Monday, February 27, 2017

MMGM: Zoe in Wonderland

Today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday pick

Zoe in Wonderland, by Brenda Woods
Zoe in Wonderland

Written by Brenda Woods
Cover art by Frank Morrison

Nancy Paulson Books, 2016
an imprint of Penguin Random House
Ages 8-12
208 pages, 710L

Shyness, Resilience, Building Relationships

       The first thing that's definitely not my fault is that our last name is Reindeer. No one, not even Grandpa Reindeer, is quite sure how that came to be the family name. And even though everyone complains about it—well, everyone except my daddy—no one ever did anything to change it. As for me, I get tired of the jokes, especially around Christmastime.
       Once, last year, I explained to Grandpa and Nana Reindeer how you can actually go to court and legally change your name, but they both stared at me like I'd just said a cussword.

Zoe G. Reindeer has a fascinating family. Her sister is uber-popular, her brother is a science wiz, her mom is pursuing her Masters in Education, and her dad is a crusading horticulturist at Doc Reindeer's Exotic Plant Wonderland. But Zoe is just Zoe. Average, boring, invisible, day-dreaming nobody.

Through a series of encounters, Zoe tries to break out of her shell in order to deal with the life-changing events over which she has no control. She must learn how to build relationships, when to keep secrets, and whom she wants to become. That's a lot for an eleven-year-old to process. Like a seed, Zoe has something special inside her just waiting to sprout, but can she figure out how to make it grow?

Told with an amazingly authentic voice, this sweet little story is perfect for pre-teens. Zoe has a strong family who needs a little help to learn to pull together. She adores her best friend, but without him, she loses her identity. I enjoyed watching Zoe explore her hidden talents. I love the author's subtle message about drawing meaning in our own life by touching the lives of those around us. It's a perky story with a neatly-tied happy ending, but sometimes those are just the kinds of stories kids need when they're trying to discover the seed buried inside themselves.

 1. If you enjoyed Zoe in Wonderland, Brenda Woods has written almost a dozen other books for  middle graders. These two are at the top of my list.

Saint Louis Armstrong Beach, 2011
The Blossoming Universe
of Violet Diamond, 2014

2. For more MMGM books with a similar vibe, pick up a copy of Moo, by Sharon Creech, or Words With Wings, by Nikki Grimes. I'd also recommend The Year of the Book, by Andrea Cheng or White Fur Flying, by Patricia MacLachlan.

Reviewed by Heidi
cover art by Vincent Moustache
Reviewed by Laurisa
cover art by Eva Vazquez

3. Zoe's friend, Quincy, is an aspiring filmmaker who wants to make a documentary about Zoe's plants.Young readers can get started on their own films with a step-by-step guide from Desktop Documentaries. PBS also provides a teachers' guide to using documentaries in the classroom.

4. Zoe's father grows exotic plants. Africa Geographic and Baola offer fascinating facts about the Baobab tree. Join the discussion with #MakeBaobabFamous. You can also read how Madagascar is fighting to save their indigenous species on CNN or support the cause through The Global Trees Campaign.

5. The Jet Propulsion Lab plays a role in Zoe's journey. Check out their amazing space photography or stop by the lab to participate in community programs. Most of all, encourage the "imaginers" in your life.

Have you reviewed a Marvelous Middle Grade Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations for February 13, 2017.

MMGM started way back in 2010 by Shannon Messenger, author of Keeper of Lost Cities. Each week, participating bloggers review our favorite books for ages 8-12. Why not join us?


  1. Great description of an interesting book. I have a lot of Woods fans.

  2. This does sound like a sweet read about a girl finding herself. I thought at first there may have been some magical realism with the name Reindeer. But, it just adds to the girl's awkwardness. I enjoyed your lovely review.

    1. Thanks. I wasn't sure what to expect either, I just had a good feeling about this one and bought it on the spot. So glad I did.

  3. I have read Brenda's other books and they were great. Looking forward to adding this one to my list. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I'm new to her books and was thrilled to see so many of her titles available at my local library! Thanks.

  4. Must admit I'm not familiar with this book, though I have read a few of the similar titles you mentioned. Kids definitely need happy endings.

    1. I hope you have an opportunity to check out this writer's work. Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. And a very compelling review. I am adding this to my buy-for-school list. Thank you!

    1. Thanks. Please let me know how the kids liked it.

  6. This book sounds really good! Thanks for the review!

    1. You're welcome. I love when taking a chance on an unfamiliar author pays off! Thanks for following my reviews.


Thank-you for taking time to share your thoughts!