Monday, February 15, 2021

MMGM- Girls, Girls, Girls

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Lang, Heather and Christy, Jana. The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets in the Rainforest 
February 9th 2021 by Calkins Creek
E ARC provided by the publisher

In this picture book, we learn about the life of Margaret Lowman, an Australian who grew up in the 1950s being fascinated by the trees around her. As a college student, she had trouble not only finding people who wanted to study the rainforest the way she wanted to study it, but also had problems being the only woman in a field dominated by men who didn't necessarily support her endeavors. She wanted to actually get up into the rainforest canopy in order to study the leaves as well as the wildlife, but that was not the approved method in the 1970s. She cobbled together ropes and a pulley systems of sorts to get up to investigate. It was certainly risky, but also very productive. In addition to pioneering ways to study the rain forest, she raised awareness of the endangered area. She worked with people living in this climate to brain storm and promote products that could be sold, highlighting these so that governments would understand that destroying the rain forest was destroying not only a valuable ecosystem but also the economic survival of the residents. The book ends with a note from the author about working with Ms. Lowman (as well as a charming photograph of the subject), a two page spread detailing the rainforest, and a good bibliography. The illustrations are really beautiful, and done is vibrant blues and greens, and the story is a captivating one of following one's dreams against the odds. 

Harrison, Lisi. Girl Stuff 
February 2nd 2021 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Fonda is super excited that her best friends and neighbors (nesties!) will be going to her middle school for 7th grade. Ruthie had gone to a private school, and Drew to a Catholic one, so Fonda is making a lot of plans for how she and her friends can make a big splash, much like the Avas, a group of popular girls. They can have a color of the day, pick the best table at lunch, and start trends the way that Fonda's high school age sisters always have. Of course, plans in middle school are often ruined, and Ruthie's schedule has her spending the entire day with her Talented and Gifted classmates. They even learn through lunch, so she doesn't even go to the Lunch Garden (the book is set in California, where the weather is always good). Drew had met a boy over the summer who was just as interested in skateboarding as she was, but when she sees him at school, he is very standoffish. The three friends struggle to maintain their friendship while also doggedly pursuing their own goals. Ruthie eventually decides that she will start to do poorly on her school work in order to get kicked out of the TAG program, even though she really enjoys it and has even found a good friend in Sage. Fonda has made some inroads in being accepted by the Avas; while she would rather have had her own group of friends that could be popular, she's so determined to be part of the "in" crowd that she's willing to lie to her friends when she is invited to the Avas' party on the same night that the girls have a sleepover planned. When she pretends she has food poisoning, Drew plays along and pretends as well, because Will has invited her to the party as well. Of course, all three figure out that all of them are at the party. Will they be able to repair their friendship while pursuing their own interests?
Strengths: This is a perfect example of the types of problems that most of my readers like to see reflected in books. Friend drama is so prevalent in middle school, and it's always something slightly different. Reading about the experience of others makes readers feel better. Older sisters who are cooler. A boy whom you like but who acts weird in public. Wanting to be in an accelerated academic program but missing your friends. These are things that affect a lot more students than the death of a parent or sibling. The Clique series was one that my daughter loved when she was in middle school, and aside from Harry Potter and the odd, unexpected title (Roberts' The Girl with the Silver Eyes, Haddix's Among the Hidden) it was nearly impossible to get her to finish a book. Books like Girl Stuff take no hand selling whatsoever; I just need to put them on a front facing display, and they are immediately picked up. 
Weaknesses: This had a few dated moments (7th graders might not know what a Timex is, and they certainly don't wear them!), and this is being published in paperback. At least there is a prebind available through Follett. 
What I really think:  There are plenty of moments in this that are cringey, but they are so true to life. I found myself thinking that the group wasn't diverse enough because Ruthie was Jewish but the other two girls are just plain white. It's great to see more diversity, but it's not realistic to have EVERY middle grade book have a group of friends that includes a white girl (with blonde or red hair, usually), a Latinx girl, a Black girl, and an Asian girl. Also, as much as I have tried to get diverse representation over the last 15 years, most of my students will read about any kinds of characters. This was fun story that I will be glad to share with a wide range of readers.

Ahuja, Masuma. Girlhood: Teens around the World in Their Own Voices
February 9th 2021 by Algonquin Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I was utterly fascinated by Menzel's Material World (1994),  and Menzel's and D'Aluisio's What the World Eats (2008), and What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets (2006) along with books like Curtis and Duivenvoorden.'s What's for Lunch? What Schoolchildren Eat Around the World (2012). I think it's so important for students to understand that not everyone lives exactly the way they do. Girlhood is a fascinating look at the lives of girls from all over the globe. Each girl is introduced by Ahuja (who is a journalist), and facts about her country and some of the challenges specific to it are addressed. There are pictures and lists of facts, then some brief journal entries from each. I loved that there were entries from Congo and Kenya, because I've had some students from those countries. It's also interesting that some girls started life in one country and have ended up in another. There are also a range of life experiences, with some girls having been affected by anorexia, mental health issues, teen motherhood, or LGBTQIA+ issues. The color photos provided by the girls themselves add an interesting layer. I can't wait to see a print version of this, since the E ARC pages turned soooo slowly. Really enjoyed this, and think it would be a great book to nominate for the Cybils nonfiction award next year. 


  1. The cover of The Leaf Detective is just gorgeous so I bet the interior art is as well. I'll be on the lookout for this.
    Thanks also for sharing these other books. Both are now on my to read list.

  2. While all the books look so good, I think I really want to read the leaf detective first..

  3. Great timing on featuring these three for MMGM. Per several requests from students, I was looking for books with strong girl characters and stories about real life female explorers/scientists. Thanks for the recommends.

  4. I would really enjoy reading "The Leaf Detective" and learning more about Margaret Lowman's life work in the rain forest. I love books about the rainforest and visited one in Costa Rica. It's a perfect Earth Day read!

    Girlhood also intrigues me. I need to check it out. Our niece runs a large school for girls in Tanzania and I love to be able to send along books for the girls. They have a STEM science building. Agree, great Cybils nomination for next year.

    I don't know how you manage to read as many books as you do and review them daily -- blows my mind! You must have super powers or a photographic mind.

  5. It looks like practically every blogger I read is part of the blog tour for The Leaf Detective! That definitely sounds like a fascinating read. Girlhood sounds excellent as well—I like that you try to expose your students to the different ways that people live. Girl Stuff sounds like a great read as well! Thanks for the great review!

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the virtual book launch of The Leaf Detective with Heather Lang and Meg Lowman both reading the book while Jana Christy occasionally appeared on camera. The only thing they didn't read was all the little leaf facts found in the bottom corners of the pages, so I'll definitely be looking for this one! And I'm excited to learn of Girlhood: Teens around the World in Their Own Voices. I hope to read this one sooner rather than later. Thanks for letting me know about it, Karen!