Reviewer's Bookwatch: Volume 9, Number 2
"Young Elizabeth Had A Farm"
Elizabeth Angier is a fourth-grader who lives on a farm. She helps her parents weed the large vegetable garden, dye skeins of wool from their sheep, arrange wildflowers into bouquets to be sold at the farmers' market, and water the saplings that landscapers buy. Will, the high school boy from the dairy farm over the hill, comes over to help her dad on occasion. Elizabeth loves everything about growing up on the farm that has been in her father's family for many generations. But all this threatens to change: a company that runs "CAFO" (Concentrated Feeding Animal Organizations) pig farms arrives to woo struggling farmers into selling their farms and taking jobs with the large corporation. As Elizabeth's parents desperately research the effects of existing CAFO's on a community's air, water, commerce, and quality of life, Elizabeth herself discovers her own connection to the earth and the powers that gives her. Gaia, the spirit of the Earth, appears to her as an otter, and begins to teach her.
That's just a brief synopsis of "Gaia Girls: Enter the Earth", recent winner of the 2006 National Outdoor Book Award, children's division. Although this is a fantastical novel that author Lee Welles has written for children ("ages 9 and up"), many parts of the story ring true for communities like ours. "Gaia Girls: Enter the Earth" takes place on a farm in upstate New York, near the Finger Lakes. Much of it reads like home, the beauty as well as the struggles.
Although I consider myself sympathetic to environmental activists, I am leary of being lumped in with folks who wear hemp and eat vegetarian because it's trendy. In sitting down to read Gaia Girls, I was a little afraid that the story would be heavy-handed on earth goddesses but skim over the true difficulties of living environmentally-aware. I am pleased to report I couldn't have been more wrong. "Three Oaks Farm" is an organic farm, but Welles makes it clear that this makes the Angier family and their products unusual for their community. They need to be very creative to be successful: they advertise their organic produce to upscale restaurants, who pre-order from the farm. Another way they make money is by selling many different products: wool, vegetables, flowers, young trees, honey. Though Elizabeth and her parents feel they live a happy life in a corner of paradise, Welles doesn't flinch from showing how fragile that existence is, and how much work it takes to maintain it.
Welles' writing is strong. At the beginning, I was reminded of Charlotte's Web. As I continued to read Gaia Girls, I realized I was in the middle of a wonderful new literary phenomenon. I see this book, and the series to follow, touching many as it touched me. Enter the Earth reminded me of environmental issues and earth science facts that I already know about, but made me feel more attached to them. Without being preachy, Gaia Girls helps the reader see the science behind farming methods that are good for the earth, and how it is healthy for the people who live there and those of us who eat the food grown there. With Elizabeth, we can connect to the farm, as she and the farm connect to the earth. I raced through the book, loved the story, and can't wait for more.
Billed as “fiction with a mission,” this well-written supernatural adventure unabashedly seeks to convert young readers to an ecologically green philosophy.
Ten-year-old Elizabeth lives on a thriving farm owned by her family since the 18th century. Remarkably attuned to nature, she learns why when she meets a talking otter that claims to be Gaia, the spirit of the Earth. Elizabeth has been chosen as one of four girls to receive powers that will enable her to fight to save Earth from the ravages of humans. She learns how to travel through trees, listen to the voices in the earth and even willfully move the earth. Her battle becomes personal as a corporation begins to buy up the whole area to build a massive and destructive pig farm. When her parents are unable to fight City Hall, Elizabeth realizes that she must use her new powers to save her home. The author’s easily accessible style fits her target audience well, creating sympathy for the protagonist by portraying common friendship difficulties experienced by young girls. Suspense builds as Elizabeth’s parents fail in their fight, and Elizabeth battles the forces of bureaucracy. Welles deftly handles the increasing tension while delivering her consistent and persuasive message, presenting an interesting, exciting story. Includes a CD, as well as a puzzle within the chapter illustrations to further engage readers.
We eagerly await the next installment in this planned series. (Fiction. 9-13)
Author Interview with Lee Welles
Gaia Girls to the Rescue
by Teresa Piccari
TP: How did Gaia Girls come to you? Did the idea for a series evolve or did it come to you as a whole? I see on the website books five through seven are now planned, beyond the initial four books that are connected to the elements. Can you talk about how they will differ from the original four?
LW: I had been reading about Gaia Theory and had the classic “what if” moment. “What if the earth is a living organism? What would it say?” Answer: “Stop messing with me!” I figured it would be a kid that would hear it. I also decided that the earth could enlist kids to help, four kids-yeah! And the earth would take the form of a talking otter because who could possibly ignore a talking otter?
My husband teaches third grade. I told him the idea and he began to hound me to write the story. He insisted kids would love it and pointed out the thin offering of great girl heroes.
I originally was going to put all four girls in one book, but found myself bogged down in researching things like the name of a town in Italy, so I decided to start with what I knew best-farm life in upstate New York. There is a lot of my childhood in Enter the Earth.
I can’t wait to write Book Five! When the four girls get together they are going to have to overcome cultural and personality differences. I expect there will be a lot of blundering as they learn to coordinate various objectives and their powers. Much like grown-ups and their governments have to do when trying to “help” the planet.
To read the entire interview please visit http://www.innertapestry.org/articles.htm#3
An earth-conscious series
Young Adult (and kids) Books Central
a review by Kimberly Pauley
Now here's a new book series with a serious message. But don't let that turn you off; it isn't a heavy-handed one at all. In fact, the environmental focus of the books is worked in so well that a reader might not even realize that they are learning something along the way. And that's the way I prefer it; too many "message" books try to ram that message down your throat and don't make what they are trying to tell you part of the story. Gaia Girls' message is loud and clear – and integral to the plot.
Link to the entire review at www.yabookscentral.com
National Junior Master Gardener Program
5 Star Review
reviewed by Nikol Price, JMG Librarian
Go Gaia Girls! What would you do if a talking otter approached you and told you that she was the voice of Gaia, the earth, and that she was in trouble and needed your help? What if she told you that you were one of a select few people on the planet gifted with magical abilities that made you especially fit to give that help? In Enter the Earth, the first book in the Gaia Girls series, this is exactly what happens to nine-year-old Elizabeth. It takes a bit of convincing but eventually she realizes that the CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) trying to force her family to sell their farm hurts the earth as much as it would hurt her.
You'll love Elizabeth, her parents, and her dog Maizy and want to save Three Oaks Farm, Est. 1782, just as much as she does. Lee Welles does an excellent job of explaining why any sort of factory farm operation harms the earth without making it too horrifying. She also provides plenty of ideas for future activities such as tuning into Tree T.V. Girls will enjoy Elizabeth's earth powers and her determination to do the right thing in her own way.
Link to the review at JMG News.
An engaging parable of taking responsibility for one's place
Midwest Book Review, (Oregon, WI USA)
January 6, 2007
Written by summer camp nature director and wellness expert Lee Welles presents Gaia Girls: Enter the Earth, the first novel of the Gaia Girls Book Series. A young girl, Elizabeth Angier, is shocked when the powerful Harmony Farms Corporation moves in and absorbs family farms like those of her parents and neighbors. As the repercussions of the gigantic factory farm loom closer, Elizabeth unexpectedly encounters the mysterious Gaia, the living entity of the Earth itself. Elizabeth receives a gift of Gaia's power, and strange things begin to happen around and through her. But with these amazing new powers come heavy responsibility, and the challenge of taking on a whole corporation and its profit-fueled pork production that befouls air, land and water. Though written for young adults, Gaia Girls is an engaging parable of taking responsibility for one's place on the Earth for all ages.
The Green Room
by Oliver St John
Enter The Earth is the enchanting first volume of Gaia Girls, a planned seven-book series by Lee Welles detailing the adventures of several young girls with a rather remarkable talent: they are able to communicate with Gaia, the living embodiment of the Earth. This first volume deals specifically with a girl named Elizabeth, living on a farm in upstate New York, where the agricultural community is being threatened by a large-scale factory farming enterprise.
While the book is by no means trying to be Harry Potter, there is inevitably a certain element of magic to the central character's abilities. This is contrasted by the world around them, in which things are extremely ordinary in every way; it's the real world out there.
Welles does a fantastic job of making us empathize with Elizabeth as she is pulled through many of the emotional ups and downs of childhood itself. The book twists and turns through triumph and loss, happiness and despair, never losing sight of the mission: to entertain and educate.
The illustrations in the book all form pieces of a puzzle to be solved, one of several games hosted on the book's website at GaiaGirls.com - the puzzles are somewhat simplistic, however, since they are designed for younger readers.
The books are aimed at "ages 9 and up", and are thus written in a very accessible style legible by younger readers, but are not "dumbed down". As such, Enter The Earth can provide a great deal of entertainment for any adult willing to give the book a chance. There's a certain magic to the book itself, though - at least for a short while, Enter the Earth can help you recapture the childlike sense of wonder at Nature itself.
Book Review: Gaia Girls - Enter the Earth
September 4, 2006
Following in the vein of Nancy Drew, the Babysitters Club, and, dare I say it, Harry Potter, the Gaia Girls series is the next group to offer heroes battling modern day villains for the kid with an eco-conscience. Gaia Girls: Enter the Earth is the first in the series and establishes Elizabeth, the first character, with the power of "earth" - the ability to work with and command soil/trees/creatures in the soil. Reminiscent of Captain Planet, the other three girls will be endowed with the power of water, air and fire. Each chapter includes great illustrations that help to color many of the scenes that take place.
While the book is a light, fast read, the themes are mature for young readers, and the author does a good job to not sugar coat any of the issues. In Enter the Earth, Elizabeth takes on the issues of factory farms and the loss inherited knowledge as small farms are pushed off of the land due to shrinking profits. Elizabeth encounters Gaia; the spirit of the earth in the body of a cute, waving otter that explains in beautiful detail how everything in the world is connected and why it’s so important to take care of the environment. Welles also explains things like organic versus conventional farming and describes the conditions in a factory pig farm.
Review of Gaia Girls
by chris Oryschak
December 6, 2005
In Lee Welles’ first of a series, a young girl is given special powers by Mother Nature to combat a factory farming operation in her rural town.
In the innovative seven book “Gaia Girl” series, Harry Potter meets the Sierra Club as average girls team up with the Earth to fight back against environmental destruction. The introductory novel, “Enter the Earth,” opens with Elizabeth, a fourth grader in upstate New York whose life — until recently — had been spent going to school and exploring the countryside with her dog Maizey.
This life is soon turned upside-down as a destructive factory farming operation sets its sights on her little town of Avon.
Harmony Farms has begun buying up the town’s farmland in order to establish a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, or CAFO, for the wide scale raising and slaughtering of hogs. Neighbors of the town are pitted against each other, with most seeing the CAFO as a chance to sell their land and cash out. Others, such as Elizabeth’s parents, see the impending operation as a threat to their centuries-old family farm and fight to save their livelihoods.
Elizabeth’s parents aren’t the only angry ones, however, as the impending farm draws the ire of "the living entity of the earth", Gaia. Taking the form of a talking otter, Gaia gives Elizabeth the power to telepathically cause small earthquakes, transport herself through trees and literally commune with nature by talking to plants and animals. Armed with her new environmentally friendly powers and a little help from friends, Elizabeth takes on the factory farming operation to win back her town.
While the book is intended for younger readers and is full of whimsical elements, like talking otters, Welles manages to balance the cuteness with frank depictions of factory farming operations. By combing Harry Potter-like elements with real environment issues and the social impact of Imminent Domain arguments, “Enter the Earth” is an engrossing story for all ages.
Fitting with its environmental message, the hardcover book is printed on 100% recycled paper
Kids Bookshelf Review
Review By Christina Lewis
Elizabeth was looking forward to spending her summer vacation with her best friend Rachel and her dog Maizey on their farm, Three Oaks Farm. But that all changes when Elizabeth discovers that Rachel is moving away and meets an otter who she can communicate with. Elizabeth learns that the otter's name is Gaia, and she needs help to save the earth. Elizabeth is both excited and frightened when she discovers the power she has to communicate with the earth, but does she have the strength to accept the challenge and drive out the evil forces threatening their farm and community? "Gaia Girls" is a delightful book with a powerful message. Kids will enjoy the mixture of fantasy and environmental concerns. Her relationship with her best friend Rachel seemed to drop part way through the story, and I would have liked some closure or communication between the two friends before Rachel moved away. An exciting story that will get kids thinking about the world around them and how they can make a difference too! (Ages 9-12)
Tales from the earth
Local fitness expert celebrates release of her first novel
by Kathleen Costello
November 10, 2005
Here's the process: Lean back against a tree and imagine where you want to go. Then expect to get yanked into the trunk, pulled down through the roots, catapulted across the ground ... and deposited in the branches of another tree. It's a dirty, physical, exhilarating ride.
At least that's how Corning author Lee Welles describes the process in her first novel, "Gaia Girls: Enter the Earth."
Welles, 35, a personal trainer and fitness consultant, writes a weekly wellness column for the Star-Gazette and does television fitness segments for WETM TV-Channel 18 in Elmira. And now she's celebrating the release of her book, the first of seven in her "Gaia Girls" series. Events are scheduled Saturday in Corning and online.
About the book
"The book is designed for a target age group of 9 to 12, but people tell me it has that Harry Potter-like appeal to a broad age group," Welles says.
"Gaia Girls: Enter the Earth" features a 10-year-old heroine named Elizabeth, who lives on her family's farm in upstate New York. Just as her summer vacation begins, Elizabeth discovers that she has special powers. She's able to travel through trees, move rocks and dirt with her mind, and communicate with Gaia, "the living organism of the Earth," as Welles describes it in her book.
Gaia appears to Elizabeth in the form of a talking otter, who tells the girl that she needs to save her family's farm, as a factory farm tries to move into her town. Eventually, Elizabeth will need to save Gaia herself, with the help of three other girls. That's where the next three books come in: They will focus on the other three elements of the Earth. Books five through seven showcase the four girls working as a team to save Gaia.
Welles says her idea for the first book began forming after she read James Lovelock's "Gaia Theory" more than two years ago.
"After I read this, I thought, 'What if? What if there was a kid who could hear the planet talk? How would the Earth talk, and what would it say? The otter image immediately came to mind," Welles says.
Welles says she spent a year thinking about her idea, then spent four months working on the book sporadically. But after that, she says she wrote voraciously for a week, completing two-thirds of the first draft. Then the next six months were spent completing, editing and rewriting her novel.
Welles asked her sister, Big Flats artist Ann Welles, to illustrate the book. Ann Welles did the illustrations for the cover as well as for all 37 chapters. (In the book she goes by Ann Hameister, her married name.)
"The illustrations are very separate from my own work. And since I've never done illustrations before, I didn't know how much time they would take. I spent just as much time doing research as I did drawing. For example, if I decided to draw a bat, then I had to find out which bats are indigenous to the area. Then I'd have to pick a background, decide what the season was, and then find out how big those plants are in the summer!" Ann Welles says.
The book's illustrations hold another appeal for kids: secret codes. In 36 of the 37 chapter illustrations, a letter or number is hidden. These letters and numbers, which form codes, will be used on the Web site for future puzzle games. The Web site will feature a variety of games and activities for children, which involve using the actual book.
Gaia thoughts and green living
Gaia was the name of the Greek goddess who personified the Earth. Scientist James Lovelock used the term when describing his theory that the living matter of the planet functions like a single organism. He named this self-regulating living system "Gaia." Now, the term often is used in popular culture as an earthly reference.
"Gaia Girls: Enter the Earth" combines fantasy and adventure with a love of the outdoors.
Welles has been traveling around the country working with several environmental groups to get support for her book. She traveled twice to Chicago this spring: once to the Family Farmed Expo and once to meet with the Organic Trade Association. And in September she met with members of the Sierra Club in San Francisco. She says the Organic Trade Association will recommend her book in its e-newsletter, she will speak on EcoTalk radio, and the Sierra Club plans to review her book.
"I'd like people to realize the environment is not something out there that's separate from us. We're part of it. If you stop, look and listen, you'll realize that," Welles says.