7/31/14

Lost in the City

Published in 2013; author Kathleen O'Dell; illustrator Sergio Giovine

Plot

Julie's best friend Ivy has a new pet: her uncle's fiancee doesn't want to live with a bird, so he's given Ivy's family his African grey parrot, Lucy. Lucy is very smart (African greys are often estimate to have the intelligence of a three-year-old) and seems to connect with Julie. Ivy's uncle is so impressed that he says Julie should pet-sit while Ivy and her family are away the coming week for his wedding. But when Julie goes over to feed Lucy--and Ivy's cats, obviously kept separate--the next day, Lucy seems withdrawn and sad, not the energetic bird Julie held the day before. Julie's aunt Maia came for dinner last night and was talking about how Julie's pet rabbit Nutmeg would be happier litterbox-trained and hopping around the house...maybe Lucy's feeling cooped up? When she goes over again later in the day, Julie invites over her and Ivy's friend Gordon, who's just moved in down the street (they all went to the same school earlier, though). Lucy seems to perk right up when she sees Gordon, who met the bird at the same time Julie did. Maybe Lucy was fond of Gordon, not Julie. Julie's ego is a little bruised by this, but she's happy that the bird and Gordon, who seems so down lately, are in better spirits.

But there was one strange thing: the sheet that supposed to be over Lucy's cage at night was draped over it. Julie knows she took it off and didn't replace it. Someone else put the sheet on. An older couple, the Shackleys, are staying on the bottom floor of Ivy's house while Mrs. Shackley recovers from surgery. Mr. Shackley is sort of grumpy, complaining about noise a lot. Maybe he put the sheet over the cage to quiet the bird? And the next day, the cats--meant to be indoor cats and not in the same room as the bird--are on the fire escape outside the window in the bird's room. Someone was definitely here--and Lucy is gone! Bravely, Julie calls Ivy to tell her the bad news, but her uncle is gone. He's left a note for his bride, saying she's asking him to make too many sacrifices (i.e.; giving up the bird he's had for about half his life). Julie thinks maybe the uncle came back, came in through the fire escape thus leaving the window open (he doesn't have a key), and took Lucy. Since she can't be sure, Julie puts up missing pet posters and calls the Humane Society animal shelter to see if Lucy is there. 

Julie and Gordon spend the day (it's spring break) looking for Lucy and putting up posters. While they're out, Gordon reveals that his parents are divorcing, and he gets caught in the middle of their arguments a lot. That's why he hasn't been his usual upbeat self. Then, as they're walking, they notice that someone's torn down all the lost pet posters they just put up! For a moment, Julie wonders if Ivy's uncle has reclaimed the parrot and took down the signs to avoid people looking for Lucy, but it turns out he's back for the wedding and his intended has agreed that he shouldn't have to give up his bird. Back at Ivy's, Mr. Shackley readily admits to putting the sheet over Lucy's cage, but that's all he's done. Julie's starting to wonder if Lucy was stolen--African greys that can talk are pretty valuable. And Gordon's got that fancy new jacket that his mom didn't buy (it's so obvious that his dad bought it for him, not caring that his mom thought Gordon should earn it for himself). Julie pokes around Ivy's house to see if Gordon could have some in through the fire escape, and Mr. Shackley, apologetic over how crabby he's been, gives her a hand. Whatever happened, the Shackleys weren't behind it; Julie's sure of that

Julie's able to cross some other suspects off her list. Her aunt, who's been visiting, doesn't like animals kept as pets but knows that one dependent on humans for food and attention wouldn't survive in the wild. Gordon's mother, who Julie finds out took down the lost pet posters, was only removing them because posters aren't allowed in their neighborhood, plus she hand-delivered them to the houses instead. So that leaves Gordon, or some sort of professional bird thief. 

The next day, Julie and her aunt go to nearby pet stores to see if anyone's hawked a parrot (sorry). At one store, Julie hears Lucy! The owner blocks Julie's path, sternly telling her the bird isn't for sale. Julie protests she knows the bird, and lists off several facts about Lucy to prove it. It comes out that Lucy was brought in by a fruit vendor, complaining that one of the store's birds escaped and was eating his fruit. Just then Gordon and his mother show up, also looking for Lucy. Together they all figure out that Lucy is an escape artist, and had flown out the window that Ivy's cats know how to open when Gordon accidentally left the door to Lucy's room open. Oh, and OF COURSE Gordon's dad bought him the coat. His mom promises to communicate better with his dad and not put him in the middle of their fights. And so Lucy is back where she's supposed to be, Ivy and her family return from the wedding, and everything works out.


Looking Back

The historical section bounces around a bit, talking about how a law passed in 1992 forbids the selling of wild-born birds as pets, warning that while parrots and macaws are intelligent and beautiful they can live half a century or more so be really sure you want one for a pet, how animal rights and animal rescue groups started up or grew bigger in Julie's time, about a flock of parrots that escaped and still live wild in San Francisco, and how concern about animal welfare spurred more people to adopt a vegetarian diet.


Misc

This book is dedicated to "Elizabeth A. with gratitude."

Hmm, maybe we should set Gordon up with Stacey from the Baby-sitters Club.

Julie listens to the song "Dancing Queen" by ABBA, which she says is the number one song on the pop charts. The song was released in August 1976, and is the only song by ABBA to get the top spot on the Billboard Top 100, a few months after its debut. So this books takes place in early April 1977.

I'm glad that Julie's aunt makes a point of having a good protein source in her vegetarian meal. Especially for kids who are still growing, like Julie, protein is important (younger kids need more fat too, for things like brain growth, so be aware of that if your kids eat a vegetarian or vegan diet).

The parrots in San Francisco are far from the only feral parrot populations in the US, or the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feral_parrots.

I'm very happy the Looking Back part mentioned how long some birds can live. Sometimes species live for seventy years. It's not uncommon for larger birds to outlive their owners, so the owners will often specify new owners in their wills. Sometimes I think I should have bought a parrot ten years ago in case one of my kids were to want one.

Some of the public schools near me are considering starting "Meatless Monday" programs. While I like the idea of encouraging kids to eat healthy and explore new foods, Meatless Monday rubs me the wrong way. In the first place, I don't think food choices should be forced (the public schools do have vegetarian options every day, admittedly I'm not sure what they are as I went to private school). Secondly, I already don't eat meat on Fridays, following the Catholic tradition (parentheses again: Catholics are encouraged to give up something on Fridays in remembrance of the Crucifixion, and meat--Latin carne which doesn't include fish although I sometimes skip that too--is the recommended choice). Meatless Monday strikes me as co-opting that idea. However, I can see that they're trying to encourage something good, so there's that

I have no desire to buy any of the mysteries, so I got this book from my library. There's a piece of paper inside from the last person to check it out. Someone named Sarah got it from the Duvall library (I use a different location but put the book on hold so it was transferred to my library) on February 12 of this year. It was due March 12. The paper is between chapters two and three; I hope Sarah had a chance to finish the book!

7/28/14

The Silver Guitar

Published in 2011; author Kathryn Reiss; illustrator Jean-Paul Tibbles

Plot

Mr. and Mrs. Vernon, who own the apartment building in which Julie and her mother and sister live, are holding a series of auctions to raise money for different causes. One big auction coming up is to help clean up a nearby oil spill. Tracy's high school is also raising money by holding a car wash, and Julie leads her class in making a big patchwork quilt for the auction, with each student making an ocean-themed quilt square. The Vernons will actually be out of town for a bit before the auction, and T. J. is hired to feed their spoiled cat while they're away. Mr. Vernon likes to collect things, much to the chagrin of his nagging wife (really, she's not very sympathetic, she just whines a lot until the last chapter). Among his collections is a set of guitars owned by famous people. A fancy silver-colored one happens to have been owned by the late Danny Kendricks, who seems to a fictional homage to Jimi Hendrix--similar name, accomplished musician, very popular, died too young, and even left-handed. Kendricks was T. J.'s favorite guitarist before the artist's untimely death the year before. He can't help but hold the guitar for a moment while he's feeding the cat, and of course he promptly drops it and cracks it. To make matters worse, Mrs. Vernon had needled Mr. Vernon enough that he'd agreed to sell the guitar at the auction.

Desperate, T. J. hides the guitar in the empty apartment above Julie's while he attempts to fix it. She finds him one afternoon, investigated the strange noises she's been hearing. But T. J. has only been in the apartment during the day, and Julie heard noises at midnight...who or what else has been there? Putting that mystery aside for the time being, Julie reminds T. J. that there's a guitar shop a few blocks away. They take the guitar there rather than risk damaging it further trying to repair it themselves. But the manager informs them that while the guitar can be fixed, it's a fake, and not a very good fake either. So, on the one hand, T. J. didn't break an irreplaceable instrument, but on the other hand, what happened to the real one? 

Then there's all the contrived bits and red herrings and obvious false leads that make me dislike so many mysteries written for kids. Is it the Vernon's lazy nephew, their housekeeper who lied about her mother being the hospital, the kid from the guitar shop who seems to be following them, the people who used to live in the apartment above Julie, the Vernons' nosy neighbor, or someone else? A few chapters of this back-and-forth later, Julie and T. J. find themselves lured into a shed on the Vernons' property. The kid from the guitar shop who had been following them was told he'd be paid $50 to get Julie and T. J. in the shed, by an older couple claiming to be their grandparents. Julie and T. J. manage to sneak out in time to "welcome" the Vernons home. They quickly tell them the strange things that have been happening, and in a flash of insight, Julie realizes the couple who used to live upstairs from her are the ones who were going to be posing as the grandparents. 

They were at the last auction, photographing Mr. Vernon's collections, and have been hanging around their old neighborhood. Since their lease on the apartment isn't up until the end of the month, they still have a key, and must have been making the noises Julie heard late at night. It turns out they've pulled this scam before, photographing expensive items for insurance purposes or auction catalogs, finding or making fakes (ah, that's why they were such good customers of Gladrags!), and returning to photograph with "better light" or some other excuse while they replaced the real items with forgeries. Then they sold the valuable pieces abroad. Thanks to Julie and T. J., they were stopped by the police before they fled the country, and the Vernons recovered their things. Other loose ends: the nephew's new girlfriend inspires him to get a job as a paramedic, the housekeeper was actually at an audition that didn't pan out, the neighbor is just nosy, and the kid apologizes for being duped by the con artists.

The auction is a huge success, with some handbags made by Julie's mother, the quilt, and the real Kendricks guitar fetching top dollar.


Looking Back

In the 1960s and 70s, benefit concerts became popular. People would use music to spread awareness and raise money for various causes, from cleaning up environmental disasters to funding after-school programs. People were inspired to do their part and work together to make the world a better place. holding other fundraisers like auctions.


Misc

This book is dedicated to "my daughter Isabel, whose stumble on the stairs sparked the idea for this story. Every cloud has a silver lining!"

T. J. is left-handed.

I don't frankly understand why the Kendricks guitar was going to be sold anyway. Mr. Vernon is very attached to it, having actually known its former owner. He could have picked a different item from one of his collections to sell, one that wasn't so special to him.

When Julie first hears about the oil spill, she's angry at the captain for being so careless. Later she finds out that had some sort of medical emergency, like a heart attack, which caused the boat to veer off course at just the wrong moment and hit rocks. Good, I'm glad the captain wasn't some strawman villain out of Captain Planet. Julie, Tracy, and their mom also talk about how oil is used to power so many things, and how placing restrictions on oil (like Julie's initial suggestion that it shouldn't be allowed on ships) would have a staggering impact on a lot of people. Alternative energy sources are a great thing to work for, but they're not going to available overnight.

7/25/14

The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter

Published in 2010; author Kathryn Reiss; illustrator Jean-Paul Tibbles

Plot

Julie is going through some donations for Gladrags when she finds an old note written in what looks like Chinese. She shows it to Ivy when she sees her next, at Ivy's grandparents' restaurant. Ivy translates the note, but it doesn't make sense. It's just a list of random things. Her Chinese school teacher is also eating there, and Ivy asks her to look at it. The teacher is pleased with Ivy's studying. She's translated the note correctly. She suggests Ivy take the note to her grandparents who can explain why someone would carry a list like this. Ivy's grandmother not only knows why, but the list is hers. It was written by her mother, Ivy's great-grandmother, as a study guide for when Ivy's grandmother would arrive in California. Ivy's great-grandfather had been living and working in San Francisco for some time already, and sent for his wife and daughter. His wife was too ill to travel and died soon after, but she sent the list along knowing that all Chinese immigrants would be subjected to grueling interviews to prove they were who they claimed. Ivy's grandmother had lost the note almost immediately, not realizing it had slide into the lining of her coat, which she then donated all those years later.

One girl traveling with Ivy's grandmother was Mei Meng, an orphan who was posing as the daughter of a couple already in the United States (a daughter only on paper; a "paper daughter"). Mei had her own study guide, but it was much more important for her. She had to convince the immigration officials she was the couple's daughter or she'd have to go back to China. Ivy's grandmother passed her interview and was able to leave the immigration station (an unpleasant place approaching the atmosphere of a jail) after about five weeks. Excited though she was to see her father, now her only living parent, she was sad to leave Mei. Mei did pass her interview a couple weeks later, but Ivy's grandmother lost touch with her and only heard that she'd passed after a few years, from a mutual acquaintance. 

Julie and Ivy spend the night with Ivy's grandparents after dinner, but as they head up from the restaurant to the apartment, they see that someone's broken in. The police are quickly summoned, but all that's missing are Julie's and Ivy's dolls. The next morning Julie finds Ivy's doll in the dumpster when the girls take a bag of trash out...and the doll's head is ripped off. Julie remembers part of the note, about how important Ivy's grandmother's doll was to her. But that had confused Ivy's grandmother; she was fifteen and while the doll was nostalgic, it wasn't particularly special and she ended up giving her doll to Mei while waiting for her interview. Is there some connection, or is it a coincidence? And where is Julie's doll?

Talking things over with Ivy, Julie's convinced that the odd parts of the note were actually a code, meant to tell Ivy's grandmother something important about the doll. Someone in the restaurant must have cracked the code, and mistaken Julie's and Ivy's dolls for the other one. The girls start looking for more clues. They find Julie's doll in an alley, with its head popped off too, and learn some more about the awful way Chinese immigrants were treated. They decide to try to find Mei, who might still have the doll. They conclude, after looking through some of Ivy's grandmother's correspondence and a visit to Angel Island, that a valuable necklace which Ivy's grandmother was supposed to bring to the US but was never given must have been hidden inside her doll (can I brag about figuring that out about a hundred pages before Julie and Ivy, even though this book is meant for eight- and nine-year-olds and I'll be thirty in November?). They spend an afternoon at the library looking through newspapers on microfiche and find Mei's wedding announcement and the announcement of the birth of her son (she sent Ivy's grandmother a Christmas card about forty years prior and mentioned the names of her husband and child), then poring over a phone book. After some awkward phone calls, they find Mei's son! Mei and Ivy's grandmother are able to reunite.

Something interesting happens though: Ivy and Julie accompany Ivy's grandparents to the meeting, and Mei's son stops by Mei's house on the way to the convalescent home where Mei is recovering from an injury (Mei is now widowed). They happen upon a burglar going through Mei's doll collection! The burglar is scared off, and they continue to the convalescent home to call the police, as service at Mei's is temporarily disconnected. There, Julie and Ivy finally divulge their suspicions about the doll and the necklace, and Mei reveals that she has that doll with her, for good luck. Carefully, they snip some threads around the seams of the rag doll, and sure enough, there's the necklace. Ivy's grandparents insist they sell it and split the proceeds with Mei when Mei tries to return the necklace to them. After all, she kept it safe for decades.

So that's settled, but who was looking for the doll? In a contrived way, Julie and Ivy realize that a boy in Ivy's Chinese school, who was at the restaurant that night, overheard about the note and figured out there was something valuable inside the doll. But he didn't know which doll to look for, so he just grabbed the nearest ones he could find: Julie's and Ivy's, in the unlocked apartment above the restaurant. Later he'd overheard about the meeting with Mei, and slipped into her house through an unlocked window. He even accidentally confesses ("But I locked the door!" "Well, not the window--oops."). So...mystery solved!

There's also a subplot about Julie and Tracy having to share a room because a friend of their mother's will be staying with them for a month or two after she moves to San Francisco. The friend shows up in the last couple pages of the book, after Julie's been internally annoyed at having her life disrupted again but then grown to accept and even be excited about welcoming someone to a new place.


Looking Back

The historical section is similar to the one in Good Luck, Ivy!, talking about Chinese immigrants to California, but goes more in the racism they experienced. For example, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 allowed only upper-class people to immigrate from China to the United States. It wasn't repealed until the 1940s, and 1965 finally saw legislation that explicitly stated anyone from China was welcome. Some children of poorer Chinese families would pose as members of families allowed to immigrate, memorizing various facts about their supposed upbringing in anticipation of drawn-out questioning. Those who could immigrate from China came to California through Angel Island, where they might be held for weeks with officials combing over their paperwork and stories, looking for inconsistencies that would cause them to be deported back to China. While waiting, some would pass the time carving poetry into the walls of the barracks, which were discovered when Angel Island became a state park in the 1970s. More than two hundred poignant verses were preserved, and visitors to the island can see them today as they learn about the history of the place.


Misc

This book is dedicated to "Anna-Kristina Moseidjord, a very good writer and a very special friend--with love."

Tracy's "translation" of the Chinese letter as trite fortune-cookie sayings seems sort of racist for someone whose sister's best friend is of Chinese descent.

Having a guest stay for an undetermined length of time...ugh. I hate not knowing how long company will be staying. Stay for a month, fine. JUST TELL ME IT WILL BE A MONTH SO I KNOW AHEAD OF TIME.

Julie sleeps with her doll in her bed every night. Although when Ivy gave it to Julie, the doll came with a name; here it says Julie picked out the name.

7/22/14

The Tangled Web

Published in 2009; author Kathryn Rice; illustrator Jean-Paul Tibbles

Plot

Julie's excited to get to know the new girl, Carla Warner. She's very friendly and gets along with Julie's friends T. J. and Joy, and Julie enjoys hearing about her large family (three girls and three boys, one of the latter her twin!). She even lives in one of San Francisco's famous Painted Ladies, the colorful houses often seen in photographs. Her life sounds exotic, full of fun and family.

But some things don't add up. The names she gives for some siblings are conveniently one' she could have read right then (Nancy when a Nancy Drew book is nearby, Debbie when T. J.'s eating a Little Debbie snack cake) and she seems to confuse the names of others. Then Tracy tells Julie that she tried to look up the private school that Carla's twin brother and high school brother attend (she wants to meet the older one), but there's not one by that name in the whole Bay Area. Julie asks Carla about it, figuring she'd misheard the name, but Carla's weirdly evasive. 

While this mystery is going on, Julie, Tracy, and their mother are planning for Thanksgiving. Their dad will be out of town piloting a flight, so the girls will be with their mother. They're going to invite some Vietnam veterans that Hank knoww, young men who don't have any family nearby to spend the holiday with.. Most of them are looking forward to the meal, but one man who seems barely out of high school is stubbornly sullen. Julie and Tracy talk to their dad about the plans, wondering if they can use the house since it will be easier for the veterans in wheelchairs to get into. Julie and Ivy also get some things for Thanksgiving when Julie's dad takes them to the farmer's market. They see Carla there, who explains that her parents are friends with one of the people in charge, so she can work there. Carla's boss looks familiar--like the woman Julie saw going through the trash in front of Gladrags. When Julie mentions this, Carla hastily explains that her dad, who isn't a doctor like she said before but really in the FBI, is trying to gather evidence that her boss has been embezzling and Carla's helping. 

The next day, Julie and Ivy return to the market to see Carla. She's there, but not working like she said she would be. She's walking the dog she'd told Julie about, and Julie and Ivy walk back to her house with her, even though Carla is acting evasive. Carla lets them in briefly, but when she sees her parents coming home, she ushers them out the back, explaining she's not allowed to have guests over with permission. Julie and Ivy see Carla's dad hand her some money, and Carla leaves with it. Is it something as simple as Carla being sent to pick up some groceries, or is she helping her dad gather evidence again? 

The next day, Carla's stories start to come undone. She's not at school, so Julie brings the work she missed to her. Except that house Carla showed her and Ivy isn't Carla's. It belongs to a Mr. Anderson. His wife passed away recently and he pays Carla to walk his dog thrice a week. He gives Julie Carla's address, and Julie sets out for the right location, very confused and hurt by the lies. 

At Carla's dilapidated apartment, the truth comes out. Her father left and hasn't kept in touch or sent any child support money. Her mother works long hours at the farmer's market, in a booth owned by Mr. Anderson, and is going to school to get a degree so she can get a better job. Carla has only one sibling, Todd, who was drafted and severely injured. He might never walk again, and is very depressed about it, often refusing to see Carla or their mother when they visit him at the rehabilitation clinic. Julie still feels betrayed, but can sort of see how Carla was so sad about her life that she made up a better one. When Carla's mother comes home, Julie recognizes her as the "embezzler" from the farmer's market (she also scavenges useful things from trash cans). Julie can tell the woman is determined and kind, and very proud of her daughter for all the work she does (dog-walking plus the farmer's market for money, and keeping house) and her son for his sacrifice...and also sad. Even though she's still mad at Carla, Julie invites them to Thanksgiving. On the way home, she stops by the rehabilitation clinic to confirm something: the sullen veteran is Carla's brother. She tells Todd that his sister needs him, and he should reconsider coming to Thanksgiving.

Sure enough, at 3:00 on Thursday, Carla and her mother are surprised to see Todd arrive with the other veterans. He ends up in a good enough mood to talk with Tracy, who can't help but notice that he's handsome, and the two hit it off pretty well. Julie also makes up with Carla, and gets to know her for real. While listening to some of the veterans talking about accessibility issues--some are in wheelchairs or on crutches, some have lost limbs--she has a flash of inspiration. Mr. Anderson's house has an elevator in it. And he said it seems so empty with his wife gone. And he needs a housekeeper. Now, who does Julie know who's excellent at keeping house, has a mom who would use a place closer to her college, and has a brother in a wheelchair who would find an elevator useful? The book ends before revealing if Carla and her family move in with Mr. Anderson, but it certainly sounds like a good solution.


Looking Back

In 1973, the US government passed legislation mandating that people with disabilities be given equal access--for example, wheelchair pathways. But they weren't uniformly enforced. In San Francisco, Judy Heumann, who was in a wheelchair, led a protest four years later. She and hundreds of other people with disabilities occupied the offices of the San Francisco government for almost a month, refusing to leave until officials agreed to enforce federal law.

The historical section also mentions mental disabilities, in particular the problems that plagued Vietnam veterans like PTSD. It then moves on to the way that people in the 1970s were becoming more health-conscious, interested in how diet, exercise, and lifestyle affected their overall well-being.


Misc

This book is dedicated to "Laura Klaus Abada: new girl from California, longtime cherished friend: this one's for you!"

Julie's mom won't let Tracy drive to the library because it's foggy and might rain--"not great driving conditions." I have to laugh; I'm from the Seattle area. And I know San Francisco has hills...so does the Seattle area. Some of them are closed when it snows; they're that steep. And then a couple chapters later she wants Tracy to drive Carla home because it looks like rain.

Julie misses having a pet around, since she only sees her rabbit Nutmeg when she visits her dad, so she decides to pretend a spider spinning a web on her windowsill is her pet. I had a "pet spider" in my room, too when I was a little younger than Julie. A little jumping spider. Named it after my late dog.

Joy's family has adopted a baby boy from Vietnam, orphaned in the fighting (Operation Babylift brought many orphaned, abandoned, and surrendered babies and children to the US). He's just learning to walk.

Julie wonders what I've been curious about: is Hank a potential love interest for her mom? No answer's given in this book or others.

There's a part when Julie and Ivy see Carla's mom pointing a knife at her at the farmer's market, before they know she's Carla's mom. In retrospect, Julie can see she was just gesturing. Okay, but you still shouldn't point sharp things at people!

A late aunt of mine used a wheelchair. She helped design some wheelchair-accessible pathways at her college.

7/19/14

Changes for Julie

Published in 2007; author Megan McDonald; illustrators Robert Hunt, Nika Korniyenko, and Susan McAliley

Plot

It's the start of fifth grade, and Julie's new teacher is pretty awful. A new girl at school, Joy, who lives in Julie's neighborhood, has trouble understanding Mrs. Duncan because Joy is deaf, and lip-reading is difficult. Julie tries to help by correcting Joy's notes, but the teacher considers this passing notes and gives both girls detention. Julie and Joy both think it's stupid that they have to write lines. they understand that the school wants detention to be a punishment, but wouldn't it be more practical to have students in detention do something useful, like clean the blackboards or pick up trash? Joy's impressed with how Julie wants to change things at the school, and jokes that Julie should be principal.

The next day, it's announced that student body elections are coming up. Julie sees a chance to make some changes: she could run for student body president! Her friend T. J. discourages her, pointing out that she's only in fifth grade and a popular six-grader, Mark Salisbury, is already running. But Julie gets the go-ahead from the principal to run despite her age, and Joys agrees to be her running mate. Julie, Joy, and Ivy spend the afternoon making campaign posters and proudly put them up at school. It doesn't take long for them to be defaced, but Julie and Joy, together with T. J., are able to salvage them, and T. J. becomes their campaign manager.

Soon it's time for campaign speeches. On the way to the auditorium, Julie overhears some girls from her classes swooning over Mark and making fun of Joy, saying that Julie might have chance if she "dumps the deaf girl." This just makes Julie and Joy (who surmises what's going on from Julie's expression and the bits she of conversation she caught lip-reading) all the more determined. Mark's campaign is full of impossible promises, like pizza every Friday and an extra day off from school. But Julie's speech doesn't go over well. Not only are people less excited about her ideas of working to clean up the school during detention, someone--probably Mark, from his telling jabs--stole her notes and she has trouble remembering the end of her speech. But talking with her parents about the upcoming presidential elections gives her an idea: what about a debate between her and Mark? But Mark doesn't like the idea of debating a lowly fifth-grade girl.

Worse, as the campaign continues, Julie notices more and more people being cruel to Joy. Julie suggests dropping out of the race and letting the more popular Mark run unopposed, because it's looking pretty hopeless, but also to save Joy from being mocked further. But Joy immediately sees what Julie's trying to do and counters that if anyone drops out, it should be Joy herself, and T. J. can run for vice president--he's popular, and he's not deaf. The bell for class rings before they can discuss it any further. The lesson that day is about the Lewis and Clark expedition. During the class discussion, Joy makes a point about Lewis's bravery and perseverance, giving Julie a knowing look. At lunch, everyone's seen some new signs that T. J. made: "Where's the Debate?" Even Mark's own running mate is wondering why Mark's afraid to debate a girl, and now Mark wants the debate. And Julie wants to continue the campaign--with Joy as her running mate. The debate goes well, with Julie able to confidently talk about her plans, and Joy getting a chance to speak to the students.

But when they get back to their classroom, they're "greeted" by some of the mean girls mocking Joy's stilted speech and signing. The teacher, who by this point seems to understand Joy's difficulties understanding the lectures sometimes, reads them the riot act. Joy is gone though, humiliated and upset. Julie accompanies her to the nurse's office, and Joy ends up going home for the day. The mean girls get detention, and while Julie's glad they're not getting away with their cruelty, she's worried that writing lines will just make them dislike Joy more. She thinks there must be a better way for them to realize the pain they've caused Joy. and in that afternoon's library session, she gets an idea: she'll teach them some sign language. With their teacher's approval, Julie gives them some signing lessons using a book she checked out from the school library. The girls are suspicious when she first summons them from detention, wondering what's in it for Julie. Julie corrects them: she's not doing it for herself, or for any of the three girls. she's doing it for Joy, hoping that maybe they'll understand Joy a little more and give her a chance. The girls finally see that what they were doing was wrong, and also see the benefit of Julie's new ideas about detention. The last sign they ask Julie to teach them is "I'm sorry," and go to Joy's with Julie to apologize in person.

The following Monday is election day. The three girls are now campaigning for Julie and Joy, and between them and the debate, Julie and Joy have a lot of support. It turns out to be enough to propel them to victory, and the book ends with them celebrating the announcement.


Looking Back

1976 was an election year. Gerald Ford was the incumbent, running against Jimmy Carter, who won (making Ford the only president to have never been elected by the electoral college, because he was "promoted" from vice president when Richard Nixon resigned, and "promoted" before then to vice president with Spiro Agnew resigned). Four years before, one of the candidates for president had been Shirley Chisholm, an African-American woman. Her candidacy showed just how much had changed in the US: a minority woman was a serious candidate for president. The civil rights era had opened doors for many people, regardless of race or gender. This was also important to people with disabilities, because it allowed them to live up to their full potential. Previously, it was difficult for them to get educations and jobs, because their mental abilities were often under-estimated (and those with mental disabilities were also not able to realize their full potentials). Thanks to legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act, it became much easier for people of all abilities to lead fulfilling lives.


Misc

This book is dedicated to the memory of John and Mary Louise McDonald.

If one of my kids ever gets in trouble for trying to help a student with disabilities the way Julie does (that is, not being disruptive, honestly trying to help, and not taking advantage of the situation), I don't know if I can be held responsible for what I'll do. Plus, my late aunt, who used a wheelchair, will probably haunt the person getting my kid in trouble. At least, my dad says if you use a handicapped parking space illegally, she'll haunt you.

The descriptions of the signs are pretty good, which makes me happy.

My dad worked on Jimmy Carter's first presidential campaign in 1976. He still gets a (mass-produced) card from them every Christmas.

I used to work in a medical office. Even with the ADA, it can be really hard to find ASL interpreters. Spoken language interpreters are easy, but ASL interpreters, at least in my experience, were often unavailable and charged much higher rates and required bookings of two hours minimum--most of our appointments were half an hour. Once I had to interpret because we just couldn't find anyone. I'm not fluent, but I was the best we could get, and we had permission from the patient and her parents (she was a minor). It would have been nice if the spoken language interpreter service had also employed ASL interpreters.

7/16/14

Julie's Journey

Published in 2007; author Megan McDonald; illustrators Robert Hunt and Susan McAliley

Plot

It's the summer of 1976, and Julie and Tracy are about to take their first airplane trip, to Pittsburgh, PA. There, they'll meet up with their aunt, uncle, and cousins to join a wagon train heading a little less than three hundred miles east to Valley Forge for the US Bicentennial celebration, commemorating America's two hundredth birthday. As the plane makes its way across the country, Julie thinks about the people who sacrificed to found and build the US, and feels a connection to her country's past.

In Pennsylvania, Julie's happy to learn that her twelve-year-old cousin April and she both enjoy Laura Ingalls Wilder's books and the TV show (so very loosely) based on them. April even offers to teach Julie to ride a horse, although once Julie sees how gigantic they are when she meets her eighteen-year-old cousin Jimmy's horse Hurricane, she's pretty intimidated. She's still very excited to be part of the wagon train, though. She signs a rededication pledge, indicating that she agrees with the principle the US was founded on: freedom and equality. She's also awed to learn that President Ford will be at Valley Forge. She might get to see him in person! 

As the days pass on the wagon train, Julie enjoys getting to know April. She also gets used to Hurricane and one day rides him. But he goes too fast for her, and she falls off him. April laughs at it all, but Julie's angry with April for letting go of Hurricane's halter. She refuses to talk to her for the rest of the day, and vows never to ride a horse again. A talk with her aunt about Julie's great-great-great-grandfather who was a rider for the Pony Express cheers Julie up a little and she admits to herself that the fall probably did look a little funny, if only in retrospect. But she's still not going to ride Hurricane again!

The next day their wagon gets stuck in a pot-hole as they're nearing camp. It's getting dark, and they have to unload the wagon and push to help the horse get the wagon wheel back on the road. But they have to leave some of their things behind, because the full load will be too much for the horses to pull up the rest of the steep incline to camp. But they do make it to camp, and are able to keep up with the wagon train from then on. Eight days later they're in Hershey, PA. Julie still won't ride Hurricane again, but does feed him treats of apple cores. 

The wagon train is going to stay Hershey for two night, to let the horses rest and the people relax at Hersheypark. But Julie remembers reading a newspaper article about Pennsylvania's oldest resident, 101-year-old Mr. Witherspoon. Wouldn't his signature be great to have on the rededication pledge? But he lives ten miles away, too far to walk. However...what if Julie and April took Hurricane to visit him? Before Julie can lose her nerve, she and April get permission and set out. With April guiding her, Julie learns to ride the horse, and they reach Mr. Witherspoon's. He's touched that they've come out of their way for his signature, and obliges. He also shows them something special: his great-great-great-grandfather was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and he has a copy of it! The representative for the Pennsylvania portion of the wagon train is thrilled to have Mr. Witherspoon's signature.

But when they reach Valley Forge on July 3, the scroll bearing it is gone. Suspicions are that a Mr. Higgins, who's been disrespectfully trying to pawn off little things from the wagon train as souvenirs, has stolen it. He was trying to buy Mr. Witherspoon's signature earlier, planning to auction it for profit. Julie is able to find his distinct car among the crowd, and confronts him, but he denies the theft (tries to sell her some tacky merchandise, though). Still convinced he's stolen it, Julie despairs about what to do when she overhears someone talking about the wagon train representative from Michigan. He's going to present the pledges to President Ford...because he has Mr. Witherspoon's signature! His things are nearby, and Julie is able to quickly spot the correct pledge by the scribble Mr. Witherspoon made on the back when he was trying to get ink to flow from his pen. She grabs it as the Michigan representative tries to stop her and darts away, returning it to the Pennsylvania representative. He clears things up with the officials, who offer him the job of presenting the pledges to the President. But he counters that Julie should, because she found the scrolls. Julie can hardly believe it: she's going to meet the President!


Looking Back

The historical section is about the bicentennial celebration and the various ways people commemorated it. The most popular was celebration, although there were some, particularly Native Americans, who weren't entirely keen on it. Others were dismayed at the way people wanted to turn a quick profit by branding everything to sell it, even the point of selling red, white, and blue coffins. Furthermore, there was a lot of tension due to Vietnam and various political conflicts. But for the most part, people joined in the celebration, either out of patriotism or because they were looking to the future, hopeful that the country would progress forward to a better future.


Misc

This book is dedicated to Regina Shipman Haynes.

Julie points out some difference between the Little House books and the Little House TV show. While the show can be nice brain candy, it always annoyed me that the actor playing Pa was clean-shaven and that all the characters seemed to cry at the drop of a hat. In the books (which I really enjoy and re-read often), Laura often writes about Pa's full beard and also writes about how they were discouraged from crying even as young children. (Which isn't to say that crying is always shameful, but it was a significant part in the books and so a big departure)

One of the 56 men to sign the Declaration of Independence was indeed John Witherspoon of New Jersey. The Mr. Witherspoon in the book appears to be fictional.

The great-great-great-grandfather reminds me of the Mother West Wind books my dad used to read to us, which described long-ago ancestors as "great-great-ever-so-great."

President Gerald Ford died the year before this book was published. His descendants include daughters, grand-daughters, and great-granddaughters. I wonder if any of them read this book!

Though born in Nebraska and mostly raised in Illinois (by his mother and devoted stepfather, for whom he was re-named after--his mother left his abusive biological when Ford was sixteen days old after he threatened to kill her, a move Ford praised her for), he played football for the University of Michigan. That must have made the revelation of the theft all the more embarrassing the Michigan representative!

I understand that a some of Kaya's book titles needed to change because her culture was so very different from the other historical characters, but I've always been disappointed that so many changed with other characters too. This could have been Julie Saves the Day, and Kaya's fifth book might have worked as Kaya Saves the Day--her epiphany wasn't as dramatic as other __ Saves the Day books, though. But I guess if only Kaya had a big departure with titles she'd seem more isolated from the other historical characters.

7/13/14

Good Luck, Ivy

Published in 2007; author Lisa Yee; illustrators Robert Hunt, Nika Korniyenko, and Susan McAliley

Plot

Ivy's feeling out-of-sorts. Her mom has quit her job for law school which keeps her very busy, her dad's working two jobs and is rarely home, her older brother Andrew is a know-it-all who tries to claim the rights of a favored eldest son and won't leave her alone, and her younger sister Missy is a chatterbox who is sweet, but also won't leave her alone. She also fell off the balance beam at a recent gymnastics competition and couldn't recover to get back on before her time was up. Time to herself is precious to Ivy, as she's always busy between school, gymnastics, helping around the house, and Chinese school. All this and her best friend Julie is only around occasionally to talk to.

Ivy's life is extra-busy right now. She needs to do an extra-credit report about her family history for Chinese school that her parents are too busy to help with, and her gymnastics team is having a bake sale to raise money for the big league competition. Ivy and Julie decide to make her mother's almond cookie recipe by themselves, since Ivy's mom is exhausted from studying and housework. Even though they're ten, they don't know how recipes work apparently. Seriously, this bugs me, because my three-year-old can follow directions and count to three or whatever with me as we measure things, and I could follow a recipe and double or halve it by ten. They just estimate they'll need six or seven eggs and half a bag of sugar, etc. Ivy's mother happens upon them as they start baking a terrible batch of cookies and, with remarkable aplomb, thanks Ivy for trying to be responsible and help, but that only adults should cook (sure, if your kids don't know enough to find the recipe!). Ivy and Julie offer to remake the cookie dough with the recipe (why didn't they use it in the first place!) while Ivy's mom studies in the kitchen, ready to help if needed. With the supervision, the girls make the recipe correctly, and even improve on it by adding a bit of Ghiraradelli chocolate to each cookie. Ivy's mom is impressed with the new twist, and so is Ivy's brother--who had just been teasing Ivy that she'd never be able to make the cookies right and should just give up. 

But Ivy's still have trouble with confidence in gymnastics. She's trying, but her body just won't cooperate. And then when her mom stops to pick up dinner from Ivy's grandparents' restaurant, Ivy moans about being tired of Chinese food--and her grandparents are right there to hear her. Even helping a frantic mother find her lost son by translating between Chinese and English can't lift Ivy's spirits for long. And then it turns out that there's a big family reunion that conflicts with Ivy's big league gymnastics tournament. To her parents' credit, they acknowledge how hard she's been working at her sport and how important she is to her team, and leave the decision up to her. When her grandparents pick her up after her next practice and take her out for burgers (Ivy apologizes for what she said, but they brush it off by saying they get sick of Chinese food too), Ivy decides that family is more important than gymnastics and picks the reunion. But when she tries to tell her coach, she can't get the words out. Her mother helps her father see that this isn't just any meet, it's the biggest one she's been in yet, and with that knowledge he fully supports Ivy competing--before he'd been clearly wanting her to pick the reunion. Even Andrew is encouraging, contradicting Ivy when she says he's good at everything because he's lucky. Andrew works hard and makes his own luck. That gives Ivy something to think about. Her grandparents also encourage her, reminding her that a slip up in her routine isn't the end of the world, and that she's doing gymnastics because she enjoys it, so she should relax and have a good time. The morning of the tournament, Missy lends Ivy her special toy lion, for good luck.

At the tournament, Ivy does well on the first three (of four) events: floor, vault, and the uneven bars. Other members of her are also doing well. Last is balance beam, and Ivy gets more and more nervous waiting for it. She discreetly gives the lion stuffed in her bag, a squeeze for reassurance, and sees an envelope from her family. Inside is a Polaroid of them holding a sign that reads "Good Luck, Ivy!" Andrew painted the sign himself, with a beautifully detailed dragon on it. She also sees Julie in the audience. The support of her family and friend bolster her confidence and she focuses her attention on her routine. She wobbles a few times, but never falls and completes her routine. When awards are handed out, Ivy receives fourth place in vault, third in balance beam, and a first-place trophy in floor. Her team wins second in the tournament! Thrilled though she is, Ivy can't help noticing that everyone else has family surrounding and congratulating them. Ivy talks to her coach briefly and excuses herself from the planned pizza party. Julie and her dad take Ivy back to her house, where she changes into the red Chinese dress she wore for Chinese New Year, and then they take Julie to the reunion.

There, everyone is glad to see Ivy, and also invites Julie and her dad to stay. Ivy gets to be the center of attention for a few minutes, with her whole family oohing and aahing over her medals and trophy. As she's eating delicious Chinese food, Ivy overhears an uncle telling Missy how he came to America, all on his own as a teenager. Inspired, Ivy grabs a notebook and interviews several family members. Her extra-credit report will practically write itself! Talking with Julie, Ivy comments that she's happy to part of her family--all the members are wonderful.


Looking Back

The 1849 California gold rush (from which the San Francisco 49ers NFL team gets its name...Go Seahawks) kick-started a large wave of immigration people traveled from all over hoping to strike it rich. Many men came from China, and while most didn't find large amounts of gold they did find many ways to earn a living, from farming and fishing to doing other people's laundry. Many others found work when the trans-continental railroad was built in the 1860s. However, they faced a lot prejudice. Chinese immigrants were forbidden from gaining US citizenship unless they'd been born in the US (not all immigrants wanted to naturalize, but those who did couldn't), and couldn't bring their families--parents, wives, siblings, children--over from China. Still, many Chinese immigrants stayed in the US, forming their own communities which would become the "Chinatown" districts of various cities. San Francisco in particular had a large Chinese population. In 1906, the Bay Area was hit by a 7.8 (estimated) earthquake which started fires throughout the city, destroying, among other things, birth records. Though undeniably a tragedy (an estimated three thousand people died, including those in Chinatown), the earthquake presented a unique opportunity to the Chinese immigrants: with no way to prove otherwise, they could now claim they were born in the US and claim citizenship, and bring their families over from China. Today Americans of Chinese descent may still face prejudice, but not in the widespread, pervasive, systematic way of the past. Chinese culture remains popular today, especially among those wishing to maintain a connection with their roots.


Misc

This book is dedicated to "Julie Uehara and Debbie Loescher for your friendship and kindness."

There's funny line about Ivy wishing she had a color TV. Even her great-uncle has one, that he won on The Price is Right--and he's colorblind! (Men are far more likely to be color-blind than women as a common type, red-green colorblindness, is tied to the Y chromosome.)

7/10/14

Julie and the Eagles

Published in 2007; author Megan McDonald; illustrators Robert Hunt and Susan McAliley

Plot

Julie and Ivy are at a park enjoying the flowers and butterflies when they hear a weak crying sound. After a bit of searching, they find a baby screech owl on the ground. They take it to a museum that runs a bird rescue, where a volunteer named Robin Young tells them they've done the right thing to bring the bird in as it appears to be suffering from DDT toxicity. There they meet a pair of bald eagles and their two eaglets. Robin explains that the adults are stressed by kept in captivity (they're injured) and having trouble caring for their young, but the rescue group probably won't be able to release them into the wild. There's a lot of work to be done to help the eagles readjust to life in the wild, and the volunteer-run, donation-funded organization simply doesn't have the money. Most likely the birds will go to a zoo.

Julie can't stand the idea of the birds spending their lives in a cage just for lack of funds. She and Tracy visit the construction site where the breeding pair was found and talk to the foreman. At first he's standoffish, explaining curtly that he's just trying to do his job of building homes that people need and an environmental study was already done, but Julie and Tracy persuade him to at least talk to his boss about helping. He muses that perhaps they could donate some scrap lumber to build the shelter required for releasing the eagles, but makes no promises. Julie also enlists the help of her class. The teacher wants the students to do something for Earth Day, and Julie's plan to help the eagles be released and bolster the tiny bald eagle population is readily agreed upon.

While she's excited that people are eager to help the all bald eagles once they've learned about the problem, Julie is worried about the particular eagles at the bird rescue. One of the eaglets died, and the other is listless. Under Robin's tutelage, Julie learns to feed the surviving eaglet with a bald eagle puppet, but it hardly shows any interest. Fortunately it rebounds a few days later, and by Earth Day is doing well. Julie and her classmates, plus Ivy, set up their booth at Golden Gate Park, where people can buy kits to make kites with pictures of eagles printed on them (donated by Julie's mom's store), with the money going toward the eagle release costs. Once sixty kites have been made--one for each breeding eagle in California--they fly them to raise awareness about the eagles. Julie even gets on TV for a few seconds! 

But even with the publicity, they're still $650 short of their goal. If they can't raise that money in a week, it'll be too late for the birds to be able to re-acclimate to the wild. Just then, a woman who was at the Earth Day event and saw the news report (and also talked to Julie and Ivy when they found the owl) comes in looking for a kite kit. Julie hands her one and, feeling awkward, mentions they're asking for a five-dollar donation for each one. The woman smiles and pulls out her checkbook and writes a check for five hundred dollars. Almost immediately after, the head of the construction company calls to donate lumber. The eagles can be released!

The timing works out perfectly for Julie, too: her tenth birthday is coming up. She invites Julie, T. J. the woman who donated the $500, and her family for a picnic to watch the eagles in their shelter. They're even treated to seeing the adults take some practice flights. A pretty good birthday present!


Looking Back

In the 1970s, people were starting to become more concerned about the long-term impact of pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency was only a few years old, but already making strides in preserving the natural beauty of the US. 1972 saw the advent of the Endangered Species Act and the banning of DDT (which had grown sadly ineffective against mosquitoes by then anyway) and lead bullets. While such measures did cause controversy, like forcing loggers and others out of work, they prevented animals like the bald eagle from going extinct. Nesting pairs of bald eagles in the contiguous US dipped as low as 412 in middle of last century, but in 2007 had rebounded enough to be removed entirely from list of threatened or endangered animals, and are now considered "least concern."


Misc

This book is dedicated to the author's sisters.

If you see a baby bird on the ground, you should almost always leave it alone. Not because the bird will smell like you causing the parent to reject it--most birds have a poor sense of smell. Odds are good that a parent is nearby, waiting for you to leave so it can retrieve the baby. Obviously if there's clear injury or a cat stalking about you'll want to take action, but usually it's best to leave the bird alone.

Robin volunteers at a bird rescue. Get it?

Partway through the book, the terminology switches from eaglet to chick. The latter is correct for a bird but the former is more accurate for an eagle specifically.

Speaking of bald eagles, have you ever heard one? They sound so wimpy! In movies and TV a red-tailed hawk cry is often used for a bald eagle, because it sounds much more majestic. Here's a bald eagle call and here's a red-tailed hawk. For the especially ridiculous, check out the Russian version of a bald eagle, the Steller's sea eagle, which sounds like a goose going through puberty. About ten seconds into this video they really get going, but I couldn't find a link to a video that sounds as funny as the Steller's sea eagles at my local zoo.

It really sucks that DDT caused problems for animals further up the food chain, and that mosquitoes grew resistant to it. Because they carry diseases like malaria, yellow fever, and West Nile virus, mosquitoes are widely regarded as the most dangerous animal. Malaria alone kills two to three million people each year.

7/7/14

Happy New Year, Julie

Published in 2007; author Megan McDonald; illustrators Robert Hunt and Susan McAliley

Plot

Julie and Tracy are are feeling down as Christmas approaches. They're going to spend it with their dad, so their mom says with money being tight there's no need for a Christmas tree at the apartment. But Hank, their mom's friend, has a small evergreen he's planning to plant outside the veterans' center, and loans it to the girls. They can decorate it and enjoy it for a week or two provided they water it for him (what an awesome guy!). The ornaments are at their father's, but together with their mother they make their own decorations. They exchange gifts among the three of them on Christmas Eve. While they have a good time, Julie and Tracy miss their old Christmas traditions. At their dad's house, things are different too: there's an artificial tree instead of the usual real one, the door isn't decorated like a big wrapped present, the candles they're used to aren't out...Their father's trying, but so many things are different that it's hard to be in the Christmas spirit. They try out some new traditions, like going to a Nutcracker Tea at the Fairmont Hotel (and now I want to watch The Rock).

But Tracy is soon overcome with emotion. She feels like she was forced out of the house by her father, and that he doesn't care about her or understand her. At the first opportunity, Julie escapes the tension by going to Ivy's house. The girls exchange presents--Julie gets a beautiful Chinese doll to match her best friend's (marketing ploy again!); Ivy's gift isn't mentioned--and catch up. When Julie gets back to her dad's house, Tracy's gone, having been picked up by their mom. Julie and her dad get to spend a lot of quality time together for the remained of the week, and Julie gets to see Ivy a lot too, but soon the school break is over and it's time to say goodbye again.

As January fades into February, Julie gets to visit her dad a few more times, but Tracy never comes along. Julie helps Ivy's family prepare for Chinese New Year, and seeing Ivy's family work together so smoothly makes her ache for life before the divorce. One day Julie's out with Ivy and Ivy's mom, shopping for the celebration, when Julie and Ivy get lost trying on dresses in a shop. They traverse Chinatown for a while before finding Ivy's grandfather, who helps them reunite with Ivy's mother. 

Shortly after, Ivy invites all four members of Julie's family to a Chinese New Year dinner. Julie's mom says they have to practice doing things together, because in the future there will be other events like graduations and weddings. Even though the parents are divorced, they still share a lot through their children. When they get to Ivy's, Julie's surprised to find that Ivy's mother bought the dresses the girls had tried on, to thank them for all the work they did preparing. The dinner is delicious and lively, but Julie's disappointed that Tracy barely interacts with their dad at all. Privately, she mentions this to Tracy and reminds her that he's still her dad, and she shouldn't ignore him. Tracy agrees, and invites him to her upcoming tennis match. He immediately agrees to come, and Tracy is encouraged to see that her father does indeed care about her still. Everyone then goes to watch the New Year parade, in which Ivy's brother plays part of the dragon.


Looking Back

The historical section briefly mentions Christmas in the 1970s (handmade decorations using bits of nature like shells were very popular) and the difficulties children of divorced parents face when making holiday plans. More of it is spent talking about Chinese New Year, which it says takes place from the first new moon of the new year until the full moon--fifteen days (which isn't really accurate, as the Chinese calendar isn't the Gregorian calendar; Chinese New Year usually happens in February). It's a time for clearing house: getting rid of debts (financial or otherwise), mending relationships, forgiving, planning for the future, and so on. The traditional color for the time is red, and people give gifts of money.


Misc

This book is dedicated to Louise, Annie, and Eliza.

Julie gives Tracy a hand-made tennis racket cover and her mom a macrame belt and embroidered peasant shirt.

Julie likes Nancy Drew books (her dad gives her one for Christmas).

Because Tracy is out of sorts, Julie and her dad play Clue by themselves. That game doesn't really work with only two people. You need a minimum of three.

Tracy's anger over having to move while her dad stayed at the house reminds me of the Baby-sitters Club book Welcome Back, Stacey, specifically how her parents both moved to new places so neither would even subconsciously feel kicked out.

There's a picture of the birds Julie hears one morning. One is a blue jay, which doesn't live in California. Blue jays are eastern birds; here on the Pacific coast we have Stellar's jays, grey jays, and scrub jays. Scrub jays are common in California and they hate me. They like to zoom full-speed at my face, forcing me to duck. Good thing their range doesn't extend up to Washington. The other bird looks like a sparrow.

This book takes place from December 1975 to February 1976. Ivy says that the upcoming Chinese year is the Year of the Dragon, and Chinese New Year is the first two weeks of February. Both are accurate for 1976.

An aunt and uncle of mine divorced years and years ago, but they've done a wonderful job working together to raise their kids, and no one's ever had to worry that one will make a scene if both are at the same event. It's impressive.

Wow. Richard Nixon's been mentioned in Julie's books as the president who resigned, along with the Watergate scandal, which you'd expect because it's really what he's known for. But this one mentions how he opened relations with China, which isn't something a book geared toward nine-year-olds typically mentions. Julie's dad happened to pilot a flight to China during that time.

7/4/14

Julie Tells her Story

Published in 2007; author Megan McDonald; illustrators Robert Hunt and Susan McAliley

Plot

Julie's teacher just assigned a big project: an autobiography. Some parts will be easy, like "The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me." Piece of cake: playing on the school's basketball team, where the boys have even given her a complementary nickname, Cool Hand Albright, for how well she can handle the basketball. But what about "The Worst Thing That Ever Happened to Me"? Julie's not too thrilled about telling the class about her parents' divorce. Her dad helps her get started on the project though, with an early Christmas gift of a tape recorder. Julie has a blast interviewing her family and friends for the autobiography. She even uses it to spy on Tracy when her sister's on the phone, and learns that she has a secret boyfriend! Julie purposely lets it slip to Tracy that she knows, out of spite when the girls are bickering.

But Tracy gets over it quickly, although not without ulterior motives. She wants Julie to "plant-sit" her spider plant over the weekend. Tracy is going to be at a friend's house and the spider plant is a project for one of her classes. While hanging out with Ivy, Julie accidentally knocks the plant out the window with her basketball, smashing the hippopotamus planter it's in. Julie and Ivy can't find another hippo pot, but do find a pig which looks similar. The plant is still alive when Tracy returns, but dinged up from its fall. On the bright side, Tracy's so distracted by the plant's damage (which Julie and Ivy lead her to believe is from over-watering and too much sunlight) that she doesn't notice the new pot.

Soon after, a big basketball game comes up. Julie holds own for most of it, despite the referees not calling most of the fouls against her and the other team trash-talking her. But one particular body-check from the other team takes Julie out of the game, with her finger either sprained or broken. Worse, neither of her parents are there. Her mom had to be in a meeting with the bank, and her dad is nowhere to be seen. Tracy arrived just before Julie got injured, but at fifteen, she can't drive yet. In the end, T. J.'s mom takes the sisters to the ER.

There it's confirmed that Julie's finger is broken. As she's just about done being checked out, both her parents arrive. Her dad was stuck in Chicago due to a weather delay, and her mom's meeting ran over. They're both apologetic to Julie and Tracy, and impressed with how well they handled everything. They even go out for pizza--all four of them. It's only for dinner though. After they finish eating, Julie has to say goodbye to her dad until the next time she visits.

At home, Julie realizes it's going to be difficult to write her report, but she's able to edit it together on the tape recorder. She picks getting on the basketball team as the best thing that's happened to her, and her broken finger as the worst. Some other students give their reports before hers, recounting stories of losing swimsuits in the pool and terrible haircuts complete with pictures. When it's Julie's turn, she plays the report for the class but stops it before the worst thing part. She then talks about the divorce instead, and how hard it is to not live with both parents. She's grateful though that they can come together when they really need to, and understands that while her parents don't love each other anymore, they still love Julie and Tracy.


Looking Back

The 1970s saw many civil rights advances. One that took place in schools was integrating classrooms so that students would learn in a diverse environment. Not only were students with disabilities mainstreamed when possible, children were bussed to different schools to encourage racial and economic diversity. While the goal was admirable--letting students experience new things and new opportunities and meet people from different backgrounds--busing was controversial for a variety of reasons. The bus rides could be very long, more than an hour, and some people felt too connected to neighborhood schools to "abandon" them. Other people didn't want students from wrong side of the tracks "tainting" their schools. There was also the problem of money. Some school districts already had to cut after-school activities and other programs, and buses cost money. In response to the cuts, some people like music promoter Bill Graham organized benefit concerts, a new thing then, to raise money for schools.


Misc

This book is dedicated to the memory of John and Mary Louise McDonald.

In looking at the pictures, I noticed that Julie and Tracy have blonde hair while their parents have dark hair. I've seen critiques of various movies or shows that scream about genetics and how brunette parents shouldn't be able to have blonde kids. But...my dad has black hair and my mom has dark brown hair, and my older brother and I had white-blonde hair until it gradually darkened to brown by high school (my younger brother's always had brown hair). And we look enough like our parents that there's no question of a blonde milkman, plus they have too strong a relationship for that. So lighten up, naysayers! Hair color isn't like blood type.

Tracy often skips her weekends with Mr. Albright. I wonder about Mr. and Mrs. Albright's custody agreement, that she's "allowed" to do that. Some agreements are more lax than others.

7/1/14

Meet Julie

Published in 2007; author Megan McDonald; illustrators Robert Hunt, Susan McAliley, and George Sebok

Plot

Nine-year-old Julie Albright and her fifteen-year-old sister Tracy are in the middle of a huge upheaval in their lives: their parents are getting divorced (scandalous in 1974) and they're moving to an apartment a few miles away to downtown San Francisco, to live with their mom. The new apartment is above their mom's store, where she sells handmade items she creates out of used things, like backpacks made from worn jeans. They'll visit their dad, an airline pilot, on weekends at their old house, so Julie will still be able to see her best friend Ivy Ling, although she'll no longer attend the same school. She also has to leave her pet rabbit, Nutmeg, at her father's (Ivy will take care of Nutmeg when Julie's dad is flying). 

School starts right after Julie moves, and she has some trouble fitting in. Tracy does what she can to help, showing Julie memory tricks for the new things she has to learn. And Julie soon makes a friend, T. J., a boy in her class with whom she bonds over basketball. Julie also gains some respect when her mom fills in her for dad on Career Day (her dad had to cover for a sick pilot) and impresses Julie's classmates with the fact that she owns her own business. Julie decides to try out for the school team (in the fall? Basketball's usually a winter sport.) although her dad is worried about Julie playing with boys, who might be too rough on her. Before Julie's dad can worry any more, the walking stereotype-of-a-chauvinist coach (seriously, his name's Mr. Manley) decides he can ignore Title IX and not let Julie even try out for the boys' team (no girls' team). Julie's determined to be allowed a chance at the team, but doesn't know how to get it.

Then she's inspired by a friend of her mom's, a Vietnam veteran named Hank, who's gather signatures for a petition to reopen a veteran's center. Julie makes her own petition over the weekend and goes out with Ivy collecting signatures. But Ivy soon gets bored of the activity, wanting to do something fun with Julie instead. Both girls think the other is being selfish, and they fight, leaving on bad terms. Julie gets angry at the divorce itself, for causing so many problems. But she's still determined to get one hundred fifty signatures. It takes until Thursday morning on the way to school but she makes it. However, Coach Manley just crumples up the papers and tossed them in the trash. Julie and T. J. fish the petition out later, and Julie nervously shows it to the strict principal, Mr. Sanchez. To Julie's relief, he's on her side. He can't promise the school board will agree, but he'll try to help Julie. In the end, the school board votes that it doesn't have the funds for a girls' basketball team, but in order to comply with Title IX, Julie will be allowed to try out for the boys' team. Julie's excited for the chance, and tries hard not let her disappointment that she can't tell Ivy or her dad in person sour her good news.


Looking Back

The historical section largely about Title IX (said "Title Nine"). It was added to an education amendment in 1972 and forbade sex discrimination. Initially it was understood to mandate that men and women could have an equal chance to get into STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and medicine), but soon another facet of it was more widely understood: girls and women needed to have the same access to sports as boys and men. While making sports more accessible to women and girls is a good thing, it's easy to argue that allowing them access to higher education is more important. However, when people talk about Title IX today, they often only think about the sports aspect. Recently another part of Title IX has been getting press; Title IX demands that colleges prevent sexual harassment and assault. I had figured that was part of obeying the law in general, but it falls Title IX in that it would create an unwelcome environment based on one's sex. My husband works for a college and there's been a lot going on with that. (Fortunately his campus sees relatively few violent crimes, and the police are a few blocks away if things get out of hand.)


Misc

This book is dedicated to Richard.

It's totally a coincidence that I'm reading the Julie books in July. But I like the coincidence!

Interesting. My mom's parents divorced a little before this book is set. My nana was very artistic, like Julie's mom, and my granddad wasn't a pilot, but was in the Air Force. My mom said there were only two children of divorced parents in her grade, including her.

Julie's teacher introduces herself as Ms. Hunter, not Miss or Mrs., because she considers her marital status to be private. I don't mind going by Mrs. myself, but I detest having things addressed to Mrs. Husband's Full Name. I am not ever changing my first name, and I haven't actually changed my last name either; I just go by it socially.

The book mentions trying to switch to the metric system. I think I could, with practice, get used to it for the most part. We used the metric system for a lot of things in sports. Temperature would take some getting used to. Weight would be the hardest for me; I bake a lot and am very used to tablespoons and ounces and cups. But my measuring implements all also have the metric markings.

I don't see anything wrong with Julie's dad pointing out that playing on a competitive team will be different than casual pick-up games, and even being concerned about whether the boys will pick on Julie. But of course it's best to see if his worries have any basis in fact before making a decision.

I disagree with Julie and Tracy: tuna noodle casserole is not a real dinner. It's too gross for that.

An interesting holdover from Title IX is seen in track and field in Washington state high schools. It used to be that girls couldn't compete in pole vault (until the late 1990s; I competed in it 2001-2003 and won a medal at the state competition, first time a girl from my school had in any event). To ensure that girls had the same number of events as boys, an extra relay race was added, the 4x200m. However, despite pole vault being available to girls for over a decade and a half, the 4x200 relay is still competed, so girls have one more event than boys.