Giant Pumpkin Suite
Twelve-year-old Rose Brutigan has grown seven inches in the last eight months. She’s always been different from her twin brother, Thomas, but now she towers over him in too many ways. The gap in their interests continues to widen as well.
Rose, a gifted cellist, is focused on winning the upcoming Bach Cello Suites Competition, while Thomas has taken up the challenge of growing a giant pumpkin in the yard of their elderly neighbor, Mr. Pickering.
When a serious accident changes the course of the summer, Rose is forced to grow and change in ways she never could have imagined. Along the way there’s tap dancing and classic musicals, mail-order worms and neighborhood-sourced compost, fresh-squeezed lemonade, ancient Japanese pottery, and the Minnesota State Fair—as well as an eclectic cast of local characters that you are sure to fall in love with.
Prize-winning giant pumpkins at the Minnesota State Fair.
Awards and Recognition
Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Magnolia Award nominee, Mississippi children’s choice award
The Mathical Book Award Honor, organized by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI), in partnership with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)
“There’s abundant warmth, humor, and heart in this charmer, and readers will root for both characters and pumpkin.” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)
“Offering distinctive characters, a relatable plot, and some useful gardening tips, Hill’s story promotes connectivity in neighborhoods and communities.” (Publishers Weekly)
“The book is a bittersweet tribute to the experience of growing up in a close-knit neighborhood; characters are written with care and depth. Mrs. Holling, Rose’s cello teacher, is particularly nuanced. In one scene between Rose and Mrs. Holling, the older woman holds Rose’s hands as she asks her not to practice so much so she can have time to be a kid (including digging in the dirt to help her brother take care of his pumpkin.) Students will identify with Rose’s over-scheduled calendar and perfectionist tendencies, and would be lucky to have an understanding mentor like Mrs. Holling.” (School Library Journal)
“Highly recommended. Neighbors come together to turn the backyard into a giant garden bed, and Rose’s cello teacher instructs her to play for the pumpkin as practice for the upcoming Bach Cello Suites Competition. … The story is filled with a diverse cast of characters, and the twins live in a multi-generational household. … Music lovers will connect with Rose, and readers … will be rewarded with a satisfying finish.” (School Library Connection)
“This debut novel is a creative account of one 12-year-old trying to figure out what defines her and how she can still be herself if one of her defining traits is taken away. Hill has created a rich world within the twins’ neighborhood, every neighbor distinct and important to the story in their own ways.” (Booklist)
“By introducing two siblings, one ruled by logic and the other by intuition, she gives young readers two very different characters who ultimately find they need each other to thrive. ‘The bridge and the soundpost need to work together,’ Will Stringer tells Rose. ‘That’s what gives the cello its sound, its soul.’ As Giant Pumpkin Suite crescendos to a dramatic conclusion at the Minnesota State Fair, it picks up deeper themes of loss, mistakes and the grace that comes with change.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
“Rose is one special young lady. She is a prodigy of the cello and academics. She is talking college courses and has skipped grades and is in high school at the age of 12. And, other than re-reading her favorite E.B. White book, she has lost what it is to be a child. Enter the pumpkin. Shhh, we’re not going to say anymore. Read this lovely book and learn, as Rose does, who truly cares for her and how the people who love you help shape who you will become.” (ALAN Really Quick Picks)
The Story Behind This Book
When I first heard about giant pumpkins, I knew I wanted to write a novel about some kids growing one “against all odds” in the city. I was utterly smitten with both the process and product of giant pumpkin growing. I was sure this was the stuff of the Next Great American Novel.
I wrote the opening chapters of Giant Pumpkin Suite as part of my application portfolio for the MFA program I hoped to enroll in. Those chapters bear almost no resemblance to Giant Pumpkin Suite—the kids were younger (and not twins), the next door neighbor was crabbier, the neighborhood troubled, and there was absolutely nothing about Bach or cello, musicals or tap dancing. There were no lovely neighbors, no library, no other kids at all, in fact. It was … a bit stark, perhaps. I can’t even remember what the title was. But it got me into the MFA program, and there I figured out some things about what to do with it all.
First off, my writing teachers suggested I needed more going on in the novel than just pumpkin growing. I found this disappointing and resisted at first. But I could not deny that I was writing chapter after chapter … in which pretty much nothing was happening. (Plot is hard for me.)
Typical writing advice admonishes us to “write what we know.” This is good advice, I think. But I’m far more interested in “writing what I want to know.” And so that’s what I did. I adore Bach’s cello suites. When I was Rose’s age, I was preparing for a contest in which I would play fifteen Bach pieces (short preludes and fugues, inventions, etc.) on piano. I was not an especially gifted pianist, but this was an amazing time for me—it was like training for a marathon. It set me apart (if only in my own mind) and helped me cope with the changes of moving, growing (physically), and growing up. Although I never played in the contest (we moved!) I can still play some of those pieces from memory.
All was grist for the writing mill, as it turns out, because I took that experience and superimposed it on the cello suites and dear Rose. I made her ungainly tall, as I was at her age, and emphasized her “differentness” by giving her a twin opposite of her in nearly every way. (Plus, she’s kind of intense—she needs Thomas.) And then I gave her my love of Bach and those cello suites and the ability to play them, which gave me both the soundtrack for writing this book and the excuse to research those amazing suites. Maybe some day I’ll learn to play them myself.
I am so grateful to the many people who advised me on all of the things I did not know so that I could write this book! I learned so much and it was so fun that I’m doing the same in my next novel—it’s chock full of stuff I want to know about and so have given myself the excuse to do the research.
Melanie Heuiser Hill
Candlewick Press, 2017
Buy the Book
Listen and Watch!
Maestro Leonard Bernstein
introduces 7‑year-old Yo-Yo Ma
to John F. Kennedy
Video: Yo-Yo Ma plays
the Prelude to Suite #1
And then there’s audio only
of Yo-Yo Ma playing the
entire Six Suites cycle
Christopher Costanza’s website features him playing all of the suites with their movements clearly labeled. He has provided commentary, history, and resources as well.