Happy New Year, Julie

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


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.


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.

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