ST. THOMAS — It’s never too early to realize a dream. Just ask Rhea James, a fourth-grader at V.I. Montessori School on St. Thomas who in March self-published an award-winning children’s book that has already sold well over 150 copies.
“The Runaway Watermelon” is a breezy, colorful tale of a mischievous watermelon man who escapes from a village, only to morph into a watermelon monster keen on destroying it. To defeat him, the village must rely on its leaders — with President Donald Trump, former President Barack Obama, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. and Lt. Gov. Tregenza Roach all making appearances.
For Rhea, 9, the book is a humorous twist on her favorite fruit and shows the value of a village coming together and having faith in its leaders. While starting out as just a school project, the book became a hit and compelled Rhea’s mother, Trisha James, to find a publisher.
“We reached out to publishing company iUniverse, which has helped thousands of ambitious authors publish books,” she said. “The approval process included meeting manuscript guidelines that were needed to strengthen and improve the story.”
A big selling point is the book’s eye-catching illustrations by Montessori senior Deja-Marie Simon, who took original drawings by Rhea and transformed them into imaginative, colorful pictures that accompany each page of text.
Prior to its publication, the book received ample attention at A Night of the Arts, a program sponsored by the St. Thomas Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. During the event, Senate Vice President Myron Jackson joined Rhea in a reading of the book.
In March, Rhea received a congratulatory letter from iUniverse that “The Runaway Watermelon” was published. A few hours later, the book was available for sale at iUniverse, Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com.
To top it off, Rhea recently took home first place in the “In It to Win It” Summer Book Club Contest sponsored by the United Way of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The attention, while gratifying for Rhea, is only the beginning for the Montessori student, who said she has no intention of stopping now.
“I like writing because you get to express your feelings,” she said. “I’ve been sketching stories and would like to write about treating people the way they are supposed to be treated, being nice instead of bullying each other.”
Trisha James said she was proud of her daughter and her newfound passion.
“I’m happy that she’s utilizing her time reading and writing,” she said. “Two things children should learn and be excellent at are reading and math.”
A book signing was originally scheduled in May but was postponed due to COVID-19. In the meantime, anyone interested in purchasing “The Runaway Watermelon” can go online or call 340-244-0446.
Rhea dedicated the book to her parents Ricky Sr. and Trisha James. She also gave thanks to the Baker family and her brother Ricky James Jr.