Ana is twelve and her life, according to her, is not going according to plan. Her best friend has just moved to New Zealand, her splashy, embarrassing grandfather has come back to town, and her parents are moving them into the zoo! Yep, that's right, I said the zoo! Her parents are zoologists, and they work at the local zoo. Ana, named for a snake (guess which one!), is a shy, quiet middle schooler, who just wants to be normal, to fit in with the social scene at school. But living at the zoo and appearing on her grandfather's reality nature show do not help her at all! To make matters worse, the popular girls at her school (nicknamed the Sneerers by Ana and Liv) have taken too much notice of her, and not in a good way! As the book progresses, Ana tries to figure out who she is without Liv, as she explores an art project and finds a passion for teaching kids about the animals at the zoo.
One of the things I really liked about this book was the author's style. Humor abounds, reminding me a bit of Carl Hiaasen (possibly because of the animals). Each main character is introduced with a "creature file," including a scientific name made to order for that character and personality traits describing that person in animal speak. Ana is also constantly making lists, like "The Growing List of Things I Don't Understand About Boys," which highlight her fears, her passions, and make us laugh and feel for her growing pains. Ana is an observer surrounded by big personalities, and it is was fun to watch her struggle to find her place. There is also a bit of romance, which will appeal to many readers.
If you like this book, there is a second in the series, How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel!
Prairie is a homeschooled girl from North Carolina, who has been forcibly moved to a New York farm. Her Grammy, who has taught her all her life, is leaving to go back to NC, and she is homesick and lonely. Just as she begins to find her place, raising chickens so she can sell the eggs alongside her mother's quilts and her father's birdhouses at local farmer's markets, her parents uproot her life once more. They decide it is time for Prairie to go to the local school! Although many of Prairie's fears come true at school, she also meets Ivy and discovers what it means to have a best friend. As she gets to know Ivy and learns about the sadness in other people's lives, Prairie learns to appreciate her life, her friends, and her family in a whole new light.
I absolutely adored this book! I think it is my favorite reading bowl book to date. Prairie's character is delightful and funny. In fact, if I were a ten-year old kid again, I would want to be just like her. (Minus the chickens, because they kind of creep me out) I loved the way the author used the chickens and coyotes as a way for Prairie to learn about people too, since she relates to those animals so much. The friendship story with Ivy and Prairie's relationship with her grandmother made for my favorite moments in the book. I also loved her standing up to the judgement of the small minded townspeople. Although it is set in present day, it had the feel at times of an historical fiction novel, and Prairie's character reminded me of Caddie Woodlawn and Gilly Hopkins, other strong, independent female characters. She also reminded me a bit of Callie Vee, the main character in my next review!
Calpurnia, called Callie Vee by her family, lives in 1899 in a small Texas town. She is the only girl of seven children, and her family is one of the prominent families in town, so she is expected to be a proper young lady, a role that does not come naturally to her. She wants to cut her hair short and read Mr. Darwin's new book on evolution, not learn to tat lace or sew samplers! However, her mother forbids her to cut her hair, and the town librarian refuses to give her Mr. Darwin's book. Just when Callie is about to lose hope, her grandfather, who has kept his distance until now, takes notice of her and decides to help her develop her scientific skills. The story is a wonderful tale of her developing attachment to her grandfather, her loving yet exasperating relationships with her brothers and parents, and her growing desire to do more with her life than is expected of a young girl at the turn of the nineteenth century.
As I re-read this amazing coming of age story, I sympathized with Callie's need to be independent, to be different from the other girls around her. Although her scientific discoveries and observations are central to the book, it was really her relationship with her grandfather and their growing recognition of each other that drew me in. She turns from observing grasshoppers, butterflies, and plants, to observing the people and the society around her. I loved her questioning not only the traditional expectations of herself, but also the traditional roles of everyone around her. I think her evolution begins to rub off on her family, including her grandfather, bringing the family closer ultimately.
I cannot wait to read her newest novel, a sequel to this one, The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate!
It comes out next week, and Jacqueline Kelly will be at the book festival on Labor Day!