Though only her first book, Kate Messner has a very obvious knack for reaching middle grade readers with great characters, a plot they can relate to, and a really fun project that is enjoyable to read about, but probably even more fun to do!
"Gianna Z has less than one week to collect, identify, and creatively display 25 leaves for her science project—or else she won’t be able to compete in the upcoming cross-country race. As the deadline for her leaf project draws near, life keeps getting in the way. Some things are within Gee’s control, like her own procrastination, but others aren’t, like Biana Rinaldi’s attempts at sabotage and Nonna’s declining health. If it weren’t for her best friend Zig, Gee wouldn’t have a chance at finishing. His knowledge of trees and leaves in their rural Vermont town comes in very handy, as does his loyalty to Gee. But when Nonna disappears one afternoon, things like leaves and cross-country meets suddenly seem less important."
What a charming, lovely little book for middle graders. I found myself learning a whole lot about different species of trees (like the fact that the evil black walnut tree in my backyard not only drops ugly walnut balls on the ground, but it's also toxic to any other plant around it), while enjoying a sweet story about family, friendship, and responsibility.
Gianna is expected to take responsibility of her schoolwork if she wants to compete in cross country at school, however, she doesn't understand why her mom won't take responsibility for her grandmother, a woman obviously starting to lose her memory and become a danger to herself. A great lesson for readers AND their parents, as we all need to take a look at our priorities and responsibilities at times and reevaluate what is really important.
The character of Gianna was very realistic and likable, as was her best friend Zig. She was a bit out-of-the-box, which I really enjoyed. The leaf project seems like a fabulous assignment for school, so teachers, pair up this book with a project based on Gianna's leaf project! I learned a lot, I'm sure kids are going to learn a lot as they read this one too.
To learn more, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon.
Thanks to Walker Young Readers for the review copy :)
The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.
Walker Books for Young Readers