MELONHEAD, by Katy Kelly

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I came across MELONHEAD at the library, totally randomly, and having now found the book, it honestly frightens me to think about what my life would have been like had I gone another few months (or even a whole lifetime – eek!) without discovering Katy Kelly and work. I know, for one thing, life would’ve at the very least been a little bit duller.

MELONHEAD concerns Adam Melon and his best friend Sam Alswang’s attempts to win the Challenge America! competition by coming up with the best reinvention of any kid or team of kids at their school. This plot, though, is almost incidental, and is constantly being diverted by Melonhead’s antics and asides. The Challenge America! storyline is like a plain old fir tree, and Melonhead’s loony, all-over-the-place narratives are the sparkling ornaments, strings of lights, and strands of tinsel that turn those basic branches so dazzlingly festive.

Much more than any single overarching plot, MELONHEAD is driven by its cast of delightfully quirky characters and their curious, inventive approach to the English language (it helps, too, that Gillian Johnson has provided a batch of energetic, spot-on illustrations). Their dialogue is snappy and charmingly bizarre. For instance, this snatch of a scene that comes just a few pages into the book, after Melonhead has (already) gotten his foot stuck in the hole of a tree.

The next things I saw were two red and blue striped socks and two legs coming out of the upstairs bathroom window. They were attached to Pop. He walked across the roof and said, “Your foot has disappeared into a hole?”

“It’s more like a short tunnel that has no exit,” I said.

Down below, Sam was dragging Pop’s ladder across the driveway. “Never fear, Paul Revere,” he shouted. “I’m climbing to the rescue.”

“One boy per tree,” Pop said. “House rule.”

Then he asked me: “Can you untie your shoe?”

“Nope,” I said. “The laces are inside. They’re tied tight and double-knotted.”

“Double-knotted?” Pop said.

“I do that for safety,” I told him.

“Of course,” Pop said. “What happens when you try to pull your foot out?”

“It doesn’t move,” I said.

“I’ve got it!” Sam shouted. “Stuff butter around your ankle. Your foot will slide out.”

“That’s using the old bean,” Pop said.

A minute later Madam was in the driveway, tying a short green bottle to one end of my rope. “Olive oil should work,” she said.

“I married a genius,” Pop said.

Or here’s another one, just a handful of pages later, after Melonhead gets rescued from the tree by a group of firemen wielding the Jaws of Life. When he gets to school the next morning, his friends are waiting for him. They all have questions, but Sam gets his in first.

“How was it being saved by the Jaws of Life?”

“The greatest,” I said. “For me and for the firemen. Before my foot situation they only used the Jaws to open car doors that were smashed in accidents.” 

“What do the Jaws look like?” Sam asked.

“They’re kind of like a jackhammer,” I said. “There’s a cutter part that they didn’t use and a spreader part that they did. I never thought wood could stretch but the Jaws made the hole open enough to squeeze my foot out.”

“How did it look?” Jonique asked.

“Soggy,” I told her.

“How come?” she asked.

“Because every foot has about a hundred and twenty-five thousand sweat glands,” I said. “All of mine were working.”

“Stink-o-rama,” Lucy Rose said.

“Totally,” I said. “My mom said my shoe is ruined. I told her, ‘Not to me.’ I nailed it to the wall over my bed so I will always have the memory.”

“Does your whole room smell like foot?” Sam asked.

“Completely,” I said. “Come over and have a smell.”

Lucy Rose twisted her face so her nose and freckles were bunched up. “Never in this lifetime,” she said.

“This afternoon for me,” Sam said.

I could read hundreds of pages of this stuff. And luckily, Katy Kelly is easily able to sustain the silliness and pitch-perfect narration and dialogue for that long.

MELONHEAD is superb for so-called reluctant readers, inquisitive kids, and readers of all ages looking for a laugh and an entertaining story told by an endlessly curious, accidentally mischievous boy.

And fortunately, once you breeze through MELONHEAD, there are five more stories in the series waiting for you to enjoy.

. . .

Click here to learn more about Katy Kelly, and here if you want to learn more about the story behind Melonhead specifically. You should also check out illustrator Gillian Johnson’s page here.

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