Girl of the Year 2019: Blaire Cooks up a Plan

Published: 2019. Author: Jennifer Castle. Illustrator: Suzanne LaGasa


Blaire's enjoying the start of fifth grade, thinking hard about a service project (all fifth graders at her school get involved in this way). She's soon presented with a bit of a distraction: Marco Gonzalez, the host of one of her favorite shows, Room Revolutions, stopped by out of the blue to see the renovated barn, which he learned about from the magazine spread. And he ends up staying a few nights at the Wilsons' inn! He even invites Blaire and Thea (there for a sleepover) to the set of this latest project--and she gets to be on camera for part of the show (with her parents' permission)!

It isn't long before Blaire gets inspiration for her service project. It starts with donating clothes she and her brother outgrew, which is how she starts talking to Beckett's classmate Abby, about how Abby doesn't like vegetables, which gets her thinking of recipes that present vegetables in kid-friendly ways, which ends up teaching her that some families can't reliably get all the ingredients for her recipes (or food in general), which inspires her to organize her class into making healthy food kids will enjoy to donate the to food bank. But, as is common with Blaire, she doesn't quite think things through. For example, she volunteers the restaurant kitchen and ingredients from the farm without asking her parents, and doesn't know where or how to buy enough jars to keep the food in. Her parents do want Blaire to be able to see her project through, so they help her plan it out--with restrictions and limits.

Soon, Blaire has donations and a schedule sorted out. She need her classmates on board to help, though, and she's especially hoping that the new student, Eli, will cooperate. He's standoffish, but Blaire thinks that's just because he's not used to the school yet. She wants to help him feel welcomed. She's thrilled that not only is her whole class excited for her idea, but that Eli signs up to help as well. Blaire seems to have learned her lesson from the summer too; she over-commits herself one day but realizes her mistake and politely declines another commitment and is able to fully enjoy having her classmates over to harvest ingredients for the pasta sauce they're going to make a donate. Eli is there, and gets along fantastically with Beckett and Abby. The following day (Monday) Eli brings in brownies for his birthday, and quietly mentions to Blaire that they're dairy-free...and that he'll join the class that night to make the sauce. Seems he's settling in!

But when the class is busy prepping and cooking, Eli spends part of the time filming instead of helping. And he wanders by the stove where Blaire's mom is working, and as Blaire tries to get him out of the way, some of the sauce spills. Blaire is extra upset that they run out of jars before Abby can get one--if Eli hadn't been in the way, they could have had enough!

Marco reminds Blaire that even a little bit can help, and can inspire bigger things. After all, seventy-six people still got nutritious, filling, homemade food.The point really gets hammered home a few days later when Eli shows what he was filming: a video good enough to look professionally edited that ends with a call for donations to the food bank (the whole class absolutely loves it). Blaire talks things over with Eli, who reveals that his father recently died. They used to make videos together, and this is the first one Eli's made since his father got sick. It seems to have helped Eli in his grieving process. After talking and understanding each other better, Blaire and Eli are friends.

Eli's video sparks something else: Eli shares it, with the proper permissions, and donations start pouring in. The family moving into the home Marco is renovating sees it too, and wants to jump right into being part of their new community...by sponsoring a kitchen renovation at the foodbank that Marco will spearhead. Volunteers will be able to cook food there (food donations have to be from professional-level kitchens) and the food bank can offer cooking classes to help people learn efficient ways to use their food. And it all started with a chain reaction stemming from donating old clothes.


Dedicated to "my grandmother Sadye Garonzik, who showed me what it means to make a difference."

The first Blaire book was dedicated to a Sadie (and a Clea). The author has two daughters; if Sadie is one of them or another family member, I wonder if she's named for the author's grandmother.

Before Blaire donates some of her favorite-but-too-small clothes, she takes pictures of them to remember them by. That's a good solution to getting over the conflict of giving away something you enjoyed but can't use anymore.

A lot of school buses nowadays have video monitoring. Kids can report an issue to the driver (who has to pay attention to a lot of things and might not see every problem with the students) and then the video can be reviewed and appropriate disciplinary action taken.

There are a few recipes at the back of the book.


Girl of the Year 2019: Blaire

Published: 2019. Author: Jennifer Castle. Illustrator: Suzanne LaGasa


Life on the Wilsons' Pleasant View Farm in upstate New York is hectic: it's a farm-to-table restaurant and bed-and-breakfast inn that just recently began hosting weddings. But Blaire wouldn't have it any other way. She loves having people around and making them happy by providing excellent customer service and even better homemade food. What she doesn't like is her new dietary restrictions: Blaire was just diagnosed with lactose intolerance, and it's severe enough that lactaid-type pills don't work, and no amount of dairy, even in baked goods, is safe. She's definitely not used to the new precautions she had to abide by. Her best friend Thea is thoughtful enough to get Blaire a dairy-free cupcake at Thea's birthday party so Blaire isn't left out of the celebration, but Blaire feels too conspicuous eating a separate dessert and having to explain why to everyone. And her younger brother Beckett is taking Blaire's place as taste-tester for their mom's new recipes, which stings.

Blaire is grateful for things to keep herself busy so she doesn't get stuck moping. A few baby goats and helping the farm manager's boyfriend plan a surprise marriage proposal are just the ticket. And after the farm manager, Cat, says yes to her boyfriend, Gabe, there's a wedding to plan! Especially since they really want to get married in eight weeks (Cat's brother, Lorenzo, is going to deploy with the Marines, and she's always planned on Lorenzo walking her down the aisle since their father died). That means the barn needs to be ready by then--and Cat thinks hosting such a happy even as Cat's wedding will convince her maternal grandfather that hosting weddings is a good idea for the family business. Cat's like another grandchild to him.

Cat and Gabe are happy to have Blaire help with the planning, but she soon discovers she might in over her head when Gabe's mother (his father and Cat's both parents have passed away; Cat's brother is her only living family), communicating over email, assumes she's a professional, not to mention adult, event planner. Fortunately for Blaire the misunderstanding is cleared up before it gets to be too big of an issue. Still, caring for the goats and lambs and chickens, planning a wedding, renovating the barn, and being a junior bridesmaid...it's a lot for a pre-teen. Especially when Cat wants a rustic theme and her soon-to-be-mother-in-law is hoping for more fancy. But it's enough to come up with excuses to not go on her usual summer outings with her friends--the ones that have too many things she can't enjoy anymore, like ice cream.

Blaire does such a good job avoiding reminders of her lactose intolerance that she doesn't even know Thea gets the part of a dance duet at the fair (she knows Thea is dancing there, but not so big a part) and misses some of the performance responding to texts about Cat's search for a wedding dress. Thea finally lets out her frustration with Blaire, pointing out how Blaire is always searching her phone or tablet for wedding ideas while their friendship atrophies. For her part, Blaire is upset that Thea keeps bringing up Blaire's intolerance. She already knows what she can't eat, she doesn't need Thea talking about it all the time. But all that pales in comparison to the next fight...

Blaire and Cat are talking when Gabe comes in with the announcement that his mother contacted Empire State Wedding magazine and it wants to do a spread on their wedding. Blaire's parents agree it would be fantastic publicity for the wedding. But no one talked to Cat about it. Her desire for a more rustic wedding was already getting steamrolled, and now wedding reporters will be judging her wedding? She declares she and Gabe are on a break--and the wedding is off.

It's time for some disaster control. Blaire talks with her grandfather, who encourages her to go discuss the fight with Thea--in person, not over text. They make up, and quickly write up a fake play script that they insist Cat and Gabe help them with. As the two adults humor them and read the lines, they soften a bit and make up. The wedding's back on--with Cat and Gabe in charge of how it will go, and just one reporter from the magazine (Cat and Gabe's way of saying thank you to Blaire's parents for hosting the wedding). Gabe's mother is still eager to help, and finds a way to do so without making it her vision of a wedding. And Blaire even gets back into cooking again. She still can't eat everything on the menu, but there are things she can eat, and it's nice to not feel sick now that she avoid dairy. Plus, she can still be happy that the wedding guests will enjoy what she's made. Soon, it's the big day. There's a slight hiccup when some chickens get into the barn just before the reception, but Blaire thinks quickly, grabbing Beckett's bowtie and a bit of tulle from her bouquet, and dresses to chickens as a bride and groom. The magazine reporter loves it--fantastic publicity. The wedding goes perfectly.


Dedicated to "Sadie and Clea, who make every day delicious."

I wish the book had started a month or so earlier, with Blaire discovering her lactose intolerance. Would have been interesting to see that in "real time" with the testing and diagnosis. Although that would probably work better with a dietary restriction that doesn't have so many gastrointestinal issues...hives or something would be more reader-friendly!

Before asking someone to marry you, you really should have discussed the idea together first. Marriage sort of requires cooperation from everyone who's going to be involved in it, after all. It's best if the question itself isn't a surprise, just details like the time and place.

It's brief, but there's a good bit about online safety and privacy issues. Good message for the intended age group for this book.

From the description, it sounds like Blaire and Gabe's mom use Pinterest to organize their wedding plans.

There are screenshot-type images of text chats with Blaire and her friends. It is so weird to see emojis in an American Girl book! Obviously it makes sense with this being set in present times, but since I more often read the books set decades or centuries ago...

Some people with lactose intolerance can safely consume goat's milk. Blaire might not be able to do so, and her goat is male, but I'm surprised the idea isn't mentioned.


Kristy's Big Day (GN#6)

Original Publication Date: 2018

Ghostwriter? No, the text copyright is for Ann M. Martin.

Illustrator: Gale Galligan


Not a ton of difference between this and the original version. There is a mention that Watson's parents are very religious and he doesn't want to upset them, so moving in together before being married isn't an option. "Morbidda Destiny" shows up a bit later, and Dawn is the one who stops Karen from yelling about magics clashing, and Karen briefly treats her neighbor like a human being.

Established or continued in this book:

The Girls (and Logan):

Claudia candy: She searches for Ring Dings but can't find them

Their Families:

Watson's house

Nannie and her Pink Clinker

Watson's parents seem uncomfortable with talk of magic as well as living together before marriage (although Elizabeth and Watson could have stayed in separate rooms!)

The Brewer/Watson family

The Club (and clients):

Six-member club


End-of-the-year school dance

PSA Time:

Walkers are not recommended by the American Pediatric Association--too big a risk of falls.


Galligan dedicates this to "Max, William, Durinn, Nate, and Lily. And for Patrick, who is much older than these cool babies, but still manages to have a good time."

The wedding

Karen causing a scene

Kristy's wedding present to her mother and Watson


Dawn and the Impossible Three (GN#5)

Original Publication Date: 2017

Ghostwriter? No, the text copyright is for Ann M. Martin.

Illustrator: Gale Galligan (praise for Galligan's work from previous illustrator Raina Telgemeier is prominently displayed on the cover)


The plot is almost exactly like the original version of Dawn and the Impossible Three, but includes parts of Hello, Mallory in the form of Mallory joining as a junior member (Jessi is not in the graphic novel),

Established or continued in this book:

The Girls (and Logan):

Claudia candy: Gummi worms

Mary Anne's redecorated room (in chocolate brown and green instead of navy and yellow)

Their Families:

Scatter-brained Sharon

Dawn and Jeff eating their organic pizza (Dawn specifically asks Jeff if he wants "organic pizza")

The Bizzer Sign

Dawn's grandparents seeing Richard for the first time in years

The Club (and clients):

Five-member club

Mallory describes how Nicky broke his finger

Mallory's first meeting and the infamous test. She stands up for herself better here.

Mallory saving Marnie from the chocolate brownie

Mallory joins as a junior member

The Barretts' house before Dawn

The Puddle Walk (I've always loved this idea)


SMS lunchroom (Dawn, Mary Anne, and Kristy are eating with the Shillaber twins)

PSA Time:

Yay, Dawn's wearing a helmet! I know they were less the norm when the books were published (thirty years ago!) but with an uncle who's not only into outdoor sports but also an ER doctor, I'm glad Galligan put this detail in.


Martin dedicates this book to her aunt Dot. Galligan gives "eternal thanks to Mom, Dad, Lori, AMM, Raina Telgemeier, Cassandra Pelham, David Saylor, David Leviathan, Phil Falco, Sheila Marie Everett, Braden Lamb, John Green, Dave Roman, Rachel Young, Ngozi Ukazu, Dave Valeza, and all my beloved friends, family, and grads. [line break] And to Patrick, who gets his very own line because he is my favorite boy."

I really hope the release of this and Kristy's Big Day means we'll get at least the first ten books as graphic novels. I'd love to see The Ghost at Dawn's House in this format. Maybe some of the more memorable books or Super Specials so we can see Jessi, Logan, Shannon, and Abby!


The Show Stopper

Published in 2018; author Mary Casanova; illustrators Julie Kolesova and Kirsty Pargeter


Using her charm and self-confidence and a connection provided by her older cousin Michael, Rebecca is able to get herself and her cousin Ana a gig working at a Broadway theater--sort of. They play the parts of farm workers at a themed restaurant that holds dinner theater. But Rebecca's thrilled with this because she ends up being tasked with taking a daily glass of fresh milk to Olivia "Ollie" Barry, an up and coming actress (who Rebecca's boss thinks is a diva).

During rehearsals, Ollie starts finding herself in untenable situations. It really seems like someone is out to at least sabotage her career, if not actually hurt her.  Rebecca and Ana are able to investigate pretty well, having access to a lot of behind-the-scenes areas. Who could it be? Rebecca and Ana's boss, who seems jealous of Ollie not only for her stardom but for dating her ex? The play's director, who's always short with her? For a while, Rebecca and Ana are even suspects, when Ollie is given milk tainted with rat poison.

After a few false leads and some lucky breaks, Rebecca realizes the real culprit: Mr. O'Hara, the set painter Michael was hired to help. He's known Ollie for years, and knows her secret. They're both Irish immigrants, but Ollie has worked hard to suppress her accent to avoid the prejudice so many in the 1920s have against the Irish. O'Hara wants to keep Ollie from catching too big of a break, believing that if she remembers her roots she'll fall in love with him. Never mind that she's already in a serious relationship! Still perfectly fine to endanger her because you pine for her. (sarcasm)


Dedicated to "Lucia and all who love the stage."

I like that the book touches on Rebecca and Ana feeling conflicted over working on the Sabbath, especially because their Sabbath is different from the majority's (Saturday vs Sunday). There's discussion of the religious observance vs practicality. Rebecca's father keeps his shoe store open on Saturdays because he can't afford to lose the business he'll do that day.

In a book about racial, ethnic, and national stereotypes, I was a little disappointed to see the main Irish character drinking on the job, and the Jewish theater owner being stingy.

The theater owner's last name is Hammerstein. A reference to Rodgers and Hammerstein?


Girl of the Year 2018: Luciana out of This World

Published: 2018. Author: Erin Teagan. Illustrator: Suzanne LaGasa


Luci is excited to be able to visit her cousins in Chile, and introduce them to her new sister Izzy. She can hardly wait to settle into her old routines with her extended family. But when she arrives, she finds that her cousins have bonded more with each other and are too busy for their usual antics. They don't cut her out completely, but they have their own private jokes that she doesn't get because she lives so far away, and one evening they're all going to spend the night at a friend's house without her; that sort of thing. So when Claire shows up with an opportunity to spend 36 hours in the Atacama Desert observing real astronaut training, Luci decides to go. She's still not quite sold on Claire's trustworthiness, but she figures seeing her dream job in person instead of feeling ignored by her cousins is worth the risk.

The astronaut training is incredible. But Luci is still a pre-teen, and when she impulsively tries to help with some samples, she accidentally contaminates them. The astronauts have to head back out to the sample site again, leaving Luci and Claire on their own in the desert habitat (because, as so often happens, Claire's father had to leave to attend to business). Luci is still trying to make the best of things (the astronauts-in-training were very understanding), but Claire is in a funk, missing her dad.

Suddenly, none of that seems important. There's a huge earthquake. Luci ends up trapped under a piece of furniture. Claire helps her out, but has a head wound herself. And there's a fire in part of the habitat. The girls are able to put it out and keep themselves safe during the hours it takes for the astronauts-in-training and Claire's father to return.

Claire and her father take Luci home before heading to a hospital to get Claire evaluated (at one point Luci had a hurt arm but that kinda just...doesn't go anywhere). Luci learns that her grandmother's house, so full of memories, is damaged beyond repair. In talking with one of her cousins about how to help their grandmother, Luci realizes she never bothered to ask her cousins what was happening in their lives. She was too busy talking about her own. That's why she felt left out. Working together, the cousins set up a family party with sentimental things from their grandmother's house, creating new memories together.


Dedicated to Kaelyn, Olivia, Kaia, and Addison.

Luci is awakened by doves cooing. When I lived in Honolulu, zebra doves were the first thing I heard every morning.

Luci and Izzy are bilingual, speaking Spanish at home and English in public.

Head wounds always bleed a lot because of how many blood vessels are in the head. While you should get big cuts looked at, it might not be as bad as it looks.

It's perfectly fine, and even recommended, to sleep if you're concussed. Provided you can hold a conversation and have no other neurological symptoms like sudden trouble walking or dilated pupils, it's not dangerous to sleep. You need cognitive rest as well as physical rest too; don't strain your brain. (Of course, seek medical attention when you can.)

It might be too late for Claire to get stitches. You typically have six to eight hours after an injury. Some injuries that need further treatment can get stitches up to 24 hours later.

Chile had an 8.8 earthquake for real, in 2010. More than 500 people died.

The strongest earthquake ever recorded was in Chile. May 22, 1960, southern Chile was hit with a 9.5 earthquake.


Girl of the Year 2018: Luciana Braving the Deep

Published: 2018. Author: Erin Teagan. Illustrator: Suzanne LaGasa


Luci is about to embark on another adventure. She and Ella are two of six kids selected for a youth astronaut training camp on the Atlantic coast. Like the last time she was preparing for being the first girl on Mars, her sister Izzy will be dealing with her own things. Izzy will be undergoing heart surgery to correct her birth defect. Luci's parents promise to keep her posted while she's away at her once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

At the camp, Luci and Ella learn that the six kids will be competing to see which three of them will spend time in an underwater habitat known as Cetus. They will need to show that they can perform certain tasks and demonstrate that they can safely dive and work with scuba gear. Luci is sure that one participant, Claire, will be a shoe-in. Her father is a famous entrepreneur, and has done work to help astronauts on the International Space Station. Claire tells Luci how she's gone with her father to various exotic locations and been able to try many skills most people never have a chance to. Luci is impressed, and Ella is even a bit star-struck.

The veneer wears off quickly for Luci. She notices holes in Claire's stories, like how she'll say "I did X! Well, almost. I got to see someone else do it." Ella is having trouble with part of the swimming skills test, and Claire offers to help her improve. But when Claire is timing Ella (she has to tread water for a set time), Claire drops the stopwatch, invalidating the time. Luci thinks it was on purpose, to knock Ella out of the competition. Ella thinks Luci didn't learn her lesson about being suspicious from Space Camp, but Luci just can't shake the feeling that something's wrong. During another skills test, Claire leaves Luci stranded underwater. Luci is able to get out, but she could have drowned. She's understandably scared and mad. Claire tries to play it off as an accident (which was a bad enough mistake), but she soon admits she was so wrapped up thinking only of herself that she was able to justify her decision. She also admits to dropping the stopwatch on purpose.

The camp directors take Claire out of the running for Cetus, but don't send her home. For one, they want everyone to learn about teamwork when you can't just leave, like in space. And also...Claire's dad is away and no one else can pick her up. Claire does apologize, but no one blames the other kids for being a bit distant from her. In the end, Luci and Ella are chosen to go down to Cetus along with a boy named Thomas. As she enters the airlock below the water, Luci ends up having a panic attack. Claire redeems herself some by talking her through it (over a radio). Luci is able to complete the underwater mission, learning while she's down there that Izzy's surgery was a success.


Dedicated to Meredith, Mikaela, Sofia, and Molly.

Claire's father, Lance Jacobs, seems to be an expy of Elon Musk, at least in terms of innovation. I don't know enough about his personal life to know how he might be as a father. Lance Jacobs is usually too busy to spend time with her daughter, and since Claire's mother is dead, she gets shuttled off to nannies and camps a lot.

I wish there had been more about Luci and her family getting to know Izzy after the adoption.

Here is a website for spotting the International Space Station: NASA.


Girl of the Year 2018: Luciana

Published: 2018. Author: Erin Teagan. Illustrator: Suzanne LaGasa


Eleven-year-old Luciana "Luci" Vega is a girl with a mission: she wants to be the first girl on Mars ("girl" specifically, not woman or person). She's just won a scholarship to Space Camp, and couldn't be more excited. She's intimidated at first, because several of her camp mates know each other well--they're members of the same extended family. They also did the preparatory reading and some have been to camp before, so they have a better idea of what to expect than Luci does.

But Luci catches on quickly, determined to get the most out of her experience. She settles in nicely, aside from rubbing one girl, Ella, the wrong way. Ella gets called out by her cousins for being too much of a stickler. However, when Luci is made leader of a team and seriously screws up (she suspects another team of sabotage and ends up disqualifying her team), she has to admit Ella may have had a point about thinking things through and not being impulsive. Luci rallies her team, which ends up still creating a submission that would have done well in the competition, and helping the team that she suspected of sabotage. Her team gets recognition for creativity and for accepting responsibility and making amends.

In Luci's defense, she has reason to be distracted. Her parents are working to adopt a toddler from their home country of Chile, Isadora. While Luci's at Space Camp, Izzy goes missing from the orphanage. Luci's grandmother in Chile is able to locate her--in a hospital being evaluated for a heart defect. Things get pretty tense with Luci and her parents not knowing the severity of the defect or the toddler's prognosis. But as Space Camp draws to a close, they learn that Izzy's heart defect is serious, but not so much that they can't continue with the adoption. Luci is a big sister!


Dedicated to Jaeda.

Luci and her family live in Virginia. Space Camp is in Houston, TX.

Luci and her best friend Raelyn were playing with hair dye and put a purple streak in Luci's hair. She says that her parents don't mind her creativity, but prefer "less permanent" changes. Granted, I don't do much with hair dye, but how permanent is purple in  dark brown or black hair? It would be pretty simply to get it dark again, right? The hair itself might be damaged from the bleaching required for the purple to show up, but a streak of purple doesn't seem that big of a deal to me. Then again, her parents don't care that much so I'm probably overthinking this.

Speaking of Raelyn, she's not really present in any of Luci's books, since they all take place away from her home.

Luci gets to sample some dehydrated astronaut food. I remember getting it at the Seattle Science Center. The ice cream was good; the scrambled eggs were awful.

There are a lot of good charities for children with heart conditions. One I especially like is Little Hats Big Hearts, which distributes hats to newborns to help people learn about the signs and impacts of congenital heart defects.