Melonhead, the first book in author Katy Kelly's laugh-out-loud chapter book series, is now in paperback!
Adam Melon's friend Lucy Rose gave him a nickname—Melonhead—and it caught on fast. Melonhead is a self-proclaimed inventor. All his life, which is ten years and counting, great ideas have been popping in and out of his melon head. And sometimes they work! This year Melonhead's class is entering an inventing fair, so he and his friend Sam are dreaming up plans. And Capitol Hill has a ton of places to find invention parts. But they have to be sure they find what they need and get home on time with no excuses. That might be hard, because Melonhead and Sam have a way of forgetting. But their work will all pay off if they win first place—they'll be headed to even bigger and better things!
Yesterday I was a regular ten-year-old boy. Today I'm the star of four Washington, D.C., TV stations. Channel 5 showed my picture with the words: Tragedy Averted. My friend Lucy Rose says averted is the same as avoided. I knew it would be. I have had a lot of aversions in my life.
This one started when I was climbing up Madam and Pop's magnolia tree with a rope in my teeth. It was for hoisting my best friend, Sam. Our plan was to get high enough to leap onto the breezeway roof that connects Madam and Pop's house to their carriage house. That's the same as a garage. We were going to lie on our stomachs and terrorize people down below by calling out, "We're watching you," in wavy voices and then make creepy "heh-heh-heh" sounds like we are deranged. We've done it before and it's hilarious. People can't figure out where the voices are coming from. Sometimes they talk to the air and say, "You're not scaring me," but we are. Believe me. Once a lady blamed a man who was doing nothing but trying to get to the corner before the light turned red.
I could have taken the tree-free route to the roof by going in their front door, cutting through the morning room, then racing up the back staircase, into the bathroom, and out the window. I'm allowed because I am one of Madam and Pop's good friends. I met Madam last year when I was in her tree box collecting good-smelling weeds for my deodorant-making experiment that was supposed to make me rich. I could tell that she was a friendly lady because she came rushing outside waving at me with both arms. I told her, "Don't worry. You don't have to pay me for pulling up this scraggly junk."
It was a big shock to me when she said she planted it on purpose. "Our yard is going to be on the Capitol Hill House and Garden Tour next week," she said. Then she told me everything there is to know about the plant scraps that were in my hands.
"I am sorry," I said. "I never heard there was a plant called lavender. And who would ever guess since it's mostly green? Not me."
By the time we finished reburying roots we were friends and she said, "Drop by and see us sometime, Adam."
"It's a deal," I said.
I keep that deal three or four times a day. A lot of times I go to get a snack or to visit Lucy Rose, who is their granddaughter. She sleeps at their house when her mom is working late. Other times I go to help Pop. He's Madam's husband and he has tons of chores. That's how come I know how to patch window screens and caulk sinks and pick about 1,000 apricots in only one day. It was when we were apricot picking on the breezeway roof that Pop said, "Feel free to climb out our bathroom window and wander around out here on the roof anytime."
"Thanks," I said. "But I'd rather go by tree."
"Anyone would," Pop said.
He and I think alike.
But yesterday Sam said, "Let's take the bathroom window shortcut to save time."
"It won't take me seventeen seconds to shimmy up the tree," I said. "I need to practice the improved climbing method I invented after the old method overstretched my ribs and Dr. Stroud had to tape them back together."
"Explain this new method," Sam said.
"Step One: I stand on your shoulders," I said. "Step Two: I throw my arms around the fattest branch."
"Cheese, Louise," Sam said. "Your new sneakers are poking ditches into my collarbones."
"So sorry, Mata Hari!" I said.
One of our habits is making up rhymes that are like "See you later, alligator." Only ours are ten times better.
"I like the old method better," Sam said.
"I'm almost up," I said. "I'm hooking my legs around the branch."
Flipping right-side up is the hardest part. Sliding down the branch is the most stomach scraping. The rest is E-Z P-Z.
Excerpted from Melonhead by Katy Kelly. Copyright © 2010 by Katy Kelly. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
About Katy Kelly
What made you want to write?
I come from a family of storytellers. My parents are both writers. Our dinner table has always been where the events of the day are reported with great hilarity or drama, sometimes both at once. That taught us about pacing, delivery, what works and what doesn't. We read a lot. Possibly because we had no TV.
So dinner was a long series of teachable moments?
We didn't know we were learning and my parents didn't know they were teaching. It was just dinner. My siblings and I were brought up to value original thinking, honorable behavior, laughter, and books. Our passions were taken seriously. They didn't dwell on our shortcomings–math, science, Latin. We were never described as aspiring. Michael was a writer, Meg an actress, Nell a scientist. I was an artist. Our titles expanded as our interests grew. Ultimately, three out of the four of us became writers. My parents became the models for Lucy Rose's grandparents, Madam and Pop.
How did you get into writing professionally?
I was working as an illustrator and walking the floors with our darling, relentlessly colicky baby when a friend called to ask if I would like a two-day-a-week job doing basic research and phone answering at People magazine. I would have done it for free.
I started covering parties for People and graduated to bigger stories. Six years and another baby later, I was hired as a feature writer for USA Today's Life section. Reporting taught me to write fast and to be frugal with words, and it let me ask questions that would be rude under any other circumstances. I spent time in Hollywood with movie stars, in Washington with the president, and in Mississippi with people who lived in houses that rented for $60 a month. No plumbing, no electricity, one good wind from toppling over. I learned to listen to what people were (and weren' t) saying, to understand what they cherished and what they feared. I can't imagine that I could write good fiction without having reported on so many real lives.
Where do you get your ideas?
In schools, on the subway, in the market. Something happens and it triggers an idea. My first book, Lucy Rose: Here's the Thing About Me, came about when, one night at family dinner, my mom said about her dog, "Poppy has been so much better since I've been telling her where I'm going and what time I'll be back." That struck me as hilarious. After they left, I typed the words: "My grandmother thinks her dog can tell time." The story took off from there. Until my mom said that I hadn't thought about writing a children's book. I tell aspiring writers to eavesdrop. It's a great way to get ideas and to get a sense of how people really talk. When you have something, write it down as soon as you can.
How do you write?
I follow the advice of that old Nike ad: Just Do It. Lots of people think about writing a book but say, "I don't have time," or "I'm waiting for inspiration," or "I want to get it worked out in my head first." If you want to write, carve out the time. If you write a page a day in a year you'll have the first draft of a novel.
What are the biggest writing mistakes people make?
Thinking bigger words are better words, becoming wedded to every word so they can't bear to throw anything out. Many writers repeat themselves. Say it once. Readers are smart. They remember.
How do you sharpen your work?
What works best for me is to write a bit, edit, make changes, write some more, and repeat from the beginning. When I finish a piece, I go through it once just to find and banish clichés. Then I run a search for the words very and really. They take up space and almost never help the writing. I read my work out loud. That is the surest, quickest way to tell if the voices ring true or the writing is lumpy.
Who are you favorite writers?
I have many. Katharine Patterson, Judy Blume, Lois Lowery, Dick King-Smith, P. G. Wodehouse, Ian Falconer, S. E. Hinton, Harper Lee, Daniel Wallace.
Your favorite book?
I can't pick a favorite. But I am in awe of Ernest Hemingway's six word short story: "For sale: Baby shoes, never worn."
Do you start with an outline?
No. But I do make a list of five or six things that are going to happen. Sometimes I change my mind, but the list gives me some direction.
Are Washington, D.C., and Capitol Hill like they are in the Lucy Rose and Melonhead books?
The neighborhood has been gentrified, but it is still full of families and dogs and shops and adventures. (Almost all of the places in the book are real.) When we were young, my brother and sisters and I spent our days roaming around the Capitol, playing pick-up soccer on the Library of Congress lawn and dropping in on the Smithsonian museums. We regularly climbed the 897 steps to the top of the Washington Monument and took so many tours of the FBI that the guides recognized us. When my dad was a young reporter, he used to meet Harry Truman at Union (train) Station and they' d do the interview while they walked. Washington is less free-wheeling now. Security is tighter, kids can't tour the FBI without an adult, you have to go through your Congressperson to get a White House ticket, and you have to take the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument.
Your family has lived on the same block of Constitution Avenue for generations.
It's been a good place to chart change. My dad was born at home in 1923. One of his earliest memories is seeing the KKK march past the house in 1925. He was two years old. In August 1963, when I was seven, thousands of people in the March on Washington walked the same route to hear Dr. King deliver his "I Have a Dream" speech. My mom was days away from having my sister Nell, and her obstetrician wouldn't allow her to walk that far. Instead she, my brother Michael, my sister Meg, and I passed out free lemonade and cookies all day. (My dad was reporting on the March for the Washington Daily News.) In January 2009 all of us, including my eight-year-old nephew watched hundreds of thousands of people walk past the house on the way to see President Obama get inaugurated.
Out of four Kelly kids, three became writers. What do they do?
My sister Meg is a screenwriter. For years she wrote for soap operas. Until recently she was the co-headwriter for Days of Our Lives.
My brother Michael reported for the New York Times, the New Yorker and the National Journal. He was a syndicated columnist, the author of Martyr's Day and the editor of the Atlantic Monthly. It is the great heartbreak of our lives that Michael was killed while reporting on the first days of the war in Iraq in 2003.
My sister Nell has the most important job in the family. She teaches kindergarten and first grade.
What do you tell kids who want to be writers?
Do it! I've met a lot of artists and singers and writers who were going to college to study business or teaching or dental hygiene. People, often parents, have convinced them that their passion is too risky for real life. Pursue the practical, they say, you can always sing in the church choir, paint on the side, write in your off-hours. Though said with love, this is lousy advice. Passions almost always stem from talent. And when you're talented and work hard, you get jobs.
How did you get your book published?
After I finished, I sent it to four agents. I have still not heard back from them. It was my great good fortune to have a friend who passed my manuscript on to his editor. That said, I do believe good books get published, just not as fast as one hopes.
What can a children's book writer do to find a publisher?
Join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. They have groups all over the country. Go to their workshops. Make contacts. Have faith.
Fun facts about Katy Kelly:
She has two children, Emily and Marguerite.
She married her college sweetheart. His name is Steve.
She has a dog named Ellie. When Katy was a kid, she had a big, black French Poodle named Gumbo. He appears in the Lucy Rose and Melonhead books.
She lives in Washington, D.C.
She loves visiting schools.
She spends much of her money at bookstores.
She is wild for ice cream and chocolate and especially chocolate ice cream.
She is anti-cauliflower.
She draws and paints.
Her office is in her house. It is pink and green and jazzy.
If she could choose one extra talent, it would be singing.
Her mom, Marguerite Kelly, is the author of The Mother's Almanac.
Madam and Pop are now celebrities in their neighborhood.
About the author
Katy Kelly is the daughter of writers. She and her siblings grew up on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., five blocks away from the U.S. Capitol, four from the Senate buildings, and three from the U.S. Supreme Court.
She was a reporter and editor for 20 years before becoming an author.
About Gillian Johnson
Gillian Johnson grew up in Winnipeg. She competed nationally in speed skating, but quit to finish university. She has given swimming lessons in Churchill and was a canoeing instructor in Flin Flon. She’s taught English in Czechoslovakia and high school in Ottawa. Throughout, she has drawn and written. Her first book, Saranohair, was awarded Honorable Mention for the Graphics Prize at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. My Sister Gracie, published in 2000, was awarded the Alcuin Design Award and has earned fans in Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Iceland and Venezuela. She has collaborated with author Richard Scrimger, providing the illustrations for their books about Baby Bun Bun, which include, most recently, Eugene’s Story. She also illustrated Dennis Lee’s The Cat and the Wizard. Gillian Johnson lives with her husband, writer Nicholas Shakespeare, and their sons in Tasmania and England.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
Lucy Rose, one of Adam Melon’s good friends, gave him his preferred nickname: Melonhead. And while Melonhead’s mom is not thrilled about it, he certainly is! Melonhead loves shortcuts, snakes, and inventing, though all three get him into some interesting situations, and maybe a wee bit of trouble, too. And Melonhead is having some trouble trying to decide what type of contraption might win him a trip to the Challenge America finals for an original invention reusing everyday materials—if it doesn’t get him grounded first! Join Melonhead as he attempts to make great discoveries including keeping his mom from finding the snake he’s hidden in his room. Friends of Lucy Rose will love hearing about Melonhead’s inventions and mishaps.Themes:
Family & Relationships
Friendship • Growing Up
Emotions & Feelings • Humor • School
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Here’s the thing about Katy Kelly: If you look at Lucy Rose’s life and then look at Katy’s, you’ll see that in some ways they’re very similar. Katy grew up on Capitol Hill and had a dog named Gumbo. Her parents are very much like Madam and Pop . . . and she’s an original thinker, at least according to her dad. Now working as a writer, Katy Kelly has worked as a reporter for People
magazine, a feature writer for the Life section of USA Today,
and was a senior editor at US News & World Report
. She comes from a family of writers. Katy’s mom, Marguerite Kelly, is the author of The Mother’s Almanac
and the syndicated column, The Family Almanac. Her father, Tom, wrote for the long-gone Washington Daily News
and her brother, Michael, was a syndicated columnist and the editor of the Atlantic Monthly
. Her sister, Meg Kelly, is an Emmy Award-winning television writer. Katy, her husband, and their daughters, Emily and Marguerite, now live in Washington, D.C.
SUGGESTED ACTIVITIESPRE-READING ACTIVITY
Ask the class: Have you ever tried to invent something? What do you think are the steps to making an invention?COMPREHENSIONEncourage students to complete these activities as they read:
• Readers get to know characters by studying what they say, what they do, how others react or talk to them, and what they look like. Fill out the following chart about Melonhead himself on the next page.
• Create a diagram or chart which lists the experiments and what Sam and Melonhead learned from each attempt for the Challenge America contest.
• Since good readers make predictions about what is going to happen next, write a question at the end of each chapter about what you hope will be answered. For example, I wonder if Melonhead will get out of the tree?
• Encourage students to try a Challenge America invention—for themselves, of course! Remind them what Mr. Santalices said: try to create something new, original, and useful.
• Melonhead wants to keep the snake he found but he’s not even sure what it needs at first to survive. Have students research the needs of their dream pet and calculate how much it would cost to not only purchase the pet but provide for him for one year.
• Diaper science! Get a variety of diaper brands and reenact the experiment that Sam and Melonhead conduct in the bathroom. What are your class’s findings?
BEYOND THE BOOKASK KATY KELLY
Do your students have questions for the author about her writing and characters? Have them e-mail her at AskKatyKelly@gmail.com
OTHER TITLES OF INTERESTLucy Rose: Here's the Thing About Me
Lucy Rose: Big on Plans
CD: 978-0-307-20713-3Lucy Rose: Busy Like You Can't Believe
GLB: 978-0-385-90338-7Lucy Rose: Working Myself to Pieces & Bits
GLB: 978-0-385-90425-4 Download a PDF of the Teacher's Guide