Melanie Heuiser Hill ampersand

author

Melanie Heuiser Hill

Melanie Heuiser Hill ampersand

author

Melanie Heuiser Hill

Giant Pumpkin Suite

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.

Giant Pumpkins at the State Fair

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)

Reviews

“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.

Giant Pumpkin Suite

Melanie Heuis­er Hill
Can­dlewick Press, 2017
ISBN 978–0‑7636–9155‑4

Buy the Book 

Resources

Bookol­o­gy interview

Book­storm (paired books, music, and websites)

Bookmap (for booktalks)

Dis­cus­sion Questions

One Com­mu­ni­ty, One Book Guide

PCS Reads Interview
with Lau­ra Giv­en (pod­cast)

Six Suites for Violoncello Solo
Johannes Sebas­t­ian Bach, “Six Suites for Vio­lin­cello Solo,” Schirmer’s Library of Musi­cal Classics

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.

Giant Pumpkin Suite