A young science enthusiast discovers a spider and shares her excitement with her parents and classmates in Norton’s debut middle-grade novel.
Fifth-grader Madeleine Morales is known to all as “Muddy” after a messy incident at a nearby pond. When she discovers a large spider building a web outside her house, she’s instantly enamored and determined to learn everything she can about the arachnid’s habits and habitat. Muddy gets help in her pursuit of knowledge from her parents, despite Papá’s aversion to arachnids; from her teacher, who introduces new subjects with rap lyrics; and from a diverse collection of classmates. Muddy is devastated when the spider, which she named Hilandera, goes missing after a few days, but she uses further research and hypothesis-testing to discover what happened. The book’s character diversity feels natural rather than forced, and Muddy’s closest friends—Gregory, always on the hunt for snacks; Ava, who has a fondness for bathroom humor; and Javier, a devoted pet owner—make a delightful crew that’s willing to indulge Muddy’s new fascination with spiders before dragging her off for another romp in the pond. The book is sometimes a bit too enamored of its own turns of phrase; “arach-a-doo,” for example, is Ava’s rendering of “arachnid,” and after Muddy identifies a shape in Hilandera’s web as a “zigzaggin’ zipper,” she uses that label every time she refers to it. However, Norton does an effective job of introducing educational vocabulary without becoming didactic. Muddy’s blend of Spanish and English flows naturally, although one of Norton’s word choices may be inappropriate for some markets: in the book’s Mexican- and Central American-influenced Spanish,“bicho” is the appropriate word for the insects that make up Hilandera’s diet, but to Puerto Rican readers, that same word is a reference to male anatomy. This isn’t addressed in the book’s glossaries, which provide pronunciations and definitions for the Spanish words and the scientific terms throughout the text.
A story that features a clear educational message and diverse, engaging characters, with an aspiring scientist at its center.