Author: Jane Kurtz
Illustrators: Rebecca DeKuiper and Robert Papp
Lanie Holland, a budding scientist, sometimes wonders how she ended up in her family. She loves her mom and dad (architect and college professor, respectively) and both her older and younger sister, but they're homebodies and like to stay inside. Lanie is happiest outdoors, observing the world and walking her rabbit Lulu. Her older sister Angela is too busy practicing her cello and her younger sister Emily recently became terrified of bugs and refuses to go outside unless it's necessary. Lanie used to explore with her best friend Dakota, but Dakota's in Indonesia for six months while her father studies the rain forest there. Lanie is thrilled when her aunt Hannah comes to visit for the summer. Hannah, an ornithologist, is adventurous like Lanie. The two make a wildflower and vegetable garden, and plan a trip to see a fantastic gathering of birds in May.
But one morning she wakes up to find that Hannah has jetted off to Costa Rica, to see a rare bird. Lanie's alone again. On day her annoyances all pile up: Dakota is nursing baby orangutans during a fantastic adventure, Angela's been practicing the same piece of music forever, her parents only enjoy doing things inside, the new next-neighbor is a snob, her aunt didn't even say goodbye before leaving for six weeks, and Emily scribbled childish drawings on the last pages of Lanie's field journal. Lanie's able to calm down after a heart-to-heart with Angela and another with her mom, who reminds her that Emily only wants to imitate Lanie because of how much she looks up to her big sister (she really should have been reprimanded for getting into someone else's property though, especially after she was told explicitly not to).
Lanie sets about doing what she can to occupy her time. She plants the vegetable seedlings (only peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, and herbs--no lettuce or carrots or beans or peas or potatoes?) and spends a night on the porch, observing the constellations (it's late spring in Massachussetts). And the next morning Emily helps her with some gardening chores, having forgotten to worry about bugs. Lanie hears some bird calls and is pleased to discover she can identify them. That gives her an idea: maybe she can't visit an exotic location, but there's plenty to discover in her own backyard. And in five short weeks, Dakota will be home.
That night at dinner, Emily starts talking about pepperoni pizza--she's a very picky eater and only eats food that looks like pizza, so the family's been making several varieties. Lanie has an idea: they can grow pizza ingredients in the garden! Emily loves the idea, and if she's growing the vegetables she'll be more likely to try them. Soon, the sisters are outside planning a bigger garden and making observations in a shared field journal. As the garden grows, the whole family even makes plans for a camping trip!
Real Girls, Real Letters
"Garden Girl" gets some tips about starting a backyard garden. "Curious" gets some about helping endangered tigers. "Want to Help" is commended for being concerned about the waste Christmas trees might cause, but reassured that the trees are raised specifically to be decorations and any remaining after the holidays are mulched. "Discouraged Dreamer" is encouraged that everyone starts somewhere, and no matter what people say, there's no reason she can't pursue her dream of being a wildlife photographer. "Making a Difference" writes in with an idea for girls who want to raise money to help causes: they can ask for donations instead of presents for their birthdays and other occasions like Christmas.
Dedicated to "Ellemae and Noh, new to this world of worm watching and ladybug loving."
Special thanks are given to Kathe Crowley Conn.
I think it's an interesting coincidence that Lanie is the Girl of the Year for 2010 and has blue eyes and curly blonde hair...like my older daughter, who was born in 2010. (Saige, the Girl of the Year for 2013, has blue eye like my younger daughter but wavy brown/auburn hair instead of blonde, very, very curly hair).
Lanie's dad experiments with a new food combination every Friday. Lanie says they're often good, but once he made corn ice cream.
Scattered throughout the pages are little illustrations of different things Lanie has learned from her research, like the gestation period of a rabbit and that bamboo grows faster than any other plant.
You might notice that I don't often refer to younger siblings as "little." That's because my younger brother told me I wasn't allowed to call him my little brother since he's taller than I am, so I'm not used that phrasing.
I find it baffling that Hannah is described a scientist and calls herself a bird scientist, and the book is full of science facts, yet the word "ornithologist" is never used.