Monday, January 31, 2022

MMGM- Wreck at Ada's Reef and Wangari Maathai

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Beil, Michael J. The Wreck at Ada's Reef (Swallowtail Legacy #1)
February 1st 2022 by Pixel+ink
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lark and her younger sister Pip have had a hard go of it. Their father died when they were very young, and their ornithology professor mother married Thomas, whose wife also died. They had a Brady Bunch style family going with his three boys until Lark's mother died of cancer. For the summer, the family is visiting Swallowtail Island in Lake Erie near Sandusky, Ohio, where their mother owned a house that has been passed down to the girls. Thomas has a job restoring some pictures at the island museum, so the children are signed up for soccer camps and other activities. A friend of their mother's, news reported Nadine, is around as well. Nadine is trying to figure out a 75 year old mystery about the death of her grandfather in a boating accident. The local leading family, the Cheevers, own much of the land, and intend to develop it with condos and other less peaceful uses, at the expense of 93-year-old Dinah Purdy, who has been allowed to live on the land because her ancestors worked with the Cheevers. Nadine feels that there's something not quite right about the accident, and feels there might be a missing will. She hires Lark to help her with research. Lark also plays soccer with Owen Cheever, whom she feels is kind of a jerk, and he becomes the object of her wrath. Clearly, her mother's death is hitting her hard, and she doesn't have quite the support she needs. Pip is obsessed with horses, so is glad when Nadine loans her a horse for the summer. As Lark gets further and further into the research, all manner of enticing clues emerge, such as a beautiful glass bird nestled in the cut out pages of an old book and a painting of a much younger Dinah that Thomas is restoring. As she closes in on some important clues, Lark and her siblings, slong with Owen, get drawn into a harrowing chase during a storm that involves jumping from balconies, a frantic horse ride, and a perilous journey on the ferry, followed closely by adults who don't want secrets to come to light. Can Lark still save the day?
Strengths: Lark is a nuanced and interesting character. She's not dealing with the death of her mother particularly well, but she is definitely trying to figure out how to proceed with her life in order to help out her younger sister. Swallowtail Island is a fascinating (fictional) setting, and the maps (which I normally don't like) were really helpful. The history is incorporated well, and the older characters in the book like Dinah, Vietnam vet and active boater Les Finlay, and Dinah's contemporary Simon Standford. Thomas' struggles to keep tabs on all five children while remaining employed are very realistic. The highlight, of course, is Lark's ability to solve mysteries by attention to details and asking the right questions of the right people. Will she be solving more mysteries on the island?
Weaknesses: There are lots of clues to follow, and even a transcript of an inquest, so readers who enjoy following along with Lark and trying to figure out the mystery will love this. I find that my attention wavers; I'm perfectly happy to just be told the solution at the end. Also, did we have to kill off THREE parents?
What I really think: I'd forgotten what a great, well-developed mystery Beil writes, since The Red Blazer Girls came out in 2009 and Summer at Forsaken Lake in 2012. I'm also a huge fan of how he incorporates Ohio and Lake Erie settings in his work. I'll be looking forward to a second in this series. 

Odhiambo, Eucabeth and Flint, Gillian (illus.) She Persisted: Wangari Maathai 
February 1st 2022 by Philomel Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Born in Kenya in 1940, Maathai enjoyed living in her small town, but soon had to move to the city so that her family could make a living. She excelled at school, and was very interested in science. Even though girls were not usually encouraged to be educated, her family supported her, and she won a scholarship to study in the US, where she earned two degrees in biology. She returned to Kenya in 1966 and realized that too many trees were being cut down, which impacted the quality of life for Kenyans. She taught at the University College of Nairobi, where she found her career was negatively impacted by the fact that she was female, but she resisted the gender discrimination of the time and fought for her rights. She also started the Green Belt Movement to encourage people to protect trees and to plant them rather than cut them down. She was married and divorced, and faced more discrimination, but persisted with her teaching and environmental activism. She was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, and, sadly, passed away in 2011. 
Strengths: I am always looking for biographies of people who have positively impacted the world, and for people who are not from the US. Environmental activism isn't new, but my students think it is. I love handing them books about Rachel Carson, Dian Fossey, John Muir, and others who were trying to protect the planet before things became so critical. Maathi is a very interesting person, and I love that this series gets authors who share cultural backgrounds with their subjects to write the stories. Tips on how to persist and help the world in the same way Maathai did  are included at the end, along with a bibliography.
Weaknesses: This is for readers in grades 1-4, so I will be looking for a slightly longer book for my library. My students also like to see photographs of biographical subjects when available, although the illustrations are very nice. 
What I really think: The She Persisted series is an essential purchase for public and elementary school libraries and would make fantastic presents for young readers. I was a huge fan of the Childhood of Famous Americans series, and would have absolutely adored these books as a child. 


  1. I found myself giggling over your being happy to "just be told the solution at the end." LOL Thanks for these wonderful reviews, Karen. It's so helpful to get your insight and I especially appreciate your strengths and weaknesses portion each week!

  2. I wonder how many bios of Wangari Maathai have been written? She must have been a force to admire & it is sad she is already gone. The mystery sounds intriguing & I'm glad to know about it. Thanks, Karen!

  3. I've enjoyed the She Persisted series and can't wait to read this latest one.

  4. After reading the picture book, Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees by Franck Prévot, I have been thinking of reading a more grown up book about her life. I thought maybe I could have snuck this one in. It sounds like the kind of book I would have purchased for the library, but I will have to keep looking.
    I love me a good mystery so I'll be looking forward to reading Swallowtail Legacy.

  5. Thankfully, there have been no parent deaths in my school district so far this year. Doesn't seem to be the case with MG lit these day including this one. It does sounds like a mystery many kids would enjoy. Thanks for featuring on MMGM.

  6. Great reviews! It's definitely cruel to kill three parents, and poor Lark and Pip to lose both, I hope Thomas is up to the job (and I don't envy him!!). The Swallowtail legacy does sound like a book that will appeal to a lot of kids.

  7. What a wonderful set of books, Karen! I agree, the dead-parents situation is out of hand (though that's hardly new—Walk Two Moons is great, but it did the same thing 30 years ago), but beyond that, The Wreck at Ada's Reef sounds really compelling! And I'm not familiar with Wangari Maathai, so that biography sounds really fascinating as well. Thanks so much for the wonderful reviews!

  8. I'll sometimes cheat and read the solution at the end so I can just stop worrying about the mystery at all. Three dead parents is indeed a lot.