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Beginners Welcome

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Annie Lees daddy wont stop leaving his record player on. His whiskers are in the sink every morning. And he always keeps the TV turned to Duke basketball. Except Annie Lees daddy died eighty-three days ago. Annie Lee doesnt like the word ghost, but whatever is going on isnt making things easier for her and Mama. It doesnt help that Mama works around the clock, barely Annie Lee’s daddy won’t stop leaving his record player on. His whiskers are in the sink every morning. And he always keeps the TV turned to Duke basketball. Except Annie Lee’s daddy died eighty-three days ago. 

 Annie Lee doesn’t like the word “ghost,” but whatever is going on isn’t making things easier for her and Mama. It doesn’t help that Mama works around the clock, barely making ends meet, and Annie Lee’s best friends ditched her over the summer. She’s starting middle school without a soul to sit by at lunch — until she meets tough skater girl Mitch. Mitch might need a friend as badly as she does, but after losing so much, Annie Lee can’t handle the possibility that another person might leave her. When Annie Lee sneaks out one afternoon while Mama’s at work and rides her scooter downtown, she meets Ray, an elderly pianist whose music is pure magic. Ray sees right through her imaginary invisibility cloak, and when Annie Lee begs for piano lessons, he agrees to teach her — and convinces her it’s worth letting people into her heart. But after Ray goes missing, finding him means breaking a promise to Mitch. Faced with once again losing the people that mean the most to her, Annie Lee will have to make a choice: hide under the invisibility cloak that’s been keeping her safe, or risk admitting how much she needs Mitch and Ray, even if it means she might get hurt.


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Annie Lees daddy wont stop leaving his record player on. His whiskers are in the sink every morning. And he always keeps the TV turned to Duke basketball. Except Annie Lees daddy died eighty-three days ago. Annie Lee doesnt like the word ghost, but whatever is going on isnt making things easier for her and Mama. It doesnt help that Mama works around the clock, barely Annie Lee’s daddy won’t stop leaving his record player on. His whiskers are in the sink every morning. And he always keeps the TV turned to Duke basketball. Except Annie Lee’s daddy died eighty-three days ago. 

 Annie Lee doesn’t like the word “ghost,” but whatever is going on isn’t making things easier for her and Mama. It doesn’t help that Mama works around the clock, barely making ends meet, and Annie Lee’s best friends ditched her over the summer. She’s starting middle school without a soul to sit by at lunch — until she meets tough skater girl Mitch. Mitch might need a friend as badly as she does, but after losing so much, Annie Lee can’t handle the possibility that another person might leave her. When Annie Lee sneaks out one afternoon while Mama’s at work and rides her scooter downtown, she meets Ray, an elderly pianist whose music is pure magic. Ray sees right through her imaginary invisibility cloak, and when Annie Lee begs for piano lessons, he agrees to teach her — and convinces her it’s worth letting people into her heart. But after Ray goes missing, finding him means breaking a promise to Mitch. Faced with once again losing the people that mean the most to her, Annie Lee will have to make a choice: hide under the invisibility cloak that’s been keeping her safe, or risk admitting how much she needs Mitch and Ray, even if it means she might get hurt.

30 review for Beginners Welcome

  1. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    I am so excited to share BEGINNERS WELCOME with the world in just a few months! I figured I'd use this space to share a little about the book. Although it is unrelated to WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW, I'm hoping that readers who enjoyed that one will love BEGINNERS WELCOME, too! You'll recognize some of the same things: a preteen girl dealing with a heavy problem, a complex mother/daughter relationship, a magic-infused contemporary setting, and a plotline that has a lot to do with the heroine I am so excited to share BEGINNERS WELCOME with the world in just a few months! I figured I'd use this space to share a little about the book. Although it is unrelated to WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW, I'm hoping that readers who enjoyed that one will love BEGINNERS WELCOME, too! You'll recognize some of the same things: a preteen girl dealing with a heavy problem, a complex mother/daughter relationship, a magic-infused contemporary setting, and a plotline that has a lot to do with the heroine learning the strength of the community and "found family" around her. BEGINNERS WELCOME actually takes place in my hometown, Durham NC! Many of the places described in the novel—like Brightleaf Square Mall or the Maplewood Cemetery—are real Durham locations. Although the piano that's a focal point in the story isn't there anymore, when I was growing up there was usually a grand piano near El Rodeo restaurant in the mall, and that's what Annie Lee's piano is based on! Like Annie Lee, I spent quite a bit of time playing music in Brightleaf Square, thanks to my violin teacher, who often would gather several students to give a Christmas recital to passers-by. If you like melancholy ghost stories, books about sad girls learning to be happy, or WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW, I hope you'll love BEGINNERS WELCOME as much as I do! ❤️🎹☂️

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Subtly magical, and full of so many other good things: music, dogs, the satisfaction of watching an egg go SPLAT! on the sidewalk. I loved Annie Lee, her parents, her friends, and the life she was trying to find for herself after the huge loss she had suffered. I know this will sound weird, but for a book where music plays such a huge part, the book felt very quiet to me. Annie Lee tries to be invisible, her mother, her friend Mitch, and others around her are quiet people as well. And because Subtly magical, and full of so many other good things: music, dogs, the satisfaction of watching an egg go SPLAT! on the sidewalk. I loved Annie Lee, her parents, her friends, and the life she was trying to find for herself after the huge loss she had suffered. I know this will sound weird, but for a book where music plays such a huge part, the book felt very quiet to me. Annie Lee tries to be invisible, her mother, her friend Mitch, and others around her are quiet people as well. And because their voices are so quiet, it lets you hear the music around them. This is truly a beautiful and heartfelt story about friendship, loss, and opening your heart.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Shaye Miller

    This is such a beautiful, heart strings book full of love, loss, vulnerability, and friendship. Annie Lee's daddy died just a few months ago. He was never a planner because he lived in the moment. So Annie and her mother are left with only a tiny insurance policy while they can barely make ends meet. Annie Lee makes a new friend at school and their friendship blossoms into something quite beautiful. Annie begins sneaking away to the mall across town to take private piano lessons with an elderly This is such a beautiful, heart strings book full of love, loss, vulnerability, and friendship. Annie Lee's daddy died just a few months ago. He was never a planner because he lived in the moment. So Annie and her mother are left with only a tiny insurance policy while they can barely make ends meet. Annie Lee makes a new friend at school and their friendship blossoms into something quite beautiful. Annie begins sneaking away to the mall across town to take private piano lessons with an elderly gentleman willing to teach for free. But as so often is the case, secrets can damage so many people in their wake. I love that this story shares so much heartache, but also offers much-needed resolution. Just lovely! For more children's literature, middle grade literature, and YA literature reviews, feel free to visit my personal blog at The Miller Memo!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kristin Crouch

    Thank you to the author for sharing an ARC with Collabookation. Annie Lee's dad died suddenly over the summer, and her world is upended. Her dad was the fun parent, the parent with whom she could talk and laugh, the parent she felt most herself with. With her mom suffering through the depths of grief, worrying about finances, and working around the clock, Annie Lee finds herself a relatively peaceful place listening to an older man play piano at the mall. When she hears him play, she can see the Thank you to the author for sharing an ARC with Collabookation. Annie Lee's dad died suddenly over the summer, and her world is upended. Her dad was the fun parent, the parent with whom she could talk and laugh, the parent she felt most herself with. With her mom suffering through the depths of grief, worrying about finances, and working around the clock, Annie Lee finds herself a relatively peaceful place listening to an older man play piano at the mall. When she hears him play, she can see the music, and she loses herself in the magic of it. Knowing her father always wanted her to learn to play, Annie Lee decides to continue his legacy through piano lessons. I loved this book for its beauty, but its ugliness too. When Annie Lee silently wishes it had been her mom who died, instead of her dad, it feels so real. The anger that Annie Lee directs at her mom is rough to witness, but man, I could see my twelve year old self feeling exactly that way (not about my mom specifically, but in the general wishing it had been anyone other than who it was). Cindy Baldwin has such a way with finding those raw and ugly thoughts, but the text also exudes forgiveness to the protagonist. I can't help but think of the students who might feel some relief at seeing a character on a page have these bouts of sadness, anger, and harsh thoughts about people they love. Isn't that what adolescence is? This book is about grief. It's also about family and opening yourself to new things and people who can bring you some joy. But mostly its the story of being willing to find yourself, and love yourself, in your toughest times. Highly recommend to kids in grade 5 and up.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Cassie Thomas

    Finished Annie Lees story last night. The last few chapters made me laugh and cry. I wish my daddy would visit me in the ways that hers had, and I wish so badly I could have the same dreams, but there was some serious wisdom between her and her mama - and I thank you for that. A story revolving around grief, with so much more intertwined - unlikely friendships, change, growth, and the will to move forward under the hardest circumstances. 💚🎹. Out February 2020. . Finished Annie Lee’s story last night. The last few chapters made me laugh and cry. I wish my daddy would visit me in the ways that hers had, and I wish so badly I could have the same dreams, but there was some serious wisdom between her and her mama - and I thank you for that. A story revolving around grief, with so much more intertwined - unlikely friendships, change, growth, and the will to move forward under the hardest circumstances. 💚🎹. Out February 2020. .

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    A beautiful, moving story about people learning to be brave through difficult things. Would absolutely recommend to anybody and everybody.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Katie Reilley

    Thank you to the author and Harper Collins Childrens for sharing an ARC with our #bookexpedition group. Annie Lee misses her daddy. Its been eighty-three days since he suddenly passed away, but the apartment where she and her mama live is full of his presence. The smell of his aftershave and hairs in the bathroom sink and the CD player and TV turning on by themselves to play his favorite song & show are all constant reminders of the void she and her mama feel. With her mama working Thank you to the author and Harper Collins Children’s for sharing an ARC with our #bookexpedition group. Annie Lee misses her daddy. It’s been eighty-three days since he suddenly passed away, but the apartment where she and her mama live is full of his presence. The smell of his aftershave and hairs in the bathroom sink and the CD player and TV turning on by themselves to play his favorite song & show are all constant reminders of the void she and her mama feel. With her mama working full-time. Annie Lee needs something (and someone) to help her with the loneliness that surrounds her. But she’s afraid of letting down her invisibility cloak and letting others get close to her again. At her new school she meets Mitch, tough and confident despite being new, too. Annie Lee also meets Ray, an older pianist who plays at the local mall and gives her lessons. When something happens to Ray, Annie Lee must make a choice that may cost her her new friendship. With themes of hope, healing, and the strength of a community, this novel will be a middle grade reader favorite. Publishes 2/11/20. Be sure to preorder!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kathie

    Thank you to the author and publisher for an ARC of this book for #bookportage. Fans of WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW will not be disappointed with Cindy Baldwin's upcoming middle grade read, BEGINNERS WELCOME (release date Feb 2020). Cindy writes with the same emotionality that strongly connects the reader to her story and characters, but tells the story of Annie Lee and her experience moving forward after losing her dad a few months ago. Annie Lee and her mom are still reeling from the unexpected Thank you to the author and publisher for an ARC of this book for #bookportage. Fans of WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW will not be disappointed with Cindy Baldwin's upcoming middle grade read, BEGINNERS WELCOME (release date Feb 2020). Cindy writes with the same emotionality that strongly connects the reader to her story and characters, but tells the story of Annie Lee and her experience moving forward after losing her dad a few months ago. Annie Lee and her mom are still reeling from the unexpected death of her father, but also have his ghost to contend with in their home. Financial problems and long work hours for her mom have left Annie Lee to figure out how to cope without her dad all by herself. She befriends a girl named Mitch, but struggles to open her heart again. Then she meets an elderly piano player named Ray, whom she begs to teach her how to play with the magic she sees when he plays. Slowly, Annie Lee starts to find a way out of her own grief, until Ray goes missing and she has to decide how brave she is, and what she's willing to risk, to find him. We talk a lot about the need for sad books for middle graders, and this is a prime example of a book centered on loss, but also the hope that slowly blooms in the midst of it. Annie Lee's gentle awakening to light in the world beyond her darkness is beautiful, and I love the characters like Ray, Queenie, and Mitch who walk along that journey beside her. Although Annie Lee's mom is isolated by her grief, we also see her grow and become a support to Annie Lee, too. This is the type of book that quietly has so much to say that it begs to be read again and again. I think many young readers will be drawn to Annie Lee's story, and I recommend adding it to your collection in February.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Shari

    Thank you to the author and publisher for sharing an ARC with #booksojourn. Annie Lee has experienced the devastating loss of her father, and she and her mom are struggling emotionally and financially. To avoid the weight of her moms grief, and the ghost that seems to be following them, Annie Lee hides beneath an invisibility cloak to protect her heart from more hurt. While her mom works long hours, Annie Lee ventures beyond her neighborhood and discovers Ray, an elderly pianist who makes magic Thank you to the author and publisher for sharing an ARC with #booksojourn. Annie Lee has experienced the devastating loss of her father, and she and her mom are struggling emotionally and financially. To avoid the weight of her mom’s grief, and the ghost that seems to be following them, Annie Lee hides beneath an “invisibility cloak” to protect her heart from more hurt. While her mom works long hours, Annie Lee ventures beyond her neighborhood and discovers Ray, an elderly pianist who makes magic with his music. Annie Lee finds the courage to ask Ray to teach her, and their friendship begins. She also begins a gradual friendship at school with Mitch, a new girl who works hard to break through Annie Lee’s shell of protection. Just when Annie Lee sees hope for solving all of her problems, her plans fall apart and she must decide if the risk to help one friend is worth losing another. Even kids who have not lost a parent will relate to Annie Lee’s determination to solve her problems herself, as well as her desire to protect her heart from pain. I love her budding friendship with Mitch, as Annie Lee begins to see things from another’s point of view instead of just her own. Her friendship with Ray is lovely and pure, and is a catalyst to so many of the changes we see in Annie Lee, especially her relationship with her mom. I have been reading Because of Winn-Dixie to my 3rd graders, as I do every year, and can see so many ways to compare these two wonderful books, even while they each stand in their own right. I can’t wait to share Beginners Welcome with my readers who loved Winn-Dixie.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Karen McKenna

    Everything a middle grade book should be. I loved the complicated relationships Annie Lee learns to navigate as she experiments with taking off her invisibility cloak and opening up her heart again. It has only been a few months since Annie Lee lost her father unexpectedly, but his ghost still haunts both Annie Lee and her mother. Sometimes Annie Lee wishes it had been her mother she had lost instead. Her father was the one who could understand her. But her father was also impractical and failed Everything a middle grade book should be. I loved the complicated relationships Annie Lee learns to navigate as she experiments with taking off her invisibility cloak and opening up her heart again. It has only been a few months since Annie Lee lost her father unexpectedly, but his ghost still haunts both Annie Lee and her mother. Sometimes Annie Lee wishes it had been her mother she had lost instead. Her father was the one who could understand her. But her father was also impractical and failed to leave his girls with the resources they need to make it. And he is gone. Her mother is the practical one, working hard cleaning houses to keep food on the table. Annie Lee and her mother struggle to connect with grief and financial stress swirling around them. Annie's father always wished he had stuck with music lessons and pushed her to persevere. He loved music. Music is one of her last connections to him, but Annie quit her piano lessons before he died. She just couldn't seem to make the keys do what she wanted. Then she hears Ray, and elderly man at the local mall who can make magic with the keys, and she wonders. Could he help her find that magic for her father? Getting help means opening up though, something she is set on not doing. Annie Lee is also starting at a new middle school due to having to move across town from her family home to an apartment. Her plan: stay invisible. But skater girl Mitch keeps sitting next to her and finds her way in. Can Annie maintain a relationship with Mitch without giving away her family's secrets of ghosts and poverty? And when Annie is forced to make a choice between her only two friends, Ray and Mitch, will she lose them both? From the dog (of course there is a dog!) to the egg drop challenge at school, this story drew me in and left me both chuckling, nodding my head in understanding, and shedding a few tears. Perfect for fourth grade and up. #LitReviewCrew

  11. 4 out of 5

    Laura Gardner

    Thanks to @cindybaldwinbooks and @kidlitexchange for this free copy. BEGINNERS WELCOME is out 2/11/20; pre-order now! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐/5!! . Sometimes love meant holding on. But sometimes it meant letting go. . Annie Lee and her mother are on the edge of poverty and despair since her father died suddenly almost three months ago. Her fathers spirit is lingering in their home in the form of stubble in the sink each morning, smells in the kitchen, the TV turning on randomly and more. Annie Lee and her mother are Thanks to @cindybaldwinbooks and @kidlitexchange for this free copy. BEGINNERS WELCOME is out 2/11/20; pre-order now! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5!! . 〰️ 〰️ “Sometimes love meant holding on. But sometimes it meant letting go.” . 〰️ 〰️ Annie Lee and her mother are on the edge of poverty and despair since her father died suddenly almost three months ago. Her father’s spirit is lingering in their home in the form of stubble in the sink each morning, smells in the kitchen, the TV turning on randomly and more. Annie Lee and her mother are stuck in the past and no one can move on. When Annie Lee meets an older gentleman with a gift for making music that feels like healing, she starts taking piano lessons from him. 🎶 . 〰️ 〰️ “Today my fingers didn’t slip or trip or clump like elephants. Today, they spoke all those words my heart could never figure out how to give voice to.” . 〰️ 〰️ I can’t overstate the importance of sad books that address difficult situations like losing a parent. The language in this one is just gorgeous, too. I kept pausing to reread and savor the words. ❤️Where the Watermelons Grow is very popular in my library this year so I’ll be buying this one for sure! . 〰️ 〰️ #middleschoollibrarian #middleschoollibrary #library #librarian #futurereadylibs #iteachlibrary #bookstagrammer #bookstagram #librariesofinstagram #librariansofinstagram #librariesfollowlibraries #librarylife #librarianlife #schoollibrarian #middlegrade #middlegradebooks #iteach #librarylove #booksbooksbooks #amreading #bibliophile #schoollibrariansrock #bookreview #bookrecommendation #igreads #malibrary #msla #mediaspecialist

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ms. Yingling

    E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus Annie Lee was very close to her father, so she is still reeling from his recent death. It doesn't help that odd things are happening, like whiskers left in the sink or radios that suddenly play his music, that make Annie and her mother feel like his ghost is still with them. It also doesn't help that his life insurance hasn't come through, and the two are struggling to get by on the mother's salary cleaning houses. Annie must stay by herself in the afternoons, and E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus Annie Lee was very close to her father, so she is still reeling from his recent death. It doesn't help that odd things are happening, like whiskers left in the sink or radios that suddenly play his music, that make Annie and her mother feel like his ghost is still with them. It also doesn't help that his life insurance hasn't come through, and the two are struggling to get by on the mother's salary cleaning houses. Annie must stay by herself in the afternoons, and she is supposed to stay in the apartment, but she scooters around the town, eventually running into Ray, who plays piano. He offers to give her lessons, and the local beauty salon owner, Queenie, whose presence seems to give Annie a lot of solace. There is a piano competition offering cash prizes, and since it states "beginners welcome", Annie thinks it might be a way to help her and her mother. She makes some progress, but when Ray doesn't show up for a few days, she becomes concerned. It's a good thing she does, even though she gets in trouble when her mother finds out what she has been up to, but being part of a larger community helps both her and her mother navigate their new reality. Strengths: This reminded me a little of Constance Greene's A Girl Called Al, in that it is sad but sweet. Annie and her mother struggle with putting food on the table and clothes on their backs, and there are not a whole lot of books (although there are a growing number) of books that show this reality. While both are grieving, the mother is doing her best to keep going, and Annie's forays into town also show a good way of coping. Weaknesses: I never got a good feel for what was going on with the ghost of the father-- were both Annie and her mother imagining it? What I really think: This is a slow paced book, and the cover is not very appealing, so I am debating purchase. There are a lot of books being published about people dealing with grief, and I only need so many in my library collection.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Arianne Costner

    This is one of the most gorgeously written books I have ever read! Cindy is so great at pulling and describing emotions. She writes so poetically, in a way that really helps the reader see the world through her characters eyes. I finished it pretty quickly, as I wanted to see how the issue with the daddys ghost resolved. I found the ending satisfying, and very sweet. As a musician, I really loved the descriptions of music. Anyone with a passion for music would appreciate this book This is one of the most gorgeously written books I have ever read! Cindy is so great at pulling and describing emotions. She writes so poetically, in a way that really helps the reader see the world through her character’s eyes. I finished it pretty quickly, as I wanted to see how the issue with the daddy’s ghost resolved. I found the ending satisfying, and very sweet. As a musician, I really loved the descriptions of music. Anyone with a passion for music would appreciate this book

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Allen

    You guys. THIS BOOK. This book will reach in and heal your heart and stretch it and crack it and heal it again. I am so grateful to Cindy for telling hard stories that are so, so necessary. Everything from the overall structure to line level voice is just so exquisite. One thing I'm jealous of--Cindy does physicality of emotion so freaking well. Like, how??? And that kind of careful writing just makes this book that much more powerful.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jen Petro-Roy

    Absolutely lovely.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Laurie Hnatiuk

    Thank you to the author and publisher for an ARC of this book for #bookportage. I was thrilled to read Beginner's Welcome after reading Where the Watermelons Grow. Once again, Cindy Baldwin tackles a tough emotional topic about a young girl who is left to fend for herself and learn how to cope. Annie Lee is a young girl who loves her father and his sense of fun, and while she gets along with her mother, she connects more with her dad. When she loses her father suddenly, her world is turned Thank you to the author and publisher for an ARC of this book for #bookportage. I was thrilled to read Beginner's Welcome after reading Where the Watermelons Grow. Once again, Cindy Baldwin tackles a tough emotional topic about a young girl who is left to fend for herself and learn how to cope. Annie Lee is a young girl who loves her father and his sense of fun, and while she gets along with her mother, she connects more with her dad. When she loses her father suddenly, her world is turned upside down. Her mother now has to work constantly to try and make ends meet, as they await fingers crossed for a life insurance settlement. On top of all of that it, both Annie Lee and her mother are dealing with strange happenings in their apartment all related to her dad, shaving cream in the sink every morning, and her father's favourite records suddenly playing on an unplugged record player. Her mother is not coping spending most of her time crying and Annie Lee is left to deal with her grief on her own. With her mother away working, and Annie Lee left alone, Annie Lee manages to become friends with Mitch, a confident tough skateboarder after her friendship with her two best friends has become awkward. Despite being friends with Mitch, she is careful not to open up too much so she cannot be hurt again. When she comes home after school, Annie Lee has been told to stay in the apartment so her mother won't worry, but Annie Lee gets stir crazy and starts leaving the apartment, scootering to a local mall. She becomes familiar with the local shops and merchants, in particular, Queenie the warm hearted hairdresser and Ray an older gentleman who plays the piano in the mall entertaining the shoppers. After a few awkward encounters with Ray, Annie Lee gets brave enough to ask him to give her lessons and Ray agrees. Annie Lee now has to keep her lessons a secret from her mom and keep the fact that her mom isn't aware she is coming to the mall for from Queenie and Ray adding to her stress. When Ray doesn't show up for her lessons, Annie Lee has to make a choice that could endanger her friendship with Mitch and have all the lies and sneaking out to the mall come out. Once again Cindy Baldwin has made brought us into a world with characters that we know is sadly realistic. We care deeply for Annie Lee and the individuals she meets and becomes connected to hoping that together they can help Annie Lee move forward. The strained relationship with her mother will also connect with many readers and provide hope as they struggle to become a family missing a vital member of their family. This is a story that opens doors for discussions at home and in schools about death, grieving, family and new beginnings. Be sure to pre-order, out in January 2020.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Baobablady

    There is only one word to describe this author: AMAZING! I loved this book. It has everything you would want in a book. The book is contemporary and full of emotion, mystery, suspense, hope, and magic. It is a poignant story of a girl, Annie Lee (a.k.a. Al) and her struggle to deal with the unexpected loss of her father. It is a story of loneliness as Annie Lee tries to get through each day while feeling so very alone. The story has mystery - mysterious happenings and a record player, radio and There is only one word to describe this author: AMAZING! I loved this book. It has everything you would want in a book. The book is contemporary and full of emotion, mystery, suspense, hope, and magic. It is a poignant story of a girl, Annie Lee (a.k.a. Al) and her struggle to deal with the unexpected loss of her father. It is a story of loneliness as Annie Lee tries to get through each day while feeling so very alone. The story has mystery - mysterious happenings and a record player, radio and television that turn on randomly throughout the day. And night. It has suspense. Will Annie Lee continue to go down the lone, dark path that she seems to be on or will she find something to sustain her and carry her through? Hope is entwined throughout the story as Annie Lee slowly peels away the layers of sadness and opens her heart to Mitch, Ray, and Queenie and she and her mother begin to find their way. Reading this book is a magical experience. The characters are vivid and real. I found myself relating to them all right away - Annie Lee reminds me of myself during parts of my childhood (I wish I had been able to read this book then). Even though we never meet the father (alive) in this book, I felt like I knew him. He was portrayed as vividly as if he were sitting by me as I read. I could picture Mitch as well. She reminded me of some of my students and of some of the kids I met growing up. Balwin's descriptions of Annie Lee's mom, Ray and Queenie are so real that I feel like I know them as well. Another magical thing is that author Cindy Baldwin has cystic fibrosis and could relate first hand to the feeling of aloneness experienced by Annie Lee. I feel like the heart of the author touched every page of this novel with courage, love, and understanding. Readers of this book will appreciate and relate to the references to Harry Potter woven throughout the story. I am a huge John Denver fan and so I loved the part that Annie's Song played in the novel. I think this book would make a great movie as well. I envy all those who will discover this book for the first time since they, like me will experience the emotion, suspense, hope, magic, and love that went into this book, and like me, they will continue to carry it with them for a long time to come.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Thank you to the author and the publisher for an advance copy of this book. All opinions are my own. I will be sharing this book with @kidlitexchange. Reviewers, you are in for a treat! Eighty three days ago, Annie Lees daddy dropped dead on the church basketball court. And every morning since then, Annie Lee had awakened to her mama crying in the bathroom. The bathroom is in a cramped apartment, in a new neighborhood they had to move to because no one had planned for her daddy to be gone. Her Thank you to the author and the publisher for an advance copy of this book. All opinions are my own. I will be sharing this book with @kidlitexchange. Reviewers, you are in for a treat! Eighty three days ago, Annie Lee’s daddy dropped dead on the church basketball court. And every morning since then, Annie Lee had awakened to her mama crying in the bathroom. The bathroom is in a cramped apartment, in a new neighborhood they had to move to because no one had planned for her daddy to be gone. Her best friends are in her old neighborhood and have pretty much forgotten about her, because what do you say to someone who suddenly loses her daddy. This means a new school, no friends, becoming a latchkey kid and feeling completely alone. Her only protection from her heartbreak and her loneliness is her magic cloak which makes her invisible to the world. Part of Annie’s new life meant coming straight home after school with the promise to never leave the apartment. However, Annie felt so alone and haunted by her daddy’s ghost (his prized record player begins playing his favorite song even when it’s not plugged in, his whiskers fill the bathroom sink every morning and the air is rich with the scent of his aftershave), she was compelled to take her skateboard out and explore the neighborhood. In her travels she discovers an intriguing urban mall built into two old red brick buildings and connected by a fancy courtyard. And what she discovers in the courtyard changes her life. When she allows her cloak to slip a bit, she makes some new friends, finds the support she so badly needs and maybe even discovers a way to heal her broken heart. I loved everything about this book. I flew through it and finished it in a day (although after anxiously anticipating Cindy Baldwin’s latest book, I wanted to slow down and savor every word). In fact it was so good, I read it again, even though my TBR pile was staring at me! First of all, I loved Annie Lee’s name. Somehow, it seemed so perfect for this story set in Durham NC. Then I discovered the lovely language (especially when describing the sparking lights of every color that appear above Ray’s head as Annie Lee listens to him play; and don’t miss the description of Queenie’s smile. It couldn’t be more beautiful. I can only hope someone feels that way about my smile one day), the memorable relationships, the gentle magic, the warm feelings of love among the characters, the friendships and finally the healing. The healing that only occurs because Annie Lee allowed her cloak to slip and ran the risk of being hurt, but instead found the much needed support and love she needed from her new friends. Sadly, you’ll need to wait until February to read Annie Lee’s story, but I strongly recommend pre-ordering now. You’ll be so glad you did!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alicia

    Thanks to the Kid Lit Exchange network and Harper Books for the review copy of this book by Cindy Baldwin. All opinions are my own. Cindy Baldwin has done it again! Fans of Where the Watermelons Grow will LOVE this book! Cindy Baldwin has a gift for writing in a way that is both emotional and realistic. Annie Lee has a lot on her shoulders. Eighty-three days ago, her father suddenly dropped dead while playing a game of basketball at church. The grief alone feels like it may crush her, and the Thanks to the Kid Lit Exchange network and Harper Books for the review copy of this book by Cindy Baldwin. All opinions are my own. Cindy Baldwin has done it again! Fans of Where the Watermelons Grow will LOVE this book! Cindy Baldwin has a gift for writing in a way that is both emotional and realistic. Annie Lee has a lot on her shoulders. Eighty-three days ago, her father suddenly dropped dead while playing a game of basketball at church. The grief alone feels like it may crush her, and the sudden life changes are not helping. Annie Lee and her mom had to move into a tiny, cramped apartment across town. Annie Lee is also starting a new school, and her best friends from her old school have drifted away from her. To make matters worse, Annie Lee’s mother had to make her part-time job cleaning houses into a full-time job, leaving Annie Lee alone for several hours after school. With the struggles of life overwhelming her, Annie Lee has decided her new goal is to try and be invisible. She avoids talking to others or making connections to them because she’s learned that letting others in makes it hurt so much more when they leave. Despite her best efforts to remain invisible, Annie Lee befriends a skater girl at school named Mitch and an elderly pianist named Ray. However, when Ray goes missing, Annie Lee may have to risk losing her new friendship with Mitch to find him. I absolutely loved this book for its beauty and raw emotion. Cindy Baldwin has such a gift for getting to the real and often ugly thoughts that accompany strong grief. At one point, Annie Lee wishes that it had been her mother that died instead of her father. This part felt so raw to me, and I could see a kid having this thought, and feeling so much guilt over it, just as Annie Lee does. I think some children may be able to find comfort in these raw and emotional parts of the book because it can show them that they are not alone. This book is a MUST read for anybody in grade 4 and up.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    A lovely story about finding hope and community after a devastating loss. Like Cindy Baldwin's debut, WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW, BEGINNERS WELCOME is a richly descriptive novel about a determined, relatable kid who's dealing with overwhelming challenges and emotions. Annie Lee's daddy died unexpectedly a few months before the book opens. She and her mom have had to move to a different part of town, so she has to start at a new school where she doesn't know anybody, and she has grown apart from A lovely story about finding hope and community after a devastating loss. Like Cindy Baldwin's debut, WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW, BEGINNERS WELCOME is a richly descriptive novel about a determined, relatable kid who's dealing with overwhelming challenges and emotions. Annie Lee's daddy died unexpectedly a few months before the book opens. She and her mom have had to move to a different part of town, so she has to start at a new school where she doesn't know anybody, and she has grown apart from her two best friends from her old school, who don't know how to relate to her anymore in the wake of her dad's death. Plus, her mom has to work extra hours as they wait for her dad's life insurance money to come in, which means she's supposed to spend many hours alone at her new apartment, where her dad's ghost won't let her forget her pain. Because she can't bear to stay there, she ends up riding her scooter around Durham, North Carolina, and befriending an old man named Ray, who gives her piano lessons. Playing the piano might be Annie Lee's best chance at opening herself back up to the world and feeling close to her dad, and Ray's advice helps her connect with a new friend at school, too. But Annie Lee is keeping a whole lot of secrets from a whole lot of people, and all these secrets begin to spin out of control when Ray goes missing and she's sure she needs help. Cindy Baldwin has such a knack for creating vivid settings and endearing, intergenerational casts of characters. The city of Durham comes alive in this story, and I love the way this book depicts grief and alienation so honestly while also offering Annie Lee--and, by extension, readers who are suffering--a path toward hope, connection, and joy.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Deanna Holdsworth

    Cindy Baldwin has written a realistic fiction book about family, friendship and heartache that will have you turning pages quickly to finish the book. Annie Lee's father has passed away suddenly. This means many adjustments for Annie Lee and her mother. The biggest, apart from his death, is a new apartment in a new neighborhood. Mom is dealing with insurance, trying to get more money, and has begun to work six days a week. This leaves Annie Lee alone after school. She finds her way to a mall Cindy Baldwin has written a realistic fiction book about family, friendship and heartache that will have you turning pages quickly to finish the book. Annie Lee's father has passed away suddenly. This means many adjustments for Annie Lee and her mother. The biggest, apart from his death, is a new apartment in a new neighborhood. Mom is dealing with insurance, trying to get more money, and has begun to work six days a week. This leaves Annie Lee alone after school. She finds her way to a mall where she meets Ray, an older many who plays the piano at the mall. Annie Lee's father always encouraged her to play the piano and she did take lessons for awhile but gave it up. However when she hears Ray's music she also sees color around the piano. She is soon taking lessons with Ray. At school Annie Lee tries to be invisible but Mitch, another new girl, befriends her which is good for both of them. Because Annie Lee's mother is gone so much and worries too much Annie Lee doesn't tell her about afternoons at the mall. There are other secrets as well but when Ray goes missing all the secrets come spilling out. Will Annie Lee be able to repair relationships with those she has been lying to? I really enjoyed this book and the new family that Annie Lee creates with all her new friends. I recommend this book for its message of taking risks to try new things and always remembering the good in life.

  22. 4 out of 5

    M.L. Little

    @kidlitexchange Partner: Beginners Welcome by @cindybaldwinbooks. Available NOW through @harperbooks. 🎹. In this urban southern lnovel, 11-year-old Annie Lee adjusts to life following the death of her father, who was loving, joyful, musical, but not a good planner. His death has left Annie Lee and her mother scraping by from paycheck to paycheck in their apartment, whicheven worseseems to be haunted. When she sees an advertisement for a beginners welcome piano competition with cash as the prize, @kidlitexchange Partner: Beginners Welcome by @cindybaldwinbooks. Available NOW through @harperbooks. 🎹. In this urban southern lnovel, 11-year-old Annie Lee adjusts to life following the death of her father, who was loving, joyful, musical, but not a good planner. His death has left Annie Lee and her mother scraping by from paycheck to paycheck in their apartment, which—even worse—seems to be haunted. When she sees an advertisement for a “beginners welcome” piano competition with cash as the prize, Annie Lee concocts a plan to save her financial situation while feeling close to her dad through his love of piano. Through a new socially-outcast friend at sixth grade and secret piano lessons with an elderly man at the mall, Annie Lee learns how to find the strength to let go of her father and heal alongside her mother, repairing their distant relationship. Beginner’s Welcome has a rich setting and dialect, and I loved how it’s southern but set in the city, something you don’t see often. Kids who have lost a friend or a loved one will relate to Annie Lee—who has lost both. Beginners Welcome is available now! Thank you @kidlitexchange for the review copy—all opinions are my own.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    Its not easy opening your heart again after a devastating loss. In fact, Annie Lee would prefer to stay invisible and just go through the motions. In Cindy Baldwins second novel, BEGINNERS WELCOME, Annie Lee is grieving the sudden death of her fatherit has taken both an emotional and financial toll on her and her mother. Not only are they struggling to make ends meet, they are having a difficult time accepting the fact that he is really gone with peculiar reminders of his presence all throughout It’s not easy opening your heart again after a devastating loss. In fact, Annie Lee would prefer to stay invisible and just “go through the motions.” In Cindy Baldwin’s second novel, BEGINNERS WELCOME, Annie Lee is grieving the sudden death of her father—it has taken both an emotional and financial toll on her and her mother. Not only are they struggling to make ends meet, they are having a difficult time accepting the fact that he is really gone with peculiar reminders of his presence all throughout their small apartment. With a bit of magical realism, BEGINNERS WELCOME is a candid, deeply impassioned story of coming to terms with losing a loved one and finding the will to move on. Annie Lee’s overwhelming grief journey is not explored alone—it’s the new connections she makes and the power of music that carry her through and give her strength. It warmed my heart to see Annie Lee’s friendships blossom; I absolutely adored Ray with his wisdom and talent and was grateful for Mitch’s patience. With raw emotion and vivid imagery, Cindy Baldwin writes an ultimately hopeful story about love and letting others in to help bring about healing and acceptance. BEGINNERS WELCOME struck a chord with me and I know it will for others when it releases on 2/11/20.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sara Magnafichi

    Thank you to author, Cindy Baldwin, for sharing a copy with #collabookation. Annie Lee recently lost her father suddenly. Everything she knows has come to a halt. There's no money, even though her mom is working endless hours. There's no happiness in their house anymore. No music, no smiles, no laughter.. just the sound of her mother crying day after day. Annie Lee is struggling with her own emotions, as she hears and sees her father everywhere; smelling his aftershave, hearing his favorite Thank you to author, Cindy Baldwin, for sharing a copy with #collabookation. Annie Lee recently lost her father suddenly. Everything she knows has come to a halt. There's no money, even though her mom is working endless hours. There's no happiness in their house anymore. No music, no smiles, no laughter.. just the sound of her mother crying day after day. Annie Lee is struggling with her own emotions, as she hears and sees her father everywhere; smelling his aftershave, hearing his favorite song, when she comes across a flier for a piano contest that has a cash prize and states that beginners are welcome. Can she learn to play the piano well enough in time to win that much needed cash prize? As a result of needing to learn, a beautiful friendship emerges when she befriends a local old man who volunteers his time at the local mall and plays the piano for guests. Through Annie Lee's musical transformation she learns that she has to let go of the walls she has built, including her invisibility cloak and needs to show the world everything she has been holding onto inside. This is a beautiful story of pain, hardship, love, friendship, and family.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Allison Renner

    Thanks to @kidlitexchange and @harperbooks for sharing Beginners Welcome by @cindybaldwinbooks. This book publishes on February 11, 2020, so go ahead and add it to your wishlist! You wont want to miss out on this touching, inspiring story. Annie Lees home life hasnt been the same since her daddy died, and thats not just because it seems like his spirit is still lingering in the apartment. Annie Lees mom works long hours, and since Annie Lees friends didnt know how to relate after her dads death, Thanks to @kidlitexchange and @harperbooks for sharing Beginners Welcome by @cindybaldwinbooks. This book publishes on February 11, 2020, so go ahead and add it to your wishlist! You won’t want to miss out on this touching, inspiring story. Annie Lee’s home life hasn’t been the same since her daddy died, and that’s not just because it seems like his spirit is still lingering in the apartment. Annie Lee’s mom works long hours, and since Annie Lee’s friends didn’t know how to relate after her dad’s death, Annie Lee finds herself alone, wrapped in her invisibility cloak. While she searches for things to keep her busy after school, she meets someone who might help her rekindle the love of music that faded after her dad died. Add into the mix a girl who reaches out to her at school, and Annie Lee finds herself wondering if she should let people in again, even if she’s worried about getting hurt again. The magical realism aspects of this book are faint, so I wouldn’t push it into the fantasy genre, but I do think they added an interesting layer to this story.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Carli

    Thanks to the Kid Lit Exchange network, Harper Books, and author Cindy Baldwin for the advance copy of this February 2020 release. All opinions are my own. #partner ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5 for this heartfelt story about grief and bravery. Annie Lees daddy died suddenly, leaving she and her mama with very little life insurance money. While her mama waits to find out what happened to the extra life insurance money her father said he paid for, she has to pick up hours cleaning houses, leaving Annie Lee home alone Thanks to the Kid Lit Exchange network, Harper Books, and author Cindy Baldwin for the advance copy of this February 2020 release. All opinions are my own. #partner • ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5 for this heartfelt story about grief and bravery. Annie Lee’s daddy died suddenly, leaving she and her mama with very little life insurance money. While her mama waits to find out what happened to the extra life insurance money her father said he paid for, she has to pick up hours cleaning houses, leaving Annie Lee home alone after school. The apartment just does not feel like home, and Annie seeks something to fill her time. She stumbles upon an old man who plays the piano at a mall and strikes up an unlikely friendship, which leads her to find the bravery she needs to start healing. I see this as a good fit for grades 5-7.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    What I love the most about Cindy Baldwin's books is her masterful use of words and phrases. They invoke the best images. I appreciate that she writes for middle grades and challenges that age of reader with good prose. This is another wonderful story, rich relationships with diverse characters, and a bit of magic thrown in. I attended the book launch and was treated to Cindy reading the first chapter, she doesn't have a noticeable accent and yet it comes out when she transports to her home town, What I love the most about Cindy Baldwin's books is her masterful use of words and phrases. They invoke the best images. I appreciate that she writes for middle grades and challenges that age of reader with good prose. This is another wonderful story, rich relationships with diverse characters, and a bit of magic thrown in. I attended the book launch and was treated to Cindy reading the first chapter, she doesn't have a noticeable accent and yet it comes out when she transports to her home town, North Carolina setting.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Patricia Murphy

    Such a heart-yanking, yet healing story beautifully told. Cindy Baldwin writes a story of the tough emotional struggle of young Annie Lee losing her dad and subsequently, learning to be brave after his sudden loss. Annie Lee endures it alone, nevertheless makes new connections and follows a power of music passion. She meets Ray, an old piano genius, whose wisdom and talent are graciously given. He is such a sweet and real characterthey all are. Annie Lee is making new bonds and so we see the Such a heart-yanking, yet healing story beautifully told. Cindy Baldwin writes a story of the tough emotional struggle of young Annie Lee losing her dad and subsequently, learning to be brave after his sudden loss. Annie Lee endures it alone, nevertheless makes new connections and follows a power of music passion. She meets Ray, an old piano genius, whose wisdom and talent are graciously given. He is such a sweet and real character—they all are. Annie Lee is making new bonds and so we see the necessity of the power of friendship in our lives. Beautiful story.

  29. 4 out of 5

    JK Gagnon

    I loved Where the Watermelons Grow and was thrilled to get my hands on an ARC of Beginners Welcome. This book was so heart warming, with vibrant, relatable characters. I find both of Baldwins novels to be just so empathetic and thoughtful that they are a great read regardless of age. These books cover difficult topics with such grace and kindness that they make me feel better having read the novel. I will be picking this one up for my home library and aggressively recommending it. I loved ‘Where the Watermelons Grow’ and was thrilled to get my hands on an ARC of ‘Beginners Welcome’. This book was so heart warming, with vibrant, relatable characters. I find both of Baldwin’s novels to be just so empathetic and thoughtful that they are a great read regardless of age. These books cover difficult topics with such grace and kindness that they make me feel better having read the novel. I will be picking this one up for my home library and aggressively recommending it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    This book made me feel the way The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise did. ❤ My heart was as tentative as Annie Lees, but the music and the people opened it all the way up. Im so grateful to have had the chance to read Cindy Baldwins new book before its release! Im already thinking of the readers (young and old) who Ill share it with. If youre looking for a story of turning a corner, finding true friends, or giving yourself a chance to be your best self, this book is for you. This book made me feel the way The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise did. ❤️ My heart was as tentative as Annie Lee’s, but the music and the people opened it all the way up. I’m so grateful to have had the chance to read Cindy Baldwin’s new book before its release! I’m already thinking of the readers (young and old) who I’ll share it with. If you’re looking for a story of turning a corner, finding true friends, or giving yourself a chance to be your best self, this book is for you.

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