Violet Mackerel’s Natural Habitat

October 3rd, 2013 · 6 Comments · Books

Girls book picReview By HOMA WOODRUM

I picked up this book (Amazon affiliate link) from the new arrivals shelf at our local library and thought it would be a good one to share on Vegbooks because the premise of a young girl taking a ladybug and making it a home in a jar touched on that desire kids have to admire living things up close, sometimes a little too close. I didn’t realize this is the latest in a series about little Violet Mackerel by Anna Branford but it seems to stand on its own. (I haven’t read the other books in the series though we’ve requested them from our library.) Some tricky aspects that I would mention is that the book does feature death prominently and it is written in the present tense, both are not things I usually see in books for younger readers such as this chapter book.

At any rate, Violet forms a theory that if she helps a “small thing” they will in turn help her. She offers a thread from her dress to a bird that seems to live in a shopping mall and the bird’s proximity causes her mother to end a lengthy and boring chat with an acquaintance. Then she goes a step further and wants to help the smallest ladybug in her garden, who she names “Small Gloria.”  She puts Gloria in a jar with things she imagines the ladybug would like and fancies that all the larger ladybugs will be jealous. The next morning Small Gloria is dead and Violet is crushed.

Violet has siblings, including an older sister that is struggling with her science fair project. When Violet approaches her sister about the loss of Small Gloria, her sister comforts her by researching ladybugs and their life cycle, speculating that ladybugs do not live very long and Small Gloria must have known somehow that Violet meant well. This gives them the idea to use beads (Violet’s sister is a crafter) to illustrate the ladybug life cycle and dedicate the display to the lost ladybug. A note by the project later reads “No eggs, larvae, pupae, or ladybugs were harmed in the making of this life cycle.  All creatures were left in their natural habitat.” Violet’s sister wins an honorable mention for her approach and the book closes with Violet being able to help free the sparrow in the shopping mall even as she contemplates how wonderful it would be to have the sparrow as her friend and pet:

Violet waves good-bye a little sadly. It would have been fun to take the sparrow to school.
But it is nice to think that perhaps she has helped him find his way back to the place he lives and grows best.

The book is 100 pages and averages 65 or so words per page with many sweet black-and-white illustrations by Elanna Allen throughout. I was able to read this aloud to my five year old daughter as a bedtime story but must caution that she was sad about the loss of Small Gloria and there is an illustration of the dead ladybug in the book. Violet’s mother has a boyfriend which is mentioned very briefly but I wanted to mention in case your young reader checks the book out and has questions.

Violet is sweet and inquisitive and I think the book is a great one for discussion of why it is best to leave living things where they “live and grow best.”

Ages 5 and up.

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6 Comments so far ↓

  • Homa

    We’ve read the other books in the series now and they are all pretty wonderful. I hope someone checks them out because of this review because it has been a great find!

  • Jessica

    Homa, they sound great! I’m definitely going to look for them at our library. Thanks for the review.

  • Jenn K

    Oh my! This book is beautiful. I read it with my almost 6 year old and I was blown away. The emotion that is felt for the death of a tiny lady bug is amazing. I love that they decide it’s best to do science fair projects without living animals because animals should be left to their natural habitat. And I love that they put a note in their science project that no animals were harmed in creating it. But most of all, I love how much the death of one ladybug affects them both so profoundly. Such a gorgeous book. Thank you for recommending it.

  • Homa

    So glad you enjoyed it! The whole series is very thoughtful and well done but this was the first one we found.

  • Jenn K

    My daughter’s favorite book as a younger child was Flying Free ( This felt like a great follow up to that book. More older and in-depth for an older and more mature audience.

  • Best Books for 6-Year-Old Vegan and Vegetarian Kids

    […] we present our top picks for 6-year-old veg kids. Jennifer Kali suggests that readers check out Violet Mackerel’s Natural Habitat. She also reports that the Magic School Bus series is a great […]

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