Giant Pumpkin Suite

448p. Candlewick. Sept. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763691554.
Gr 4–6—Though Rose and Thomas are twins, Rose is much taller and two grades ahead of her brother in school. While he easily makes friends and socializes with classmates, she is a devoted student and cello player. This begins to change as Thomas embarks on a project to grow a giant pumpkin from a seed he found in the basement of their neighbor's house. The project unites an eclectic and diverse (in age and background) group of neighbors who work together to grow a pumpkin that is big enough to enter into the state fair. 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. At times the book feels like it may veer into saccharine territory, but the author's bold writing usually prevents this from happening. Hill describes an accident that abruptly halts Rose's cello-playing, proving she doesn't shy away from addressing complex sadness and grief. Hill strives to portray an inclusive community, though a few of the secondary characters are somewhat stereotyped. (For example, a neighbor who is Mexican speaks in a mixture of Spanish and English phrases that don't quite ring true.) However, Hill's skilled character development prevents this from being a larger problem in the book.
VERDICT Fans of Sharon Creech's Moo and other books about intergenerational friendship will enjoy this book.

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