The Naked Mole-Rat Letters by Mary Amato. (Grades 4-7.)
Frankie can't believe that her dad went on a date. Not only a date, a secret date with a zookeeper who lives practically across the country in Washington DC! And now they're probably going to fall in love and get married and he'll move Frankie and her brothers to Washinton DC. Or this zookeeper woman will move into their house in Indiana and change everything that Frankie's mom left behind! And Frankie's dad won't even come clean and tell the kids what he's been up to!
Okay, if it's a secret, how does Frankie know about it?
Well, she maaaaay have opened his email. And she maaaay have read some things. And she maaaaaaaay have replied to this Ayanna Bayo person.
In her heart she knows it's wrong to answer her dad's email, but she's got to do something! And when Frankie opens this can of worms, things are going to get pretty messy before she can make things right again.
I found myself laughing out loud at Frankie's devious ways. She's self-absorbed and a little obnoxious, but as the story develops, Frankie ends up learning a lot about herself and about other people. The story's told in excerpts from Frankie's diary and in her emails back and forth with Ayanna Bayo, curator of naked mole rats at the National Zoo.
Her first email to Ayanna will give you an idea about Frankie:
I don't know who you are. But this is just a note to say please don't bother e-mailing again. My father, Robert Wallop, is extremely busy taking care of us children. Perhaps he did not mention the little fact that he has children. He does. Three.
There's me. I'm in seventh grade, and I don't require any care, actually. But I have two younger brothers who require constant care on account of their severe, deliberating illnesses...
Also you should know that my father has several diseases, so kissing him is not a good idea.
I fell in love with Frankie (even though she is so very devious. Her heart's in the right place. Most of the time). I love that she grew and developed over the course of the book. And the ending was perfectly heart-warming.
Plus, it's set in a fictional town in Brown County, Indiana, which took me straight back to my beloved days at IU. (Although the author should know that Indiana and Washington DC are actually both on Eastern time...)
PLUS, lots of little factoids about naked mole-rats are inserted in a fairly organic way. Ayanna, the DC zookeeper, works with naked mole-rats and draws comparisons to them quite often, but it comes across very naturally. I can totally imagine Ayanna actually saying all these things and wanting to share her passion and knowledge with Frankie.
Great for reluctant readers. And highly recommended in general.
Check out Mary Amato's website and check out the National Zoo's Naked Mole-Rat cam!