The Finders-Keepers Rule

Published in 2015; author Jacqueline Debmar Greene; illustrator Julie Kolesova


Maryellen's been practicing for the annual Rock Around the Clock dance party Daytona Beach holds. She's pretty worn out from the dancing, and takes a break to go to the beach. She chats with Joan and Jerry before Jerry has to rush off to do some diving work (he trained as a Navy diver, and is now working for a demanding marine biologist with is friend, Skip). Maryellen also talks with a Mr. Buckley, who's testing out a new metal detector. He's a wealthy man, and is so convinced metal detectors are the next big thing that he bought the company. Oddly, Jerry's employer seems very suspicious of Mr. Buckley, warning Maryellen not to talk to him.

The next day, Maryellen and Davy are back at the beach. Maryellen find an old ring--very old. While they're trying to figure out where it came from, Davy spies a plaque describing a ship wreck in 1565: a whole French fleet was lost. Maybe the ring is from a sunken boat--which, naturally would hold more treasures within. Later, when Maryellen and Davy meet the man organizing the Rock Around the Clock party, he seems very interested in the ring, offering to take it to his jewelry shop to see if it's worth anything. And oddly reticent about Maryellen and Davy taking it themselves. And then the jeweler in the store, after noticing a fleur de lis engraving, seems too eager to keep the ring overnight to inspect it. Davy's able to get it back, accidentally knocking over a bottle of jewelry polish in the process.

Maryellen and Davy are more curious than ever. Why are adults so interested in the ring? And who can they trust? Even when she finds Jerry, he and his boss are talking cryptically about a woman possibly being in danger. Furthermore, when the duo goes to the library to research ship wrecks, they discover that Jerry's boss isn't a marine biologist--he's the underwater archaeologist who wrote the book they're reading!

When Maryellen and Davy talk to Jerry and Joan, things start to fall into place--sort of. Jerry is helping excavate a ship wreck, but looters have been sneaking off with little bits, like the ring. Because of the threat, Jerry and his boss have to bring the artifacts up now instead of carefully investigating it. The jeweler and the store owner are helping keep things safe--and people. Jerry is concerned that if whoever the looter is sees Maryellen with the ring, she'll be in danger, so he urges her to stop wearing it. Maryellen and Davy remember how Mr. Buckley's assistant was spying on the jeweler, and suspect him of being the looter. They investigate the building where the artifacts are being hidden.

As these mysteries tend to do, things get complicated before it's revealed that Skip and the assistant have been hired by Mr. Buckley to steal a large artifact (the "she" Jerry was referencing). Once it's in Mr. Buckley's possession, it'll be impossible to prove it's not his. Maryellen and Davy are able to stop the pair just as Jerry shows up with the police: Maryellen and Davy's families were worried when they didn't show up for dinner, and Jerry realized where they probably were and that they might be in danger.

But now Maryellen and Davy, along with the artifacts, are safe. The artifacts will go in a museum. Jerry's boss promises to add a note to the display saying that she found the ring--Maryellen decided to donate it so its historical importance could be widely enjoyed.

The book closes with the dance, where Maryellen has gotten the steps down thanks to some tips from Davy.

Inside Maryellen's World

Teenagers really got their time in the spotlight during the 1950s. Instead of being kids or adults, they enjoyed a new status as an emerging demographic, which popular culture was happy to cater to. Around the same time, scuba gear debuted, allowing people to explore natural and man-made things in the ocean. Shipwrecks from centuries ago are still being discovered today, some worth millions of dollars.


This book is dedicated to Jennifer Hirsch, "confidence booster, colleague, friend."

The song "Rock Around the Clock" came out in 1955, when this book is set.

Davy talks about memorizing complicated football plays. Reminds me of my dad talking about the thick binders of plays college football players have to memorize (he was the manager of the team in college). He reasoned that if football players can learn the plays, they have the smarts to pass their classes--maybe not straight As, but passing grades.

The advent of the teenager was part of why Back to the Future is set in 1955. Not only was the idea of Marty McFly meeting his parents as teens intriguing, but it was a time made for teenagers.


Taking Off

Published in 2015; author Valerie Tripp; illustrator Julie Kolesova


Maryellen's tenth birthday is approaching, and she wants to plan something really special. Her friends offer several ideas, but the April 12, 1955 announcement of a safe and effective polio vaccine inspires Maryellen to make her party a way to spread the word and encourage people to vaccinate. She first thinks of doing a play, but isn't able to engage her audience, so lets her friends help her with doing a variety show instead. She plans to do a shortened monologue version of her play at the end, and she'll charge ten cents admission, to donate to the March of Dimes.

However, even her short version can't hold anyone's interest. It's frustrating, because Maryellen remembers how scary polio was, and really wants to be sure people know they can avoid it. During dress rehearsal, she's encouraged that finally people seem to be paying attention. Then she realizes they're actually laughing at Wayne, Davy's friend, acting out Maryellen's speech behind her. Upset that she's being upstaged when it's her idea and her birthday, Maryellen cancels the event and storms off.

It doesn't take long for Maryellen to calm down, with her sisters' help. She swallows her pride, calls her friends, including Wayne, and apologizes to everyone. Wayne must have mentioned the call to his mother, because just before the show starts, Maryellen discovers that Wayne's mother has finished the bridesmaid dress Maryellen is to wear at Joan's wedding--that is, finished it and fixed the mistakes Maryellen's mother made. The variety show goes on as planned, except for Maryellen get a terrible case of stage fright during her portion. She ends up basically standing still while Wayne ad-libs the important details. But Maryellen chooses to focus on how they raised $3.20 for vaccine research ($28.34 in 2016). She takes the money to the Post Office, and is happy to explain to the clerk what the money is for. She also gets a phone call from a doctor's office: he just had five patients come in for their polio vaccine because they saw the posters Maryellen made to advertise her show. He commissions another poster from her!

Then a phone call comes in: the mayor wants Maryellen to ride in the Memorial Day parade. She's being honored for raising the money and awareness. The mayor received letters from the postal clerk, the doctor...and Davy. She's on the news briefly, but only giving her name--no worries about stage fright there.

Soon after the parade, school winds down for the summer. Maryellen and Davy, now good friends again, sign up for a science contest. Wayne joins too. When they go to the first meeting during the last week of school, they're discouraged at how the older students dismiss them for being young, and Maryellen for being a girl (there are only two other girls in the club). But there's not much time for Maryellen to worry about that before school starts again, because her father surprises the family with the purchase of an RV. They're going to go on a road trip to Yellowstone, one last family trip before Joan gets married. Maryellen is excited to be able to look for ideas to build a flying machine, and plans to sketch every single thing she spies in the air.

During the trip, Joan is withdrawn. Her sullenness isn't explained until she and Maryellen stay at the RV to watch Scooter during a fireworks show (he's too afraid of the noises). Scooter escapes and while they search for him, Joan trips and sprains her ankle. Maryellen is able to splint the ankle and find a suitable branch to use as a crutch, thanks to the adventure shows she watches on TV. The girls find the dog and get back to the RV, and talk. Joan is excited to be getting married to Jerry, but upset at how much Mrs. Larkin is taking over the wedding. Joan and Jerry would prefer a smaller wedding, just family and close friends in the Larkins' yard. Joan also talks about how she wants to go to college and expand her horizons. Maryellen encourages Joan to talk to her mother and her fiance about her concerns.

Not long after getting back to Florida, Joan and Jerry get their wish of a smaller wedding, and work out a plan to stay in the RV, parked near a college campus. That way they won't need to worry about paying rent, freeing up money for Joan's college tuition (Jerry is going on the G. I. Bill, since he's a veteran), and freeing up space in the Larkins' driveway.

And then it's time to get back to school, and back to the science club. Maryellen, Davy, and Wayne are still ignored, and the club is a disorganized mess. When the older boys (the other girls quit over the summer) ridicule Maryellen and try to make her secretary, despite her having terrible handwriting, and shun her ideas, Maryellen remembers how her mother quit her factory job, and quits the club. In a heartwarming show of support, Davy and Wayne follow suit. When the three explain to Angela, Karen K., and Karen S. what happened, they all form their own club.

They spend some time with the leftover wedding decorations and Maryellen's sketchbook, finally coming up with an idea involving a small kite made of toothpicks and tissue paper, boosted by a series of deflating balloons. When the day of the contest arrives, Maryellen's team doesn't win, but they do beat the original club, still bickering and disorganized. The judges are impressed enough with their design that they award them the just-created creativity prize. A news reporter is on hand for the (multi-school) event, and recognizes Maryellen from the parade. She interviews her, and this time Maryellen is able to be composed and not show even a flicker of nerves. Maryellen talks about the importance of working together and listening to everyone--working together, people can make a difference.

Inside Maryellen's World

A lot was changing in the US during the 1950s. Advances in medicine and technology provided many opportunities people hadn't had in the past. But not everyone could enjoy them fully: segregation still existed (including in Florida). Bit by bit, segregation started to get chipped away. The 1954 Supreme Court decision for Brown vs. the Board of Education overturned school segregation laws, catalyzing the coming Civil Rights movement (I'll be reviewing the first Melody Ellison book in September). While things still aren't perfect, they've come a long way from "separate but equal."


This book is dedicated to Elizabeth Jane.

Jonas Salk was an amazing man. He refused to patent his vaccine to be sure the cost would stay low. After developing the polio vaccine, he found the Salk Institute and worked to create other vaccines. He died in 1995 while researching an AIDS vaccine. The institute is still active, and a great place to think of if you feel like donating to a worthy cause.

There is a good reason not to vaccinate: medical concerns. Being allergic to the vaccine, being too young for it, having a compromised immune system--these sorts of things are good reasons to avoid certain vaccines. For most people vaccines are safe and effective. Vaccinating provides not only yourself with protection against diseases that can cause brain damage, paralysis, amputation, blindness, deafness, sterility, and death; they protect those around you who can't be vaccinated, like infants or people undergoing chemotherapy.

Vaccines do not cause autism. The link was falsified. Autistic traits can be observed in babies before they ever get a vaccine. If vaccines cause autism, then they can also time travel. Even if they did cause autism, autism is better than death.

Vaccines are safe for most people (unless you're allergic to their ingredients). They are tested for years before they reach the public. Yes, vaccines put a weakened or dead virus inside you...like how regular full-strength germs come into contact with you all the time. It's better to first train your immune system with the weak or dead germs before encountering the real deal. Side effects are rare, and usually mild, like pain at the injection site or a short-lived rash. That's even accounting for the fact that things like spraining your ankle walking out of the pharmacy or doctor office after receiving a vaccine counts as an adverse effect.

Vaccines are not a money-making venture for Big Pharma or Big Insurance or Big Medicine. Most insurance plans cover them fully, and there are many low-cost clinics available. It costs far less for an insurance company or hospital to provide a vaccine than to treat a patient for diphtheria, tetanus, or pertussis (DTaP); measles, mumps, or rubella (MMR); or cancer (HPV vaccine).

Go be sure you and your loved ones are as up-to-date as possible on your vaccines.


Maryellen and the Brightest Star

Released on Youtube in 2015. Rated G.


Maryellen is thrilled to hear that a real rocket scientist, Dr. Teller, will be visiting her school. There's an essay contest, and whoever writes the best essay will get to ask him some questions in front of the whole school--and have the event broadcasted on the news!

Inspired by a comic book, Maryellen makes her own titled Astrogirl, detailing a girl's adventure from Earth to space. It's clear that she's illustrated her essay, but when she presents it in class, Mrs. Humphrey lets Wayne interrupt to declare the drawings cheating. Mrs. Humphrey won't even let Maryellen finish her first sentence, and says she'll need to discuss Maryellen's work with the principal. Due to not following directions, Maryellen's comic can't be entered in the contest. A boy from another class wins, prompting Maryellen to lament that boys win everything. Mrs. Humphrey points out how well Maryellen has been doing in science, which bodes well for excelling in physics: the first step to becoming a rocket scientist.

By the time Dr. Teller visits, the contest has changed, and now several students will each ask one question, rather than one student asking several. Naturally, Maryellen and Wayne are among the students chosen. When it's Maryellen's turn, she asks about an especially bright star she saw a few nights before. She hasn't been able to find it on any star maps. Turns out it was Mars.

The story ends on Halloween, with Maryellen going as Astrogirl...but deciding she'll put off her space flight dreams for a bit. She wants to go to space someday, but for now she wants to be near the people she loves.


Written by Maya Rudolph

This is a short film, only sixteen minutes.

Maryellen's supposed to be a good artist--the sketches on her wall aren't up to the level I was expecting.

This takes place in October 1954.

Maryellen's school is integrated; there are students of color in the same room with her.

Wayne, who is more misogynistic than just annoying like in the books, asks derisively, "Have you ever seen a girl astronaut?" No, Wayne. No one has seen an astronaut at all. This is 1954. The first person in space was Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. In 1961. The first astronaut (that is, from the US), Alan Shepard, followed a few weeks later. The first woman in space, cosmonaut Valentina Tershkova, ventured outside our atmosphere in 1963. Twenty years later, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space.

I understand that the contest had specific rules so Mrs. Humphrey couldn't let Maryellen enter...but couldn't she have let her finish her presentation in front of the class? You know, instead of humiliating her in public?

There's a scene with Maryellen, dressed as Astrogirl, and Wayne fighting. Mrs. Humphrey comes in out of nowhere and sternly tells the bickering students to come with her. As they leave, another student in the middle of the frame turns and mouths, "What?" I think she speaks for the audience--it's an odd scene.

Looks like Mars could have been visible in October of 1954. But I've seen Mars and even when it's in closer proximity than usual, it does not look like the object Maryellen saw. But at least she didn't see a satellite, because the first satellite to orbit Earth was Sputnik, in October 1957.

Maryellen Larkin-Harlie Galloway
Wayne-Francesco Galante
Mrs. Humphry-Rosa Pasquarella
Principal Carey-Patrick M. J. Finerty
Davy-Jordan Alveran
Dr. Teller-Tyrone van Tatenhove
Carolyn Larkin-Ashton Smiley
Beverly Larkin-Valentina Gordon
Tom Larken-Kaysen Steele
Jimmy-David Lansky
Classmate-Jeannine Briggs
Extras-Kennedy Fuselier, Azalea Carey, Nya-Jolie Walt, Malia Lehua, Camille Briggs, Baylie Hileman, Eduardo Castillo, Lucca Monti, Jo'ell Jackson, Kristian Ramirez, Michael Hill, Karina Monti, Tara Steele, Tancy Hileman, Azia Reed


The One and Only

Published in 2015; author Valerie Tripp; illustrator Julie Kolesova


Maryellen Larkin is a nine-year-old girl, the fourth of six children (older siblings Joan and Carolyn, younger siblings Beverly, Tom, and Mikey). She lives in Daytona Beach, on the Atlantic Coast of Florida. Her mother worked at a line manger in an aircraft factory during World War II, and now manages the household. Her father is an architect. They married during the Great Depression, and now in the booming economic times of the 1950s, want to give their children all they themselves couldn't have when they were younger.

Maryellen likes all the popular TV shows of her time, like The Lone Ranger, and enjoys pretending she's a character in them when she plays with her close friend Davy. But her oldest sister, Joan, warns her that as Maryellen gets older, boys and girls won't play together much--until they get to high school and start dating, like Joan, who's 18 and nearly engaged. Maryellen isn't convinced. She and Davy have lots of fun hanging out, and Davy's always there for her. Maryellen tries to impress her mom's old work friends by painting their front door red so it stands out, and of course the paint spills on the deck. Davy is willing to get up in the early morning and help Maryellen scrub the spilled paint away.

Standing out is important to Maryellen. She wants to be known for being Maryellen, not for being Joan's or Carolyn's sister. This gets difficult when fourth grade starts in the fall: her teacher previously taught both her older sisters, and sometimes calls Maryellen the wrong name.

But soon Maryellen has a bigger concern in fourth grade: she and Davy have a falling out, and she's become good friends with a new student, Angela. Her other friends, Karen K. and Karen S., can't believe Maryellen would befriend Angela. Why? Angela and her family just moved to Florida...from Italy. World War II is still fresh in the nation's memory. Karen S.'s uncle was even killed fighting in Italy. But Maryellen won't let prejudice stand in the way of a new friendship. Angela would have an infant at oldest when the war was ending. After some time, the two Karens realize they're being unfair by judging Angela for what her country's leaders did before any of them were born. Maryellen feels good standing up for what's right.

Soon Christmas is coming. Maryellen is a good artist, very creative. She's always the one to come up with a gift for the kids to give the parents, and often makes presents for her siblings instead of buying them--and she's good enough at handmade things that everyone likes them. But thanks to TV shows, Maryellen finds herself wishing for a different kind of Christmas than she's used to. It never snows in Daytona Beach, it's not cold enough for ice skating...her grandparents live in the mountains outside Atlanta, Georgia, where it snows. Normally they visit for Christmas, but her grandfather's recovering from an illness, so they won't be able to this year. Maryellen has an idea though: for her Christmas present, maybe she can visit them! A trip on her own to a winter wonderland. She secures permission from her parents and grandparents to spend a week at the end of December.

Maryellen takes a train to Atlanta, where her grandfather picks her up. As they drive into the mountains, Maryellen is thrilled to see snow for the first time in her life. She gets to go ice skating, pick out a real live Christmas tree from the forest, and experience an old-fashioned Christmas.

But she starts to miss her parents and siblings. A lot. Her grandparents quickly pick up on this, and, feeling energized by the visit, her grandfather suggests they all drive down to Daytona Beach to surprise Maryellen's family Christmas morning. They'll even bring the tree and some snow in a cooler--it'll keep the sandwiches cold and Maryellen's siblings can see snow.

They drive through the night, arriving shortly after Maryellen's family gets back from church. Everyone's stunned and happy to see them. Soon there's another knock on the door: Joan's boyfriend, Jerry. Earlier, Maryellen had encouraged Jerry to think about how serious he wanted his relationship with Joan to be. He comes in the house, walks over to Joan, and proposes. Before next Christmas, there will be a wedding!

Inside Maryellen's World

The 1950s saw prosperity for much of US, a nice contrast to the Depression of the 1930s and World War II in the 1940s. Many families had several children, and enjoyed giving their kids things and experiences they'd had to do without in the past. Televisions were popular in American households, depicting an idealized lifestyle (some people's version of idealized: nearly all actors were white). This lead to some pressure to "keep up with the Joneses" like Maryellen's wish for a "proper" Christmas. But, while imperfect, the 1950s were an improvement for most people.


This book is dedicated to Ellie.

This is the first time I've read the BeForever version of the main books. Overall I'm neutral on the change--there are two longer books instead of six shorter ones, but the story still follows the same basic format. Obviously that means the books look different, but they're about the height and thickness of the short story collections so that won't annoy me too much when they're on my bookshelf. (They're also a similar size to the historical character and history mysteries, and the girl of the year books, but I don't collect those or girls of many lands; just the central books, best friend books, and short story collections.) But I do miss the family portrait from the beginning of the book. 

The Larkins have an ancient dachshund, Scooter.

Mrs. Larkin was offered a permanent position at the factory after the war ended, but she thought it was unfair that most of the other women were let go, so she quit in protest. She would have had three young children, including an infant (Maryellen was born in May 7, 1945, the day before Victory in Europe Day, or V-E Day). So, three kids, a woman, 1945--she was really good at her job to be offered a permanent one.

When Mrs. Larkin's former coworkers visit, they spend the night. Juggling the rooms inspires Maryellen to suggest all four sisters share a larger room and the two boys take the smaller room--before Joan and Carolyn had that while Maryellen and Beverly roomed with the boys. Mrs. Larkin agrees to experiment for the duration of her friends' visit, and all four girls agree they like rooming together.

Maryellen is left-handed, which makes writing difficult for her. Her hand smears the writing.

Maryellen had polio in 1952, resulting in one leg being weaker than the other and cold-sensitive lungs. These almost never affect her though. One the one hand, it's great that she's determined to overcome her difficulties, on the other...if they really don't impact her, why include them in the story? There's not even a mention of it being a little tricky to balance on ice skates or getting out of breath sooner in the cold when she visits her grandparents for Christmas.

Jerry's a Korean War veteran; a member of the US Navy.

The Larkins use an artificial Christmas tree (pink!). While I prefer live trees, it makes a lot of sense to have an artificial one if you live where the weather doesn't drop below freezing. You don't want to bring in a host of surprise insects or spiders.

Maryellen needs to pay for half of her train ticket to visit her grandparents, eight dollars. That's the equivalent of almost $71 in 2016.

So...Maryellen and her grandparents drive back to Daytona Beach. What about the return train ticket? Can she get a refund?

Maryellen doesn't ask for or get a doll for Christmas, but her parents do give her a jewelry box that, when opened, shows a little figure skating on a pond.


Girl of the Year 2016: Lea and Camila

Author: Lisa Yee and Kellen Hertz
Illustrator: Sarah Davis


Because part of Camila's visit with her cousins in Chicago coincides with Lea's spring break, she's coming to St. Louis for the week. Lea, Camila, and Abby take a photography class together, and also plan to see many sights around the city.

While they're sight-seeing, Lea spots an old photograph of a young girl wearing a compass necklace like her grandmother's. The back reads, "Hallie. June 1956." Lea wants to continue investigating, but Camila's trip is going to be over soon. The urge to find out more about Hallie, who might have a connection to Ama, is hard to ignore even though Lea truly wants to be a good host. The mystery is made more intriguing by an entry in Ama's journal mentioning the necklace and a long-ago promise.

Meanwhile, Abby and Camila are becoming good friends. Lea feels a bit left out, but that's her own doing. She tries to focus on her friends, but their photography class takes a field trip to the Jewel Box, a famous garden--where it just so happens the picture of Hallie was taken. The girls figure out the even was likely her debutante ball. Lea decides to try to find mention of the ball in the city archives during a Cardinals game--Abby called and invited Camila, but not Lea because she only had one extra ticket. Lea tries to be rational, because after all she's not that into sports and Camila is only visiting briefly, but she feels left out again.

The girls sort it out, and the rest of the trip is spent seeing things Camila's interested in. As if to reward Lea's realization that she hasn't been a good host, a trip to search for a stray cat at an historic building they visited earlier reveals another clue about Hallie. While they're there, Abby spies the cat, and in trying to get it, nearly falls through a hole in the decrepit floor. Thinking quickly, Lea's able to get both her friend and the cat out of danger. Lea's parents are happy everyone's okay, but make sure they know the dangers of running around old buildings in the middle of restorations.

As Camila's visit draws to a close, she gathers her courage and goes up the Gateway Arch (yay, I was hoping she would!). She's very relieved to be back on solid ground, but also glad she did it. Camila also wants to help Lea find out more about Hallie, so she asks to visit the Missouri History Museum. With some perseverance, the three girls are able to find out that Hallie was a classmate of Ama's--and that she's still living in St. Louis. They drive over to visit, and after convincing her son to explain that Amanda Silva's granddaughter wants to visit, they meet Hallie. She's very gracious and tells the girls about her kinship with Amanda (they lost touch when Hallie's parents sent her to a boarding school) and how they bonded over a love of and desire to travel.

The weeks is about over, and the photography class ends with an exhibition of the students' work. Hallie and her son accept Lea's invitation to come. It turns out that her son is a real estate developer interested in doing a renovation--just what Lea's mom needs funding for. Hallie and Lea talk, and Hallie gives Lea her compass necklace, the one that matches Ama's.

The book closes with Camila saying her goodbyes and an email from Zac about the worsening poaching situation. He's decided to stay for a while to fight for the animals.


Dedicated to "Mary See. Thank you for always being there for me. -L. H." and "my grandmother Terry, who never let her fears stop her. Thank you for showing me what it means to live life to the fullest.  -K. H."

There's no appendix in this book.

Lea's dad's leg is healing, but not back to 100% yet.

Zac is working at a rehab clinic. Not the same one where Amanda is, though.

St. Louis schools had spring break the last week of March in 2016, not in April. Baseball season starts in April. The Cardinals played home games April 11, 13-20, 29, and 30. All those dates were during state-mandated school proficiency testing for St. Louis schools. They played three games against Milwaukee (winning 2, losing 1), three against Cincinnati (2-1), three against Chicago (1-2), and two against Washington, D.C. (plus one May 1, and lost all three). It would have been interesting if they went to the Chicago game, since Camila's cousins live there.

A good way to get rid of brain freeze is to press your tongue to the roof of your mouth.


Girl of the Year 2016 movie: Lea to the Rescue

Released on DVD in July 2012


The movie takes place a year after Lea's initial trip to Brazil. Zac is in town for a brief visit...with his girlfriend Paula (pronounced like "pow-la"). Is Zac going to stay in South American forever? Suddenly Lea's a third wheel. Even when she tries to get to know Paula, her parents butt in and end up shutting her down. In an effort to help Lea not feel left out, Zac confides in her that he's tracking some poachers. Even Paula doesn't know.

About a week later, Zac and Paula are back in Brazil, and Lea's dad is on a camping trip. Paula calls with the news that she hasn't heard from Zac in four days...and he hasn't shown up to work...and his other friends haven't seen him either...he's not even in any hospitals. Lea starts to tell her mom about the poachers--maybe they've captured Zac (or worse). But her mom is busy booking them on the next flight out to find Zac.

Mrs. Clark gets busy right away talking to different authorities, but since Zac is 20 (i.e.; not a minor) she has difficulty making headway. A sympathetic police officer is helping Mrs. Clark. She finds out some information about the night Zac went missing--a coworker called him late, but only to invite him over.

Lea is left in the care of Paula, who not only barely knows her but treats her as younger and less capable than she is. Desperate to do something, Lea finds a notebook in her brother's room with notes about the poachers. Paula is sure Zac has stopped looking for the poachers, but Lea knows better. They go looking for clues, and inadvertently tip off some people in the poaching ring that they're looking for Zac. They end up following a truck into the rain forest, where Paula's scooter gets a flat tire. Lea insists on following on foot, running off ahead, forcing Paula to follow her. But there's only just in time to see the truck finishing fording a river and driving off into the trees.

Undeterred, Lea makes a raft to float after the boat (I definitely see Paula's point here--they can't hope to catch up to the truck on foot and they're not prepared for a hike through the rain forest). They get scared by a tarantula (which aren't venomous, but could be startling) and end up trapped in a net set by a local tribe. A member of the tribe cuts them loose and they run, worried that they've stumbled across a tribe hostile to outsiders. But the girl who cut them loose, about Lea's age, knows about civilization and speaks broken English learned from some items they've found like radios. The girl, Aki, knows where the poachers are and can show Lea and Paula the way--and how to avoid her tribe's traps.

Aki's mother shows up, and Lea recognizes the symbol on her arm as the same one on her grandmother's journal. When she shows Aki's mother the journal, Lea and Paula are invited back to Aki's village for the night (Paula was able to get cell service briefly, but with all the static all that Mrs. Clark gets is that they're together for the night). And it just so happens that, in the middle of the largest country in South America, they've stumbled across the tribe that Lea's grandmother helped years ago, when many members were ill. They happily agree to help find Zac.

In the morning, Aki's tribe has tracked Zac and discovered where the poachers are taking him. Mrs. Clark and the police officer have made a little progress, and find themselves at a store which is a front for the poachers. But all they know is that Zac shopped there. As they arrive to the store, Lea and her companions have snared a poacher in a trap, and Lea calls her mom on the man's satellite phone. Mrs. Clark is so distraught with all the stress (she discovered Lea and Paula were gone, too) that she orders Lea to come back to the hotel and then hangs up (and Lea doesn't call back?). Mrs. Clark and the police officer soon get suspicious--the store owner gets a call from Zac's office (they can see the number on the cell phone display screen). The owner runs away. At the office, Mrs. Clark and the police officer demand answers, prompting the man who claimed to have invited Zac over to bolt. He's soon arrested.

Lea and Paula are back in the city, too: Aki led them to the edge of her tribe's government protected area, and they caught a ride with a tour bus. But one of the poachers spotted them and chases them through a marketplace. They're able to give him the slip, and tail him to where Zac's being held in a warehouse. Lea is able to sneak in, but soon she and Paula are also caught. They manage to escape and get to the police (same officer as the one helping Mrs. Clark) but the poachers and animals are gone by the time they get back to the warehouse. Lea looks through the pictures on her camera (Paula was smart enough to hide it from the poachers) and finds clues to where the poachers are headed. The police officer radios for backup, and the poachers are caught as they're trying to escape by sea.

Back home in St. Louis, Lea is able to have a photography show with the pictures she took on her trip--not all of them though. Aki's tribe has little contact with the outside world and wants to stay that way (which is why the tribe stays on government-protected land, and why her grandmother didn't tell the family about her adventure). The pictures and other mementos go in a briefcase. Lea can revisit her memories, but she's committed to keeping Aki's secret.


Filmed in Capetown, Western Cape; Durban, KwaZulu-Natal; and Port Edward, South Africa.

It's so hard to type Clark with no E on the end. I have a friend whose last name is Clarke.

I agree with Mr. and Mrs. Clark. If I have a dinner guest who has dietary preferences or needs (e.g.; vegetarian, someone with allergies) I want to know so I can make food the person can eat. 

The sloth Lea found has been rehabilitated and released to the wild.

Aki's bangs are distractingly stylish.

Despite being filmed in Africa, the wildlife looks pretty good. I'm not sure about the plants, though. But nothing jumps out as horribly wrong for South America.

When the police arrest the poachers, several of them have their guns drawn. Look at their index fingers: they're all resting on the side of the gun, not on the trigger. Obviously unrealistic when apprehending dangerous criminals, but a very safe way to hold a gun you don't want to fire.

There's a bit with Zac offering to finish college in St. Louis, but Lea, now fond of Paula, says he has a life in Brazil and she doesn't want to keep him from living it.

If I could pick the 2017 Girl of the Year, I'd go with a girl from somewhere like American Samoa or Guam--there hasn't been a fully Asian Girl of the Year or historical character, and someone from a territory rather than a state would be really interesting and educational (residents of American Samoa aren't even US citizens, just US nationals, which kinda sucks...).


Lea Clark-Maggie Elizabeth Jones
Carol Clark-Hallie Todd
Aki-Storm Reid
Paula Ferreira-Laysla de Oliveira
Zac Clark-Connor Dowds
Ricardo Carvalho-Sean Cameron Michael
Officer Adriano Costa-Rehane Abrahams
Rick Clark-Kevin Otto
Miguel Belo-Joe Vaz
Bruno-Peter Butler
Abby-Mokgethoa Tebeila
Aki's Mother-Aimee Valentine
Zoe-Lee Raviv
Jimmy-Ray Crosswaite
Tribal Leader-Farouk Valley-Omar
Lea's Grandmother-Karin Howard
Reporter-Julie Phillips
Felipe Mourinho-Philip Waley
Luiz-Dylan Edy
Lea's Teacher-Julie Hartley
Policeman-Pisco Maurer


Girl of the Year 2016: Lea Leads the Way

Author: Lisa Yee
Illustrator: Sarah Davis


Lea and Zac arrive at the home of Zac's host family, ready for a week in the Amazon rain forest. Zac's host parents are warm and welcoming, while his kindergarten-age host brother is (understandably) shy. Lea jumps right in to experiencing new things and loves every bit of it, aside from the family's territorial rooster who makes a point of chasing and pecking at Lea. 

But the rain forest doesn't live up to Lea's expectations. In some ways, that's good: no piranhas devour her when she falls into a river. But she's also disappointed that the wild animals are hard to see, and a little confused by how at home Zac seems. She also gets on Zac's bad side when he sees her disregard for the local flora and fauna. The first instance Zac is too harsh--Lea accidentally falls off a boat and panics when she thought an animal had grabbed. But by ten, she should know better than to ask her brother to stir up an ant nest just for fun. 

Lea settles in a little better when Zac host brother warms up to her, and when his host father takes her and Zac on a night cruise (he's a tour guide). They see several nocturnal animals, and hear even more. She and Zac are on better terms, too, after she apologizes for wanting to disturb the ant hill.  Her classmates, parents, and Camila are enjoying her travel blog, too. 

While on a hike with Zac, Lea finds an injured baby sloth. She convinces Zac to let her take it to his host family's house (they can't find any signs of the mother), and he gets in touch with one of his professors who knows about wildlife rehabilitation. They get a recommendation for a rehab center, but a blog comment from Lea's best friend Abby has her worried. Abby writes, "I can't believe you took that sloth out of her natural habitat." As the sloth, named Amanda after Lea's grandmother, seems to worsen on the way to the center, Lea's sick with worry and guilt due to the Abby's comment. 

A worker at the center confirms that Amanda needs medical attention: her broken claws are infected, and she has a broken leg. Most likely she was attacked by a harpy eagle, which likely ate the mother. Once she's healed, the center will determine whether's able to survive in the wild or will have to remain in captivity. Later, a series of back-and-forth comments clears up Abby's confusion--she didn't realize Amanda was injured and orphaned, or how much human interference already happens in the rain forest.

Too soon, Lea's week is up and it's time to go home to St. Louis. But Amanda is recovering well. Lea adopts her--she'll donate money for her care. As she gets ready to leave, Lea notices the last few pages of Ama's travel journal are blank. She starts her own entry.

Glossary of Portuguese Words

This book doesn't have any sort of appendix beyond a little Portuguese-English dictionary.


Dedicated to Kait.

Between Lea and Jess, we have two Girls of the Year visiting other parts of the Americas beyond the US (Belize in Central America and Brazil in South America).

While reports of anacondas thirty to fifty feet long exist, the longest reputable length recorded is a little over 17 feet. A $50,000 prize for a specimen thirty feet or longer has been available for decades, but no one has claimed it (snake skin isn't a good indicator of size; it can stretch significantly during the tanning process).

Mosquitoes aren't just the most dangerous animal in the Amazon, they're the most dangerous in the world. More people die each year due to mosquito-borne illness than due to animal attacks (e.g.; bears or other large predators, or large territorial animals like hippos). Malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, West Nile virus, and the lovely Zika virus, straight out of Brazil, to name a few. If I could eliminate a species, it'd be the mosquitoes that bite people (second and third choices: bedbugs and lice). There are other species of mosquito, plus gnats and so on, so birds and the like could still eat bugs.

The book notes that piranhas don't actually eat people and aren't killer eating machines. While efficient eaters, the ones that impressed President Theodore Roosevelt and lead to the image were purposely starved before his arrival so they'd go into a feeding frenzy.

I would be surprised if the moon gave enough light for Lea's camera to not need flash when she's taking a night cruise about February 4 or 5, 2016. It was almost a new moon then, so mostly visible during the day--and just a tiny sliver on top of that.

While I'm thrilled Lea got to see a river dolphin, I'm surprised that she doesn't know calf can refer to babies of animals other than cows. I know for sure I knew baby whales and dolphins are called calves by the age of eight, and also baby giraffes, elephants, and other animals.

And she doesn't know what poachers are...I guess all the painful exposition is to inform the readers about things with Lea as the audience surrogate, but I know ten-year-olds. They know these things. The information can be in a narration or a blog post.

Zac wants to help save the rain forest, and plans to continue living in the tropics.


Girls of the Year 2016: Lea Dives In

Author: Lisa Yee
Illustrator: Sarah Davis


Ten-year-old Lea Clark is excited to see her big brother again. Despite the eleven-year age difference, she and Zac have always been close. For the last year, he's been studying in Brazil (where their great-grandfather was born and raised) and now Lea and her parents are going to see him. It's not just Lea's first time out of the country, it's the first time she's been out of Missouri! She's excited to see and experience new things, armed with her camera and a compass necklace given to her by her recently-deceased grandmother Ama, who loved traveling.

While Brazil is amazing and Lea's thrilled to see Zac, the trip starts with some disappointments. Zac, who left for college three years ago and has been in Brazil for several months, doesn't seem to remember that while he's growing up, Lea is too. She's matured since they lived under the same roof (I've seen this blind spot manifest first hand with my brothers, who are ten years apart--when you don't see an eight-year-old age day-to-day, it can be hard to remember after a while that he's not a little kid anymore). And her first visit to the ocean brings back memories of nearly drowning in a lake four years ago. Lea tries to shake the fear, but after a second beach trip, resolves to hide behind her camera instead of swimming.

But it's hard when Zac treats her like she's still the same age she was when he left for college, and seems bored hanging out with her. Trying to enjoy her trip and inspired by Ama's travel journals, Lea starts a travel blog. Her underwater camera will net her great pictures, and her family is invited to watch some sea turtles hatch! Meeting a new friend, Camila, helps shake Lea's dark mood, too. Camila is very friendly and outgoing, and understanding. She even finds a quiet place for Lea to practice snorkeling with Camila's cousin, Paloma--who Zac finds quite enchanting. With Paloma's help, Lea is able to overcome her fear of the ocean.

Lea ends up helping Camila with her fear of heights: the day before they go to the rain forest, Lea, Zac, and their dad go hiking. They end up lost, and then their dad falls partway down a cliff and breaks his leg. Using the pictures Lea's been taking with her camera and the compass necklace Ama gave her, Lea and Zac get back to their hotel and take Camila and a rescue team to their dad. After he's safe, Lea and Zac talk, and get their relationship repaired, with Zac seeing that Lea isn't a little kid anymore. In fact, when Lea's parents decide going the rain forest isn't possible with her dad's cast (I can't imagine the humidity and hiking would help anything), Zac convinces them that Lea's old enough to go with just him.

Before leaving the coast, Lea spends a few last moments with Camila, who will be visiting her cousins in Chicago soon--maybe they can meet up. 

Glossary of Portuguese Words

This book doesn't have any sort of appendix beyond a little Portuguese-English dictionary.


Dedicated to Jodi, Dan, and Sara.

Zac's childhood nickname for Lea is Cricket, which she realizes she's outgrown during the book.

I have to agree with Lea's initial dislike of salt water. I far prefer swimming in lakes to oceans, in part because of fresh water is nicer to swim in (also because I get paranoid about my kids and rip tides).

Lea's grandmother left her several travel journals, which Lea reads throughout her books.

Lea's parents are both into history: her mom is an architect who restores historic buildings, and her dad is a history professor at Washington University (which is in Missouri, not Washington; we have the University of Washington, Washington State University, Central Washington University, Western Washington University, and Eastern Washington University).

Alligators don't live in South America. The two extant species live in the US and in China. South American has caimans and crocodiles (the latter only in far northern part, not in Brazil).

Camila says she has a fear of heights. I hope that in the third book, when she visits Lea in St. Louis, she fully conquers the fear with a trip up the Gateway Arch, or is able to enjoy it after the experience on the cliff--it's 630 feet tall. I got a nosebleed visiting it and jokingly blamed it on the elevation.

I once saw a friend's dad introduce himself the way Zac introduces himself: "I'm [friend's] brother. I mean son. I mean dad."

Not only do many newly-hatched sea turtles fall prey to various predators, a lot drown as they reach the ocean.

Zac gives Lea a wish bracelet, and her three wishes are to be able to swim in the ocean without fear. Camila tells her the orange of the bracelet represents courage. Lea snorkels before it falls off (which is when the wishes are supposed to be granted). It falls off some time during her dad's rescue.

At the very end of the book, Lea gives her compass necklace to the villagers collecting offerings for Yemanjá, a sea goddess. The offering is given February 2, giving a concrete date for the events of the book. (They spend a week at the beach) I can't tell if that's the right time of year for sea turtles to hatch.