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franklin county times

Children’s book honors Roy Grissom

Jessica Peppers and Kelly Champion worked together to self-publish “Watermelon Man,” a children’s story honoring Champion’s father.
Jessica Peppers and Kelly Champion worked together to self-publish “Watermelon Man,” a children’s story honoring Champion’s father.

When Kelly Champion’s father, Roy Grissom, was diagnosed with throat cancer, she wanted a way to honor him for all he means to their family. A fitting tribute quickly came to mind.

“When my son was a little boy, Daddy would come get him early in the morning,” Champion said. “Daddy had about a two-acre garden, and he would come get him and take him to the farmers’ market. He learned how to buy and sell and connect with people.”

One of Grissom’s primary crops? Watermelon. Champion quickly decided to write a children’s book about “my daddy and son growing watermelons.”

Cousin J.C. Grissom started the family tradition of growing massive melons for the largest watermelon contest at the Franklin County Watermelon Festival, years ago. Soon after, other family members followed suit – including Roy Grissom. “We’ve just always participated,” said Champion, who looks back on more than a decade of festivals nostalgically. “We go back a long way with the Watermelon Festival.”

In 2005, when Grissom was diagnosed with throat cancer, Champion created a scrapbook that catalogs the years of gardening and family gatherings – with an emphasis on watermelon memories. Photographs immortalize lots of winning watermelons – largest melons, best-tasting melons, most unusual melons and best-decorated melons. In 2005 her father and mother won for the largest watermelon. In 2006, Champion’s “Capt. Jack of the Watermelon Pearl” took third place in best-decorated. Brother Roger Grissom now carries on the tradition of growing massive melons – he will have a contender in the biggest watermelon contest this year. The melon accolades go on and on. It was this scrapbook that inspired the illustrations for the children’s book, which were created by Jessica Peppers, who was the art teacher at Phil Campbell Elementary School. Champion teaches second grade at PCES.

It took Champion one week to write the first 11 pages of the rhyming children’s story. The manuscript sat for five years until she finally created the last two pages. It sat for five more years, until this year, when Champion decided it was finally time to publish it. She reached out to Peppers in May to collaborate on the book.

“She has made this dream come true,” Champion said. “Without her, this dream of mine could not have happened.”

Peppers said illustrating was a learning process – something she had never tried before. She used watercolor and ink, using different techniques to create whimsical pictures that will really appeal to readers. “After I really got the heart of it … I tried to read the words that were on the page and see it all through Kelly’s eyes,” Peppers said. In the end, she enjoyed it so much she’s eager to learn more and hone her illustrating skills to continue with similar projects in the future.

“I just hope people will enjoy the story,” Champion said. “It’s a cute rhyming story about growing watermelons.”

But she’s already received what might be the most important feedback on her first children’s book – from her father, who is now cancer-free.

“There’s no words to describe the look on his face,” Champion said. “He was tickled. Even if I don’t sell a book, just the look on my Daddy’s face was worth it.”

Champion and Peppers are already looking forward to collaborating on a future project featuring a little cricket who appears in the “Watermelon Man” illustrations.

“Watermelon Man” will be on sale for $10 at the Franklin County Watermelon Festival, with Byler Station on Jackson Avenue. Books can also be purchased by emailing watermelonkelly@yahoo.com.

Champion is married and has one son. She a 1987 graduate of Auburn University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a 1989 graduate of Auburn with her master’s degree in elementary education. She is beginning her 30th year of teaching.

Peppers is married and has two children. She has a studio art degree with an art education focus and teaches art in Lauderdale County.