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  • Melonhead and the Undercover Operation
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Written by Katy KellyAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Katy Kelly
Illustrated by Gillian JohnsonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Gillian Johnson


List Price: $6.99


On Sale: September 13, 2011
Pages: 256 | ISBN: 978-0-375-98292-7
Published by : Delacorte Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
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Melonhead here—with more rules?! I already have the Remind-O-Rama list from my mom, which reminds me what I shouldn't do. Now my dad has created the Melon Family Guidelines for Life to remind me what I should do. And even though all these rules are so simple even a worm could follow them, I already have too much to think about. As Junior Special Agents with the FBI, my pal Sam and I have taken a pledge—it's our duty to help apprehend a fugitive from justice if we spot one. And believe it or not, we've spotted one not far from where we live! The Chameleon may think she's crafty, but we can see right through her wigs, plastic noses, and putty chins. We're undercover and on the case, doing surveillance and gathering evidence. But what you see isn't always what you get!




I slid down the banister, raced through the hall and around the dining room table, and hit the swinging kitchen door with both arms out. I go for maximum bounce-back.

“Whoops, sorry, Dad! I didn’t know you were there,” I said.

My mom was bent over with her head in the fridge. So all I could see was her bottom half. All she could see of me was nothing.

“Go back upstairs and brush your teeth,” she said.

“I’m on vacation,” I said.

“Personal grooming does not get summers off,” she said.

She is psychic about hygiene.

“Once I eat breakfast they’ll be dirty all over again. The next thing you know, it’s lunch.”

“And the next thing you know, you’ll have so many cavities your teeth will look like Swiss cheese,” she said. “Go brush.”

“Sam and I are going to the FBI,” I explained.

My mom popped up. She forgot the freezer door was open. That’s hard on a head. Believe me. I know.

“Adam,” she said. “Come here.”

She’s practically the only one who calls me that. It beats her other name for me, which is Darling Boy. I’m trying to get her to stop saying DB in front of people. It’s not going well. Getting her to call me by my usual name of Melonhead is hopeless.

She used the refrigerator sponge to wipe the dried-up crud off my navy blue Federal Bureau of Investigation T‑shirt. It came from a street vendor.

“Don’t wash my Junior Special Agent badge,” I said.

My badge came from the FBI. It is one hundred percent real.

“Teeth,” she said.

“How about I brush twice tonight?” I asked her.

My dad was at the table, doodling with one hand and rubbing his head with the other. “Get going, Sport.”

“Dad, you’re the one who said I should be a Man of My Word. My word to Sam was ‘See you at eight-thirty a.m.’ ”

He smiled.

“Mom,” I said. “It’s rude to keep my best friend waiting. And you’re the anti-rudest person in Washington, D.C.”

Her eyebrows jumped up. Bouncing eyebrows mean that she is fed up.

“I’m going,” I said.

“Brush until you’ve counted to one hundred in your head,” my mom said.

To save time I counted by twos.

When I came back down my dad was burning his fingers getting my bagel, egg, and double ketchup sandwich out of the microwave.

“I’ll eat it while I walk to the Alswangs’,” I said.

“We need to have a family conversation before I leave for the airport,” my dad said.

We have a talk every time he goes to Florida. We used to live there before we moved to Washington, D.C., for my dad’s job that keeps sending him on trips to Florida.

He likes to discuss Things That Should Not Happen while he’s away. My mom’s topic is usually Things That Have Gone Wrong in the Past. Then my dad says I’ve learned from my mistakes. My mom says she hopes so.

“Sometimes it’s impossible to know if a thing is a mistake until I’m in a situation,” I explained. “Sometimes I don’t know I’m in a situation until somebody tells Mom and she tells me. Sam has the same problem.”

“The neighbors say that too,” my mom said.

“Pop says Sam and I are proof of great minds thinking alike,” I said.

Pop is our good old friend. I mean old like between sixty and seventy and also old like a long time. We met when I moved here, two and a half years ago, which is one quarter of my life.

“Just check the Remind‑O‑Rama before you do anything,” my mom said.

She invented the Remind‑O to improve my judgment.

“It doesn’t work,” I told her.

“Which is why I’m introducing the New and Improved, Easy-to-Master, Fun-to-Follow Melon Family Guidelines for Life,” my dad said. “Instead of telling you what not to do.” He handed me his doodled-on napkin.

“Read out loud so I can hear,” my mom said.

1. Think About Cause and Effect. 2. Plan Ahead. 3. Consider Consequences. 4. When in Doubt, Ask an Adult. 5. If You Do Something Wrong, Make It Right. 6. Take Personal Responsibility. 7. Honesty Is the Only Policy. 8. Remember the Ways of Ladies. 9. Think of Others.

My mom was so excited she swallowed a hunk of peach whole.

“I will create a Guidelines for Life poster for the kitchen,” she said.

Making posters about behavior is her hobby.

“Sport?” my dad asked.

“Don’t you worry,” I said. “These G for Ls are so simple a worm could do them.”

He smiled and stirred up my hair with his fingers.

“You can break a Guideline if it’s an emergency, right?” I asked.

“An emergency?” he said.

“Like if Sam and I have to rescue a baby,” I said.

“It is rare that a baby needs rescuing,” he said.

“But if a baby is dangling from a windowsill, I should reel it in, right, Dad?”

“Right,” he said. “All rules are suspended for dangling babies.”

“Or if a two-year-old is crawling on the Southwest Freeway, I should save it,” I said.

“Absolutely,” he said.

“Letting a baby crawl on a freeway is what I call careless parenting,” my mom said.

“What if somebody is getting pecked in the head by wild pigeons?” I asked. “Do I ask an adult before I chase the birds away? What if it’s an adult getting pecked? Can that adult give permission?”

“Sport,” my dad said. “Have you ever seen a flock of attack pigeons on Capitol Hill?”

“I’ve seen bats,” I said.

“Attack bats?” he asked.

“They could have been,” I said.

“Wild pigeons pecking would be a case of act first, ask later,” my dad said. “The same goes for bat attacks.”

There was banging on the back-door window.

“Melonhead! You were supposed to come get me,” Sam yelled.

“Leave your skateboard on the porch and come in,” my mom said.

“Sam, my Junior G‑man,” my dad said. “I’m off to Pensacola for a few days. I’m counting on you to help your pal follow the new Melon Family Guidelines for Life while I’m gone.”

“Count away,” Sam said. “We won’t bring anything that’s disgusting, muddy, or alive into the house.”

“You are reading Mrs. Melon’s mind,” my dad said.

“Part of my mind,” she said. “The other part is thinking about last month’s Superior Sound Machine experiment.”

“Remember what Dad said,” I told her. “The guy who invented omelets had to break lots of eggs.”

“I hope you don’t have to break any more dryers,” she said.

“I don’t think we will,” Sam told her.

“You have to admit spinning rocks sound like dinosaurs destroying New York,” I said.

“To be safe, let’s say no using appliances while I’m gone,” my dad said.

“Even my electric toothbrush?” I asked.

“You can use that,” he said. “But only on teeth.”

“Deal,” Sam said.

“His teeth,” my mom said.

“Mom,” I said. “You can relax like an old dog. Everything we are doing today is not troublesome.”

“Terrific,” my dad said. “I hope your next tour of the FBI is as interesting as the first one.”

“It will be,” I said. “It’s the same tour every time.”

“You’re loyal visitors,” my mom said. “They should promote you from Junior Specials to Honorary Agents.”

“That would be like getting fired,” I said. “Honoraries don’t get to do actual agent stuff, like ride in speeding cars and chase crooks.”

My mom sucked in her breath. “They let Junior Agents go on crook-chasing car chases?” she said. “Because that is one permission slip I will never sign!”

Panic makes her voice squeak.

My dad smiled and squeezed my mom’s shoulder. “Junior Agents don’t get to go on car chases, Betty.”

“That’s true,” Sam said. “We asked.”

I could tell my dad was holding back a laugh.

“Don’t tease me for believing,” my mom said. “People let kids do dangerous things these days. Remember when your brother asked Adam if he wanted to go parasailing? What if I hadn’t been there to say Not in This Lifetime?”

I would have gotten to parasail, that’s what.

My dad’s phone buzzed.

“My cab’s out front,” he said. “Betty, let’s have a smooch.”

They kissed. Sam says that’s embarrassing. I agree.

“I’ll miss you,” my dad said.

“We’ll miss you more,” my mom told him.

They say the same mush every time he leaves.

“I call rolling your suitcase down the steps!” I yelled.

“Go fast for maximum wheel bumps,” Sam said.

“Of course, Horse,” I said.

The next thing that happened was a shock.

“Who knew a suitcase wheel could split in half?” Sam said.

“Don’t worry, Dad,” I said. “It still rolls. Only now it’s like smooth-bump-twist, smooth-bump-twist.”

“Great,” my dad said. “I’ll enjoy bump-twisting my way through the airports.”

“You’re a fun-loving kind of adult, Mr. Melon,” Sam said.

My dad carried his suitcase by the handle.

“You know, it’s heavier that way,” I said.

“I do know,” my dad said.

Then he jumped in the Diamond Taxi. Then he yelled through the window. “Back in a flash.”

That’s another thing he always says.

From the Hardcover edition.
Katy Kelly|Gillian Johnson

About Katy Kelly

Katy Kelly - Melonhead and the Undercover Operation

Photo © Matt Mendelshon

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 - Melonhead and the Undercover Operation

Photo © Dan 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.

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