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Book Cover

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.

About the Book:
 Gianna Z has less than one week to collect, identify, and creatively display 25 leaves for her science project—or else she won’t be able to compete in the upcoming cross-country race. As the deadline for her leaf project draws near, life keeps getting in the way. Some things are within Gee’s control, like her own procrastination, but others aren’t, like Bianca Rinaldi’s attempts at sabotage and Nonna’s declining health. If it weren’t for her best friend Zig, Gee wouldn’t have a chance at finishing. His knowledge of trees and leaves in their rural Vermont town comes in very handy, as does his loyalty to Gee. But when Nonna disappears one afternoon, things like leaves and cross-country meets suddenly seem less important.

My Two Cents: This lovely contemporary story won an E.B. White Read Aloud Award, and it’s not hard to see why. Messner weaves together the ligher themes of school projects and cross country with deeper issues like the aging and loss of loved ones. The characters are memorable and relatable, especially Gianna and Nonna. It’s a gentle, well-told story with touches of humor and a lot of heart.

Grade Level: 4-6

Additional Resources:

  • Visit Kate Messner’s website
  • Download the book’s discussion and study guide
  • Go on your own leaf hunt, then identify the leaves using a guide like What Tree Is That?
  • Get outside and run like Gianna! Find some tips and ideas for getting started at
  • Make some of Nonna’s funeral cookies with this official recipe
  • Gianna and her family are worried about Alzheimer’s disease, but she knows there are ways to help. Get involved with a Walk to End Alzheimer’s (Gianna would probably run!), sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association.

More to Read:

  • A high-adventure book (part of a series) by Gianna’s author: Capture the Flag by Kate Messner
  • Another book about a girl who gets behind in school when things are tricky at home: Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur
  • Another very likeable girl whose relationship with her best friend is changing: Shug by Jenny Han
  • Another nice contemporary story (in spite of the title 🙂 about a New England boy and girl: Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face by Paul Acampora

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