Violet Mackerel's Natural Habitat

illus. by Elanna Allen. 112p. S & S/Atheneum. 2013. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-3594-0; pap. $5.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-3595-7; ebook $5.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-3596-4.
Gr 1–3—In this beginning chapter book, seven-year-old Violet Mackerel has a soft spot for Small Things, being one herself. She notices a sparrow trapped inside the local shopping mall and the ladybugs in her backyard. After being told to "buzz off" by her big sister, Nicola, for suggesting that she could use the ladybugs for her natural-science project, Violet decides to conduct her own experiment. She finds a jar and creates what she thinks is the perfect ladybug habitat. In the morning, "Small Gloria" is "the wrong way up," and the sisters offer each other some comfort. They work together to create a life-cycle ladybug project without removing any more of the insects from their natural habitats, and Nicola is awarded a special honorable mention for her project. Black-and-white pencil sketches placed strategically throughout provide additional plot support. The sweet and whimsical nature of the story will appeal to many readers.—Amy Commers, South St. Paul Public Library, MN
The youngest in her family, Violet has always felt a kinship with small things. In this third entry in the series (Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot, rev. 9/12; Violet Mackerel's Remarkable Recovery, rev. 1/13), she dreams up the Theory of Helping Small Things: "If you do something to help a small thing, that small thing might find a way to help you." Violet is feeling especially insignificant because the family's attention is focused on grumpy older sister Nicola's science project. When Violet befriends a tiny ladybug and accidentally causes its death, the sisters come together in a surprising and altogether authentic way. Soon Nicola is quietly sewing and beading a ladybug life-cycle display for her project, while Violet assists by looking up information in the encyclopedia. Violet's voice and good spirit is what readers will remember: thoughtful, caring, and with the right amount of self-absorption to mark her as a seven-year-old. Fans will appreciate how Violet has matured over the course of the series. The changes in the sisters' relationship, forged in the absence of parental interference, make this entry the best in the series so far. Like Ann Cameron's The Stories Julian Tells, this is an excellent example of a chapter book that takes new readers seriously. Art unseen. robin l. smith

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