Changes for Julie

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


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.


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.

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