Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence

sir fig newton and the science of persistence

From the Desk of Zoe Washington meets Ways to Make Sunshine in this heartfelt middle grade novel about a determined young girl who must rely on her ingenuity and scientific know-how to save her beloved cat.

Twelve-year-old Mira’s summer is looking pretty bleak. Her best friend Thomas just moved a billion and one miles away from Florida to Washington, DC. Her dad is job searching and he’s been super down lately. Her phone screen cracked after a home science experiment gone wrong. And of all people who could have moved into Thomas’s old house down the street, Mira gets stuck with Tamika Smith, her know-it-all nemesis who’s kept Mira in second place at the school science fair four years running.

Mira’s beloved cat, Sir Fig Newton, has been the most stable thing in her life lately, but now he seems off, too. With her phone gone and no internet over the weekend at her strict Gran’s house, Mira must research Fig’s symptoms the old-fashioned way: at the library. She determines that he has “the silent cat killer” diabetes. A visit to the vet confirms her diagnosis, but that one appointment stretched family funds to the limit—they’ll never be able to afford cat insulin shots.

When Mira’s parents tell her they may have to give Fig up to people who can afford his treatment, Mira insists she can earn the $2,000 needed within a month. Armed with ingenuity, determination, and one surprising ally, can Mira save her best (four-legged) friend before it’s too late?---from the publisher

368 pages                                                        978-1534484924                                     Ages 8-12

Keywords:  cat, science, overcoming adversity, problem solving, self reliance, girls and women, 8 year old, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, STEM, pets, friends, determination, diversity, diverse books, biracial


Mira is all set to have a great summer in Florida with her best friend Thomas, going to camp and doing science experiements (like microwaving grapes; this doesn't end well), but when his family suddenly relocates to Washington, D.C. Their fathers both were engineers at a company that laid off many workers, and her father (who is Black) is struggling to find a job. Her mother (who is white) has gone back to work, leaving the family at the mercy of the father's less than spectacular cooking skills. When Mira breaks her mother's old phone, there is no chance she will get it replaced, so she has to rely on the landline to talk to Thomas. When her cat, Sir Fig Newton, seems lethargic, she is worried about him. Research leads her to believe he might have diabetes, but she is sent to spend time with her grandmother before she can tell her parents. Her father's mother is active in her church, very proper, and loves cats as well. Mira finds it somewhat difficult to connect to herr, because she lives an hour away and the two don't spend much time together, but finds that her grandmother is supportive. Armed with a magazine article about feline diabetes, Mira tells her parents about her cat when she gets home, and they take Sir Fig Newton to the vet right away. Mira's diagnosis is correct, but the treatment is expensive. On top of some other emergencies, the family doesn't have the money, and the parents feel that the best option is to give the cat up for adoption. Mira, still reeling from Thomas' departure, begs for time to raise funds. When her nemesis, Tamika, moves into Thomas' house, she finds an unlikely ally. She tries a number of ways to make money, like babysitting, dog walking, and running a lemonade stand. Mira is also deep into an experiment to try to improve her father's mood with music. Will Mira, along with her new friend, Tamkia, be able to save Sir Fig Newton? Strengths: Having a parent in an unstable job situation is definitely becoming more common in reality, so it's good to see this in fiction. That said, I was also glad to see that the mother had steady employment, and that the father eventually found work. The impact of this on Mira's life is portrayed in a very pragmatic way, and she understands her parents' motivations, even if she doesn't agree with them. Dealing with the sickness of a pet is something many young readers will understand as well. I liked the relationship with Tamkia; a lot of tweens have preconcieved notions about fellow classmates that change when they get to know the other person. I'd love to see more of this in middle grade literature. Throwin in a grandparent or two never hurts. Weaknesses: This is a bit on the long side at over 350 pages; it almost could have been two books. The cover makes this look a bit younger than it is. What I really think: Add this to the list of friendship stories that also include science, like Rosenberg's One Small Hop, Doleski's Mary Underwater and Pérez's Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers. 
 Recommended by:  Karen Yingling, Librarian, Ohio USA 
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