Review of “Giant Pumpkin Suite” by Melanie Heuiser Hill

In this story for middle grade readers, twelve-year-old Rose Brautigan is a driven cello player and something of a prodigy. Her goal is to win the Bach Cello Suites Competition. She has a fraternal twin, Thomas, but he is much more relaxed and fun-loving than Rose, who thinks she must do everything perfectly.

Thomas spends a lot of time helping his older neighbor, Otis Pickering, and as the story begins, Mr. Pickering has fallen down his basement stairs. Thomas finds him, and calls the ambulance as well as alerting all the neighbors. (This Minnesota neighborhood as depicted by the author is a veritable United Nations, with people from all countries and colors and even a token gay couple. Furthermore, everyone acts like one big happy family. It seems a bit contrived.)

At the time he fell, Mr. Pickering was trying to water a giant pumpkin seed, and Thomas agrees to take over the job of caring for it while Mr. Pickering is incapacitated with his broken bones. Thomas manages to get a reluctant Rose to help, and pretty soon the whole neighborhood is contributing to the effort in one way or another.

As the summer passes, the pumpkin grows larger, eventually reaching a staggering 1,365 pounds, and they enter it into the Minnesota State Fair. [In the Acknowledgments section, the author writes about the amazing size of these real-life giant pumpkins. As of 2016, one specimen of the Cucurbita maxima species grew to over 2,500 pounds.]

Giant Pumpkin

But a serious accident has also taken place, threatening to change Rose’s life forever.

Discussion: This book broaches on being over-the-top diverse, and features perhaps too many “issues” with which the characters struggle.

Some of the characters, especially the “bad” ones, are a bit too villainous, just as some of the “good” characters seemed unrealistically kind, talented, and helpful. (Or maybe I’m just jaded.). In any event, Rose, the self-absorbed main character, was the most unappealing of the “good” set, which made it hard to be as sympathetic to her as one might otherwise have been.

In addition, I couldn’t help wondering throughout the whole story why Rose and Thomas thought the potential State Fair prize money for the pumpkin would be theirs, rather than Mr. Pickering’s.

Nevertheless, there is a lot to like about this book, and readers will learn a great deal about cellos, Bach, pumpkins, and even Japanese tea ceremonies and art of Kintsugi.

Kintsugi which means “golden repair” is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a special lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver, or platinum.

Evaluation: This novel offers a lot to think about, and there is nice tension and pacing regarding several of the plotlines, such as the fraught-with-peril care and growth of the pumpkin.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Candlewick Press, 2017

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3 Responses to Review of “Giant Pumpkin Suite” by Melanie Heuiser Hill

  1. I think the contrived diversity and inclusion of too many issues bothers adults more than kids.

  2. Beth F says:

    I had to laugh at this: “t seems a bit contrived.” You think??

  3. Rachel says:

    That’s funny it has so much diversity. I’ve spent a lot of time in Minnesota – I used to work there around four months out of the year and I go to Mayo Clinic a few times a year – and I think it’s approximately 99% white! But it does have a kick-ass state fair that probably does really have gigantic pumpkins so I guess that’s why the author chose it for the setting.

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