d had access back then to a book that whispered to me that I was okay, even if I was living a very different life than my peers.

I may not be able to put that book into the hands of sixteen-year-old Cindy. But I hope, with Where The Watermelons Grow, that I can send that message to all the children who read it — that no matter what is different or difficult in their lives, those lives can be beautiful just the way they are.

Title Where The Watermelons Grow
Author Cindy Baldwin
Pages 256 Pages
Intended Target Audience Middle Grade
Genre Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Publication Date July 3rd 2018 by HarperCollins
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

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.

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