Do you have any idea how many small presses exist in America at this time? No really, I’m asking because I have no clue. Whatever the case, there appear to be a lot. And many independently published and self-published authors will often ask me to review their books. Nine times out of ten, I say no. I’m always hoping that I’ll be wrong and a book that I come across will be great, but the odds aren’t always with me. Then, once in a while, I hit something pretty good. Small and unassuming and pretty good, like Mommy’s Having a Watermelon. In it, a pretty basic idea gets an early reader treatment and an entirely new look. It’s worth examining anyway.
Zoe Rind has a problem. A big problem. You see, over the summer she was laughing pretty hard and a watermelon seed in her mouth got spit out by accident and landed in her mom’s glass. Zoe thought that was hilarious, but didn’t think much about it . . . until mommy started feeling sick. And that went away too, which is cool, except the next thing she knew Zoe’s mom’s stomach started to get huge. There is clearly only one answer: There’s a watermelon growing in there. Zoe is sick with guilt, but when she tries to talk to her parents about the problem they just end up talking about seeds and how "we want to be surprised." She’s a little weirded out that they understand the whole situation, but if they’re willing to go along with it, she’s willing as well. Of course soon thereafter everyone goes to a hospital and instead of an overlarge melon (which mommy probably felt like she was giving birth to anyway) the family has a new baby in the family. Zoe is thrilled because, "I can’t wait to tell her where she came from." The end of the book contains growing tips on raising your own watermelon (always assuming you live in the right part of the country), as well as four watermelon recipes.
One of the reasons I like this book as much as I do is because Zoe is pretty darn guilt ridden for the bulk of it. She’s under the distinct impression that she is solely responsible for her mother’s current watermeloned state. I mean, she pretty much goes for a couple months convinced of her guilt, but she doesn’t confess at once. Fortunately the authors don’t leave it at that. She talks it over with a friend who gives some good advice. First, determine that it actually is a watermelon. Then, ask forgiveness. Pretty straightforward. She just happens to get sidetracked by her parents and their inability to communicate.
I mean the parents here are going to have to be pretty distracted if they’re just going to assume that their daughter understands the whole pregnancy/baby concept. One worries about her knowledge of sex-ed in years to come. But it’s not like it isn’t realistic. When the mom starts going on about how there is a "seed" inside of her and it’s growing, she sounds just like those parents I know who cannot bring themselves to be straightforward with their own kids. Zoe’s sort of the victim of her parents’ squeamishness/love of an ill-timed metaphor. The best part of this conversation is when the parents, not understanding Zoe’s confusion, ask her if she’s excited. "Then I realized I had an even bigger problem . . . . My parents were strange." Give it up for Zoe. She knows a weirdo situation when she sees one. Of course it’s no stranger than Zoe’s subsequent horrific realization that maybe her family will want to save the watermelon to eat next summer. "I didn’t know how I felt about that." Ha!
The art is actually a good complement to the text here. Since we’re dealing with an easy reader format the book is about the size of your average Cat in the Hat or Frog and Toad title. It’s a good book for those kids transitioning from very easy books to early chapter affairs. As for artist Megan Halsey, she has put together a fun style that integrates printmaking, collage, and good old fashioned watercolors. Repeating images, like the question marks that appear faintly in the background at appropriate times, meld together with some of the more realistic images. The result is art that doesn’t just sit morosely but that moves the eye around each page beautifully. It makes the book a pleasure to read.
Parents who read this book to their child may wish to get "the talk" ready when the kids start having some questions about the actual origin of babies. It’s all well and good that by the end Zoe’s convinced that they come from watermelon seeds, but most readers aren’t gonna take that one at face value. Expect some necessary, if uncomfortable, explanations to ensue. All in all, the book is amusing both from a literary standpoint and an artistic one. I don’t see many easy readers worth reviewing, but Mommy’s Having a Watermelon proves to be the exception to the rule.
On shelves now.
Typo Alert: There is a typo on page 20 when a sentence should either read, “We couldn’t have planted it better ourselves,” or "We couldn’t have planned it better ourselves," and instead says "We couldn’t have plant it better ourselves". Hopefully that’ll be corrected.
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