Girl of the Year 2016: Lea Leads the Way

Author: Lisa Yee
Illustrator: Sarah Davis


Lea and Zac arrive at the home of Zac's host family, ready for a week in the Amazon rain forest. Zac's host parents are warm and welcoming, while his kindergarten-age host brother is (understandably) shy. Lea jumps right in to experiencing new things and loves every bit of it, aside from the family's territorial rooster who makes a point of chasing and pecking at Lea. 

But the rain forest doesn't live up to Lea's expectations. In some ways, that's good: no piranhas devour her when she falls into a river. But she's also disappointed that the wild animals are hard to see, and a little confused by how at home Zac seems. She also gets on Zac's bad side when he sees her disregard for the local flora and fauna. The first instance Zac is too harsh--Lea accidentally falls off a boat and panics when she thought an animal had grabbed. But by ten, she should know better than to ask her brother to stir up an ant nest just for fun. 

Lea settles in a little better when Zac host brother warms up to her, and when his host father takes her and Zac on a night cruise (he's a tour guide). They see several nocturnal animals, and hear even more. She and Zac are on better terms, too, after she apologizes for wanting to disturb the ant hill.  Her classmates, parents, and Camila are enjoying her travel blog, too. 

While on a hike with Zac, Lea finds an injured baby sloth. She convinces Zac to let her take it to his host family's house (they can't find any signs of the mother), and he gets in touch with one of his professors who knows about wildlife rehabilitation. They get a recommendation for a rehab center, but a blog comment from Lea's best friend Abby has her worried. Abby writes, "I can't believe you took that sloth out of her natural habitat." As the sloth, named Amanda after Lea's grandmother, seems to worsen on the way to the center, Lea's sick with worry and guilt due to the Abby's comment. 

A worker at the center confirms that Amanda needs medical attention: her broken claws are infected, and she has a broken leg. Most likely she was attacked by a harpy eagle, which likely ate the mother. Once she's healed, the center will determine whether's able to survive in the wild or will have to remain in captivity. Later, a series of back-and-forth comments clears up Abby's confusion--she didn't realize Amanda was injured and orphaned, or how much human interference already happens in the rain forest.

Too soon, Lea's week is up and it's time to go home to St. Louis. But Amanda is recovering well. Lea adopts her--she'll donate money for her care. As she gets ready to leave, Lea notices the last few pages of Ama's travel journal are blank. She starts her own entry.

Glossary of Portuguese Words

This book doesn't have any sort of appendix beyond a little Portuguese-English dictionary.


Dedicated to Kait.

Between Lea and Jess, we have two Girls of the Year visiting other parts of the Americas beyond the US (Belize in Central America and Brazil in South America).

While reports of anacondas thirty to fifty feet long exist, the longest reputable length recorded is a little over 17 feet. A $50,000 prize for a specimen thirty feet or longer has been available for decades, but no one has claimed it (snake skin isn't a good indicator of size; it can stretch significantly during the tanning process).

Mosquitoes aren't just the most dangerous animal in the Amazon, they're the most dangerous in the world. More people die each year due to mosquito-borne illness than due to animal attacks (e.g.; bears or other large predators, or large territorial animals like hippos). Malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, West Nile virus, and the lovely Zika virus, straight out of Brazil, to name a few. If I could eliminate a species, it'd be the mosquitoes that bite people (second and third choices: bedbugs and lice). There are other species of mosquito, plus gnats and so on, so birds and the like could still eat bugs.

The book notes that piranhas don't actually eat people and aren't killer eating machines. While efficient eaters, the ones that impressed President Theodore Roosevelt and lead to the image were purposely starved before his arrival so they'd go into a feeding frenzy.

I would be surprised if the moon gave enough light for Lea's camera to not need flash when she's taking a night cruise about February 4 or 5, 2016. It was almost a new moon then, so mostly visible during the day--and just a tiny sliver on top of that.

While I'm thrilled Lea got to see a river dolphin, I'm surprised that she doesn't know calf can refer to babies of animals other than cows. I know for sure I knew baby whales and dolphins are called calves by the age of eight, and also baby giraffes, elephants, and other animals.

And she doesn't know what poachers are...I guess all the painful exposition is to inform the readers about things with Lea as the audience surrogate, but I know ten-year-olds. They know these things. The information can be in a narration or a blog post.

Zac wants to help save the rain forest, and plans to continue living in the tropics.

No comments: