Looking Ahead

Well, that's all for now. A few new American Girl mysteries are due out in 2015, plus the new Girl of the Year. If I can get my hands on the BSC graphic novels, I might do those, and I'll see if the American Girl "My Journey" books are possible to summarize. For now, I'll leave you with this shot of my daughters, now four and one-and-a-half, getting started on the books for themselves. Thanks for reading!


Girl of the Year 2014 Movie: Isabelle Dances into the Spotlight

Released on DVD in July 2014


Isabelle is enjoying her time at the Anna Hart Dance School, despite some snobbery from another student, Renata, who surmises that Isabelle's only in the exclusive school because her very talented sister got in first. Isabelle tries to not let that get to her, focusing instead on the recently announced auditions for The Nutcracker. Her idol, Jackie Sanchez, will be the Sugarplum Fairy! Jackie Sanchez also comes to watch Isabelle and her classmates perform at a hospital benefit on Halloween. Isabelle is mortified to slip up a few times, but after the performance, a little girl in a wheelchair comes to ask for Isabelle's autograph. And then Jackie Sanchez herself talks to Isabelle and congratulates her on "dancing with joy." Isabelle's more than ready to audition now!

Happily, Isabelle wins some parts in the corps, and Jade will be Clara! Their mom is going to make the costumes, and Isabelle's excited to help. Renata is also in the corps (but not Louisa), and tries to psych Isabelle out. One fourth grade student will be chosen from the cast for a summer program with the New York Ballet--and both Isabelle and Renata are convinced they'll get it. Renata takes every opportunity to rattle Isabelle, and it affects her dancing. Jade offers some tips, and Jackie Sanchez herself gives Isabelle some one-on-one coaching. Isabelle has a breakthrough, the dance finally making sense. Just after the coaching, she sees Renata on the phone with her parents, who were supposed to take her out to dinner. They're cancelling on her, again. As an olive branch, Isabelle offers Renata a ride home, but they quickly devolve into sniping at each other. When Renata hears that Jackie Sanchez was coaching Isabelle, she's upset.

The next day, Renata overhears the director worrying that one scene isn't showcasing the dancers well enough, so she suggests that he change the choreography a little, maybe something little more challenging, like double pirouettes. Her plot works: Isabelle can't get the new routine as quickly as the other dancers, and the director notices. Isabelle even hears him say that he might need to cut her from the scene. Her best friend Louisa comes to the rescue, reminding Isabelle that she's a great dancer, who just needs confidence. She reminds her that dancing is fun, and that Isabelle is above petty comments. Renata mouths off, saying that if it weren't for Jade, Isabelle wouldn't be in The Nutcracker at all--and now she's going to screw it up. Jade defends her sister, but it backfires: Isabelle's sick of being in her sister's shadow. Jade tries to tell Isabelle that everyone has demons to battle (Jade's expected to be perfect, and no one has time to help her when she's struggling), but they end up fighting. Jade still cares about Isabelle, and confides in Jackie Sanchez, who comes by in person to help. She tells Isabelle that the reason she's in The Nutcracker because Ms. Sanchez wanted her, not because of Jade. She saw how Isabelle inspired the audience (e.g.; the autograph) and knew she could do well on the big stage. The sisters make up shortly after.

On opening night, Isabelle's confidence is back. Enough so that when she sees Renata rip her skirt (just after seeing that her parents didn't show up, picking her older brother over Renata again), Isabelle offers to help fix it. The girls bond a little, at least admitting they don't hate each other, and Renata sort of apologizes for her comments. They end up having a friendly rivalry by the end of the movie. Everyone dances their best and the audience loves it.

A short time later, the students who won spots in the New York Ballet summer program are announced. Renata sees the list first, and is disappointed that she's not in--but not heartbroken. Acting on some advice from Isabelle, she's talked to her family about spending more time together, and they're going to do a big family vacation in the summer. Isabelle and Jade both got in though--they're going to New York City to dance together!


Filmed in Canada.

I put this on hold at the library, but I was the one hundred twenty-fifth person to do so. So I found it on Youtube. The version I found is sped up. The characters all speak super-fast, and when they laugh it sounds really funny.

Instead of a fall recital, the first things Isabelle is practicing for is a Halloween benefit.

Not surprisingly, there's a lot of dancing and singing.

The actor who plays Jade would also make a good Julie. Or maybe she could play Julie's older sister Tracy, and the girl who plays Isabelle could be Julie (I just think the other girl looks more like Julie).

Some of the exposition is really painful. Especially with the sped-up speech.

There's scene in Isabelle and Jade's bedroom when the sisters are talking about Isabelle meeting Jackie Sanchez, and the value of hard work. Isabelle's wearing an orange beret. I'm almost positive it's a pattern called Portia by Louisa Harding, which I made my niece for Christmas a couple years ago (in pink, purple, and white).

The bit with the sash isn't in the movie, and Isabelle learns about visualization from Jade instead of a teacher. Isabelle stills draws inspiration from the water lily pond, by imagining herself as light reflected in the artwork her mom made based on the pond.

I'm used to hearing ballet pronounced "bal-LAY" but a lot of the actors in the movie say it "BAL-lay." Canadian thing? East coast thing? My best friend was a ballerina (I got to see her in The Nutcracker a few years ago) and she pronounces it like I do.

I noticed that the instructors are literally hands-on, touching the dancers a lot to show them the right way to move their bodies. My best friend says that in ballet you get used to people touching you all the time. I hit my limit on physical contact pretty quickly; one of the reasons I'd be terrible at ballet.

The room that Isabelle and Jade share is half bedroom, half dance studio, with a dance floor, barre, and mirror. In the books, Jade could often be heard practicing in the room.

Am I the only person with long(ish) hair who puts it up when I sleep? It would take all morning to untangle my hair if I didn't braid it at night. I braid my older daughter's hair for bed too, and will do the same with my younger daughter when her hair's long enough.

A high school football game this late in the year--after Halloween, and presumably getting close to Christmas--might be the state championships, meaning both Renata and her brother were performing in the highest level they could currently attain in their pursuits. That would actually be a tough call for most parents, although I would hope that most parents would have gone to some of the daughter's ballet performances in the past. Faced with that dilemma, I'd go to one and my husband would go to the other.

There's fake snow falling during some of the ballet. Wouldn't that be really slippery? I don't remember if the version of The Nutcracker I saw had fake snow.


Isabelle Palmer - Erin Pitt
Nancy Palmer - Melora Hardin
Jade Palmer - Grace Davidson
Leo Palmer - Jake Simons
Louisa - Devyn Nekoda
Renata - Genneya Watson
Drosselmeyer - Rex Harrington
Jackie Sanchez - Tanya Howard
Mr. Kosoloff - Daniel Fathers
Ms. Hawken - Sarah Murphy-Dawson
Uncle Davi - Francisco Trujillo
Chloe - Saara Chaudry
Emma - Alyssa Trask
Dancer 1 - Danielle Ching
Lead Singer - Kolton Stewart
Backup Singer - Morgan Hilliker
Nutcracker Prince - Brennan Clost
Mouse King - Edward Tracz
Fritz - Findlay McConnell
Nutcracker Dancer - Julian Elia
Nutcracker Dancer/Hip Hop Dancer - Shale Wagman
Nutcracker Dancer - Ty Forhan
Nutcracker Dancer/Hip Hop Dancer - Joshua Lamb
Nutcracker Dancer - Shane Simpson
Nutcracker Dancer - Justin Lopes
Nutcracker Dancer - Jarvi Raudsepp
Nutcracker Dancer - Sarah Koekkoek
Nutcracker Dancer - Laurie E. Nielsen
Nutcracker Dancer - Sarah Victoria Williamson
Hip Hop Dancer - Mathew Edmonson
Hip Hop Dancer - Avery Trask


Girl of the Year 2014: Isabelle in the City

Author: Laurence Yep
Illustrator: Anna Kmet


Isabelle and Jade are accepted into an intensive summer dance course in New York City. Isabelle has trouble bonding with her roommate, Miki, who is from Japan. They're not enemies or anything, they just don't quite click. There's a door decorating contest, and Isabelle is frustrated that Miki won't help her. Jade is making friends right and left and the dancers in her age group are from many different countries. She advises Isabelle to give Miki some space to warm up to her, as the cultural differences might be overwhelming. Soon Isabelle realizes that while Miki knows English very well, some of the slang Isabelle and the other US girls use is lost on her. She slows down a bit, which gives Miki the opportunity to understand her better. They work together on the door project, using Miki's origami skills and Isabelle's design talent. Everyone else on their floor wants to learn how to make paper ballerinas, and soon all the doors have the origami on them. Isabelle adds notes about friendship, and the judges agree that her floor has the best doors. They win the prize of seeing a New York Ballet Company performance.


Only available as an e-book, and the only short story for a Girl of the Year to date.

Like Isabelle, Miki has a very talented older sister, who dances with a professional Swedish dance company.

Jade starts acting annoyed when Isabelle and Miki start getting along, eventually admitting that she's used to being a big fish in a small pond, but now there are so many other talented dancers that she feels lost in the crowd.

A few pages at the end give instructions and bit of history about origami.


Girl of the Year 2014: To the Stars, Isabelle

Author: Laurence Yep
Illustrator: Anna Kmet


It's five weeks until the performances with Jackie Sanchez (they're being done over spring break). They're going to dance for sick and injured children in the hospital. Louisa's in it too, and Gabe will be the master of ceremonies (Jade declined, as she has private lessons every weekend...but Renata's in it). Isabelle and Louisa are stunned to learn that they're going to have solos! And the dancers will need costumes. And wouldn't it be nice if the children they're performing for could dress up too? Soon, Isabelle is busy learning her routine, designing her costume, and sewing capes for the children, and one for Jackie Sanchez. As rehearsals continue, Isabelle grows closer to Ms. Sanchez. Ms. Sanchez even gives Isabelle her first pair of toe shoes! Isabelle keeps that fact mostly to herself, not wanting to make the other dancers jealous. She only tells her immediate family, although when Jade starts acting a little jealous she wonders if that as a mistake. Plus she's upset after trying to help make some capes and screwing them up.

But soon it's time for the first performance, in a hospital cafeteria. It's not the stage the dancers are used to, but they're there for the kids. Unfortunately, they all get a bad case of nerves when kitchen workers start making a lot of noise, and while they dance well, they don't dance their best. Isabelle is disappointed that she couldn't give the children 100%. At home, she talks with Jade, whose distance was because she thought that Ms. Sanchez had replaced the role Jade filled for Isabelle. When Isabelle assures Jade that she'll always need her big sister, they make up. 

At the next performance, everyone's determined to be their best. But Ms. Sanchez is uncharacteristically quiet, and leaves shortly before opening curtain. Isabelle wonders if she's regretting turning down the lead in Swan Lake to help with this hospital tour. But she soon returns, pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair: her grandmother, who was admitted to the hospital that morning, the woman who worked extra shifts so Ms. Sanchez could pay for ballet lessons. Inspired, the cast dances beautifully. Isabelle and Renata even make some progress moving past their bitterness toward each other. Their last performance is at the hospital where Isabelle's dad works. Isabelle is happy to see that the children are truly enjoying the dance, and hopes she can inspire people the way Ms. Sanchez and Jade inspire her.

Real Girls, Real Stories

Amiya A. wanted to share her joy of dancing with those who can't afford lessons, so she worked with her mom to get a school bus, remove the seats, add a barre, and paint it pink. Her great-uncle drives the bus to different schools, and students get in for a half-hour tap, ballet, and hip hop lesson with Amiya. Stepsisters Izzy M. and Madi D. dance in benefit shows, so far earning $8,000 for various charities, including helping a girl at their school who has cancer. Drew B. raised $2,000 to buy dance shoes for a hundred kids who couldn't afford them in her Florida town. Grace B. of Pennsylvania sells handmade tutus online, and on her last birthday, donated $500 from the sales to the local pediatric hospital.


Dedicated to "Jamie Guan for letting me watch him put his choreography together, to Edward Gorey for his dancing cats, and, of course, to Victoria Tseng." Special thanks to Kristy Callaway, executive director of the Arts Schools Network; and Shannon Gallagher, owner of and instructor at Premier Dance Academy, LLC, Madison, WI.

There's a funny bit when a man announces over the hospital PA system that there's a Pig Hat performance, instead of a Big Hart performance. One little boy comes down to get his own pig hat, so Isabelle quickly draws a pig on one of the audience props.

Renata tells Isabelle that her parents don't care about her dancing, instead focusing on her older brother's football career. He's an excellent high school player, and is being recruited by scouts for different colleges. But they do come to the final performance of the book.


Girl of the Year 2014: Designs by Isabelle

Author: Laurence Yep
Illustrator: Anna Kmet


Rehearsals for The Nutcracker are in full swing now. Isabelle finds herself helping with the designs for on segment. She can hardly believe her good luck! It will be so much fun to work with the costume designer. Of course, she has her dancing to think about, too. Isabelle keeps having trouble with part of her routine, and Renata is always sure to point it out. She wants to ask Jade for advice, but something's still going on with her--Jade's even more moody and withdrawn now. In the room they share, Isabelle reaches out to her, showing Jade the design for her Clara costume (Isabelle wouldn't even let her best friend Louisa see the sketches). Jade appreciates the gesture, but doesn't open up at all. Resigned, Isabelle continues looking the designs, making suggestions on all of them, from simple ones like different colors to more involved suggestions like changing large parts of the design. 

The next day is the biggest rehearsal yet, and none other than Isabelle's idol Jackie Sanchez is watching. Jade does well, until someone catcalls from the audience about her height--so that's what's bothering her! Jade's grown a lot recently, and is worried that she's too tall for her part. The director assures Jade that regardless of height, she's still graceful and a wonderful dancer. Isabelle needs some encouragement too, after Renata's comments get to her and she stumbles. Jackie Sanchez herself gives Isabelle some pointers about brushing off mistakes. 

Later that week, Isabelle is inspired by her friend Gabe's magic tricks. She can use misdirection to help Jade's confidence. Isabelle cuts an old practice skirt of Jade's (with her permission) to make the audience pay more attention to her legs than her height. In return, Jade gives Isabelle some pointers to help with her pirouettes. At the next rehearsal, Jade's back to her usual self, and the director instructs her to have the costume designer alter her performance outfit like the skirt. Isabelle is able to shake off the mean comments from Renata and focus on the positive things Jade and Louisa are saying, and dances her part perfectly. Dress rehearsal goes well, too. Soon it's opening night.

Isabelle and Jade are both nervous. Isabelle's happy to accept the distraction of helping a younger dancer get over her stage fright--and in doing so, earns a look of approval from Jackie Sanchez. Jade practices in her altered costume, and compliments Isabelle's idea. With the ego boost, Isabelle's ready to go. When Isabelle gets on stage, she starts her dance ahead of the music, but with the advice from Jackie Sanchez and an encouraging glance from Jade, she's able to shake it off and get back on track. The rest of the dance goes beautifully. In fact, it goes so well that Jackie Sanchez invites Isabelle to be in her show. Isabelle can't believe it--dancing with her idol!

Real Girls, Real Stories

Sunny L., Aida S., and  Michelle W. learned how much waste is generated from clothing being tossed out, and started a school club where people could drop things off to be mended rather than just thrown out--it fixes all sorts of things from clothes to puppets to upholstered chairs. Phoenix B. started selling her knitted shawls after winning a prize at an art show, and continues to sell things to raise money for causes like a buying a wheelchair for a girl who needed one. Emily G. wrote to American Girl with a making your own design journal using bits of craft supplies left over from other projects. Friends Laura D. and Emma P. started their own fashion journal.


Dedicated to "Peter Brosius of the Children's Theatre Company and especially to the Dragon King, David Furumoto, who dances on stilts." Special thanks to Kristy Callaway, executive director of the Arts Schools Network; and Shannon Gallagher, owner of and instructor at Premier Dance Academy, LLC, Madison, WI.

Isabelle had a carrot cake for her tenth birthday (between books). I've never known a ten-year-old to willing pick carrot cake. I'm of the opinion that vegetables have no place in desserts. Those of you bringing up pumpkin pie, two points: in the first place, pumpkins are technically fruit, being the ovary of the plant, and in the second, I don't like pumpkin pie.

Louisa's older brother Danny is able to get leave from the military to watch the performance.


Girl of the Year 2014: Isabelle

Author: Laurence Yep
Illustrator: Anna Kmet


Isabelle Palmer has just gotten in the Anna Hart School of the Arts. Her older sister Jade, a very gifted dancer, has been in it since kindergarten, but it took until fourth grade for Isabelle to make it--in part because she got a little extra consideration due to her sister. Isabelle has wanted to attend the school as long as she can remember, but now that she's there she wonders if she's as good as she thought she was. The ballet moves are just exactly too much beyond her level. But her best friend Louisa and her teacher Ms. Hawken encourage her to keep trying (classmate Renata is less kind). Ms. Hawken suggests a good luck charm to calm Isabelle's nerves--not that she really believes in them, but the routine of having the same something every time might distract Isabelle just enough to let her focus. Isabelle asks her mother, a restorer of old garments at the Smithsonian, for help. Her mother suggests Isabelle design her own costume for the upcoming recital. Remembering an inspiring afternoon at a pond, she sketches out plans for a flowered sash. 

Isabelle works on the costume over the weekend, taking time for a family outing where her father showcases a song about her mother also inspired by the pond (he's a drummer in a for-fun band; his real job is an administrator at a pediatric hospital). Isabelle just knows her sash will fix her dancing. When she practices with it at home, the moves come easily to her. Never mind that Jade--who's been acting sort of withdrawn lately--thinks it's too long. And that Ms. Hawken warns her to watch out for the end of the shawl. Sure enough, she trips over it and embarrass herself in front her class, much to Renata's delight. Humiliated, she runs out into the hall. Jade catches up to her, and tries to reassure her that while some parts of dance are hard, Isabelle's really good at others. She suggests visualization. With the confidence boost, Isabelle heads back to class. That night, she alters the shawl to make it more appropriate for dancing

Soon it's time for the recital. Isabelle and Jade end up helping Louisa when her costume tears, thanks to the sewing kit they carry with them (shouldn't there be a costume director with stuff like that?). Isabelle is surprised to note how much she enjoys sewing compared to rehearsing. But there's not much time to reflect on that as the show's about to start. Isabelle notices a famous Anna Hart graduate headed for the audience, Jackie Sanchez. She visualizes to focus, and the dance comes together. Her muscles know what to do, and it's almost like she's just watching herself dance. She and Renata even sort of make up. Well, at least Renata doesn't hate Isabelle anymore.

And back at home, the cast list for the upcoming Anna Hart production of The Nutcracker comes out. Jade is Clara, and both Isabelle and Louisa are in the cast, too! Isabelle is thrilled that she'll be dancing with her sister and her friend, but she can't help worrying. If she was such a jumble of nerves with the simple recital, how much of a wreck will she be for The Nutcracker?

Real Girls, Real Stories

Reagan W. of Texas attends a ballet boarding school and writes about the challenges and opportunities of living away from home and pursuing her passion. Joia and Marlo G. are part of a circus, performing as a clown and an acrobat, respectively. Emily B. feels like she breathes music--she enjoys lots of activities, but playing the piano is her passion. She's even played at the White House.


Dedicated to "my niece, Fanny, who went with me to The Nutcracker, and to my wife, Joanne, who took me to the Lincoln Center." Special thanks to Kristy Callaway, executive director of the Arts Schools Network; Shannon Gallagher, owner of and instructor at Premier Dance Academy, LLC, Madison, WI; and Angela Corosanite, founder and CEO of String Theory Schools.

Isabelle looks so much like the wife of my husband's best friend.

Louisa's older brother joined the Army six months ago and is still in basic? His family says he doesn't keep in touch well. Aside from the fact that he should have finished basic several weeks ago, if he's still in basic, he's probably using any free time he has to iron his uniform, shine his shoes, take a shower, or, if he's really lucky, sleep.

Isabelle's parents say she's always been dancing, even before she was born. I guess my younger daughter will be a dancer, then--I felt her moving when I was ten weeks along, and she was even turning side to side during labor contractions. She rolled over when she was only three days old, and she moves constantly in her sleep. And when she's awake.

For fun, Isabelle sometimes wears pink hair extensions.

Joia and Marlo remind of a friend of mine, who actually had a position as a tutor in a traveling circus. She teaches at a regular school now, but she had a lot of fun making sure the young performers and the children of performers kept up with their studies. Her mom would sometimes fly out to meet her in new cities.


Girl of the Year 2013movie: Saige Paints the Sky

Debuted as a TV movie in July 2013


The movie combines both books. On the first day of fourth grade, Saige Copeland is disappointed to learn that due to budget cuts in the New Mexico public schools, there won't be any art classes until next year. She's also confused and a little hurt to discover that her best friend Tesssa is now close friends with Dylan, another girl in their class, and seems to have a special bond with her from music camp--one that Saige can't share. The day's not all bad, though: Saige meets Gabi, a new girl at school who loves art as much as Saige does.

After school, Saige talks to her grandmother about her day. Her grandmother encourages her to find a way to bring back art class, and secure music class for next year. Saige is happy that Tessa's on board to help out, and the two make plans to hang out. Then, when Saige is happily telling her grandmother about all this, her grandmother trips over her dog and breaks her leg.

In the hospital, Saige notices that her grandmother's room is colorless and drab--not an environment she'd want to heal in. It gives Saige an idea for a protest: a Day of Beige. Tessa, Gabi, and Dylan are on board, but maybe Dylan's a little too on board. She sort of takes over, and makes it a much bigger thing than Saige planned. Dylan's mom is a newspaper reporter, so now there's going to be a press conference. But Dylan's intensity does get the word spread quickly, and on the day of protest, nearly the whole school's in beige. The principal takes notice--especially when reporters start calling her about a press conference. She tells the students that while she agrees with their goals, they should have warned before creating such a huge event. The only bad thing about the press conference is that Saige gets overwhelmed by the attention and freezes up. Dylan ends up doing all the talking, and she's sure to give Saige credit for the idea.

While the protest goes well aside from Saige's stage fright, the principal brings up logistics. The school needs $5,000 for art. Saige's grandmother suggests she fund-raise at the Albuquerque hot air balloon festival (Albuquerque's the hot air balloon capital of the world, and Saige's father pilots one). She also says Saige should lead the parade with her horse--out in front of everyone. Normally her grandmother would do it, but with a broken leg and a broken wrist, it's just not possible. After raising only a pittance with a lemonade stand, a car wash, and a bake sale, Saige has to agree. Dylan suggests a concert, but Saige wants to be sure art is represented too. Tessa and Dylan start planning the concert, leaving Saige and Gabi to come up with something to showcase art.

Saige and Gabi meets at Saige's grandmother's...something that used to be reserved for Tessa. Things are tense at first, but the girls work it out. What really cements their friendship is her grandmother's dog knocks Saige's painting over and gets fur in it. They figure out that Saige can paint over the fur to add texture, and that gives them the idea to combine art and music in a concert. But Tessa and Dylan don't see how that's possible, and furthermore, they've already been working hard on their idea. Frustrated, Saige blows up at Dylan. After school, Saige goes to visit her grandmother, but doesn't get much comfort there. Her grandmother is giving up on her art and won't be able to watch the parade. Saige tries to encourage her to learn new art techniques--if Saige is learning to ride the horse for the parade in front of everyone and putting so much effort into saving art, why can't her grandmother try using her left hand (the right wrist is broken) for her art? All this leads to another confrontation when Saige's parents come with Gabi to watch Saige practice riding, and Saige unintentionally hurts Gabi's feelings. A heart-to-heart with her dad helps Saige figure things out.

Saige starts working on the fundraising, together with her friends. The concert idea that Tessa and Dylan had isn't working out due to Dylan's overenthusiasm, so it needs to be restarted. While Tessa sorts it out, Saige and Gabi get artistic students working on props. Saige and Dylan make up, and soon everyone's working together. The day of the festival, it's all come together. Saige's grandmother is even able to attend and watch Saige lead the parade beautifully (despite a slight hiccup when she gets overwhelmed)--and show Saige the sketches she made with her left hand.

Soon it's time for the concert, "Living Art." Using the (giant) unfinished mural Saige's grandmother was working on as a backdrop, students from Saige's school act out scenes from New Mexico's history--Tessa and Dylan in the lead. When the concert is done, they've raised just shy of $4,000--not enough. Saige speaks to the audience, speaking about how important art is to her and to other students. Her short but impassioned speech encourages enough people to donate a little more, raising the total to $5,000. The movie ends with Saige, Tessa, Gabi, and Dylan going up in a hot air balloon with a design Saige made, part of a mass of colorful balloons all over the New Mexico sky.


Some of the filming was done on location in New Mexico, and some in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The classroom has individual desks rather than table groups like in the books.

Pet peeve: people call the teacher Miss Applegate when she's Mrs. Applegate. It's just one more syllable. I'm sure they can handle one more syllable to say the teacher's name right.

Why would the teacher make a point of introducing a new student (Gabi) on the first day of class? Is she the only new student? Are the students not going to introduce themselves like in most classes?

Gabi's much more forward and bold (not in a bad way, just in a different way) than in the books. Dylan is more abrasive.

Saige wears her hair the same way her grandmother does.

I expected Tessa to have dark hair, even though in the books' illustrations she's blonde, because I know a Tessa in real life who has dark hair.

Speaking of stage fright, is there any drama or theater for the students? I didn't have a separate class for that until middle school, but my nanny charge was in a school play in fifth grade.

I don't know enough about horses to know if the horses in the movie are Spanish barbs or even look enough like them. To my very untrained eye, they do--but then again, I can only tell that they're not Clydesdales or Sheltand ponies.

Geez, Dylan's a LOT more abrasive in the movie. Back off, Dylan!

That's sweet. Saige's grandmother calls Saige her muse.

While the concert was interesting, I was disappointed that the horse show wasn't in the movie. And I'm surprised that there was no art auction like in the book; that would be an easy and logical way to raise money.


Saige Copeland - Sidney Fullmer (she was discovered at an American Girl store)
Tessa Jablonsky - Alexandra Peters
Gabi Peña - Alana Gordillo
Dylan Patterson - Mika Abdalla
David Copeland (Saige's father) - Kerr Smith
Marianan Copeland (Saige's mother) - Laurel Harris
Mimi - Jane Seymour
Luis - Omar Paz Trujillo
Principal Laird - Rebecca Gibson
Mrs. Applegate - Stephanie Sky
Pam Patterson - Kate Gajdosik
Therapist - David House
Announcer - Shawn Mondragon
Older Boy - Ethan Chernick
Photographer - Robb Moon
Parent - Karen Tusa
Parade Watcher - Maxx Wayne


Girl of the Year 2013: Saige Paints the Sky

Author: Jessie Haas
Illustrator: Sarah Davis


Saige's grandmother is getting better, and Saige is getting along well with Tessa and Gabi too. The PTA has approved an after-school art class, although it's not started yet. Saige paints at her grandmother's studio instead, and invites Gabi along and paint outside there. Gabi is happy to accompany Saige horseback riding, but won't accept an invitation to paint. Saige is confused until Tessa explains that she told Gabi how artists need their space. Saige does want practice painting in solitude, and but not all the time! She's not really ready to share the studio yet, but she does want to deepen her friendship with Gabi. Fortunately, when Saige explains the misunderstanding, Gabi understands.

Saige suggests that Gabi come with her to her grandmother's rehabilitation facility, as she's just discovered a closet of old art supplies. It's not long before other patients take notice, and as Saige and Gabi return day after day, the number of painters swells. Saige even talks her grandmother's neighbor (who found her grandmother after the fall) into teaching a tin-working class or two. Saige hopes her grandmother can help her find an art teacher, but her grandmother leaves it up to Saige. Her grandmother also tells Saige that she's selling one of her horses--which shouldn't be a surprise because her grandmother is trying to preserve the Spanish barb breed, but Saige was just growing attached to that particular horse. Riding the horse gives Saige an idea: she and some like-minded students will have a "Day of Beige" protest about the lack of the promised extra-curricular activity, beige like the empty hallways with no student artwork on them. Dylan even says she could get her mom to write about in the newspaper! The Day of Beige is a success: the next day, the teachers dress in colorful, sparkly clothing to show solidarity with the arts programs, and several people step forward to volunteer as after-school art teachers.

Soon it's Saige's birthday. She invites Tessa, Gabi, and Dylan over for a celebration. There, her grandmother, recently out of the rehabilitation center, gives Saige a scroll: she's not selling the horse. She's giving it to Saige! 

Real Girls, Real Stories

Olivia B. of New York sent her own drawings to a national bird conservation group and the more than 500 pieces of art raised over $180,000 for bird rescue and wetland rehabilitation. Kyra H. of California designed jewelry charms to sell in her mother's jewelry store that raise money for different charities--almost $3,000 so far. Rachel E. and Naomi G. also made jewelry, selling their pieces to benefit four organizations (buyers could choose which of the four to donate to) and also held a bake sale to raise money for the relief effort after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Haley K. made beaded bracelets and sold them to raise more than $4,000 to help victims of the 2011 Japanese tsunami. There are also tips on holding a craft sale.


Dedicated to "Tiff, Kristina, and Julianna--Jo's precious girls." Special thanks to Beth Larsen, Executive Director of the Arts in the School, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Randy Cohen, Vice President of Research and Policy, Americans for the Arts.

Saige's birthday is October 8. Although my older daughter's birthday is in late November, we had her party early this year because we were moving in November, on October 7.

Saige's grandmother gets her arm cast off on page 95, but pictures from earlier in the book show her with both arms free, and she's using a walker to get around, something a doctor from the first book specifically said would be very hard.


Girl of the Year 2013: Saige

Author: Jessie Haas
Illustrator: Sarah Davis


At first, Saige Copeland is excited for fourth grade. She'll be able to see her best friend Tessa again (Tessa was at music camp) and she'll have art lessons. But on the way to class, Tessa reminds Saige that the school had art last year. Because of New Mexico public school budget problems, the school only has art or music each year, not both. A new girl, Gabi, is disappointed too. At least Saige can go to her grandmother's studio to paint. Tessa's happy about music, and Saige tries to be happy for her. When the trio reaches the classroom, another girl, Dylan, waves Tessa over: she's saved them a table. It seems Tessa and Dylan got to know each other really well at music camp. When they start talking about how much practice it takes to become a virtuoso (ten thousand hours), Saige wonders if Tessa will have any time for her. 

After school, Saige heads for her grandmother's house. Between visiting the Spanish barb horses and painting, her grandmother encourages Saige to have a fundraiser so the school have art classes and music classes at the same time. Saige and her parents start planning a fiesta. Her father, an airline pilot who also has a hot air balloon, will donate balloon rides for a raffle. Saige asks Tessa for help drafting a letter to the PTA, but Tessa's too busy practicing with Dylan. Gabi offers to help. Saige feels torn because writing is the sort of thing she usually does with Tessa, but Gabi ends up being a huge help and they gather a lot of student signatures pledging to help raise money. Saige is happy the letter's the done, but still upset because she and Tessa seem to be growing apart. They even end up fighting when Tessa says all Saige talks about is the fundraiser and Saige counters with Tessa only talking about music.

Before the fight can be resolved, Saige goes to her grandmother's house only to find that she's fallen and an ambulance is taking her to a hospital (a neighbor found her). She's broken her femur and her wrist. She's going to be okay, but requires surgery and rehabilitation. Saige is comforted to find that Tessa has put their fight aside to express her concern. She and Dylan even agree to sing at the fundraiser. Gabi ends up helping out again, when Saige's family needs help taking care of her grandmother's dog and cat. She click-trains the dog so it stops barking all night. Saige wonders if she can use the same trick to get her grandmother's favorite horse to behave for the parade they're including in the fundraiser. 

The click-training is perfect for the horse. Soon he's picked up enough tricks that Saige and Gabi plan a show centered around them. He'll even paint! Saige hopes he'll do as well leading the parade--they haven't been able to practice much since her grandmother's fall. 

But the day of the fundraiser, he performs beautifully. Saige's grandmother is there to see, and Saige can tell she's proud. Tessa sings a beautiful solo, and Saige understands why she has to practice so much, and also knows they'll always share a special connection through their talents. Everyone loves the horse show with its tricks, and his painting gets more bids than some of the humans' artwork. Saige has her own piece up for sale--one she started with her grandmother's help and finished while Tessa sat in the studio with her, playing guitar and singing softly. 

Real Girl, Real Story

Lizzie writes about how she fell in love with showing horses. She'd been around horses her whole life, but it wasn't until her mother got a homeless pony, Toby, at auction that she got into it. Lizzie knows about being underestimated: she was born without her left hand and forearm. Working together, Lizzie and Toby have learned enough tricks that they're in horse shows all year round. Lizzie wants girls to know that if they work hard they can accomplish their dreams.


Dedicated to "Jo McNeil. Love you, miss you." Special thanks to Beth Larsen, Executive Director of Art in the School, Albuquerque, NM; Randy Cohen, Vice President of Research and Policy, Americans for the Arts; Amy Robinson, Master Dog Trainer and Director of Country View Canines, Oregon, WI; and Karla Dean at Country View Veterinary Service, Oregon, WI.

My dad tells this joke about Albuquerque: Do you pronounce the capital of New Mexico Alb-you-kwer-kyou or Al-ba-cur-key? Neither, it's Santa Fe.

Saige's grandmother's given name is Miriam, and she goes by Mimi.


Girl of the Year 2012 Movie: McKenna Shoots for the Stars

Debuted as a TV movie in July 2012


Like Chrissa's movie, this combines McKenna's books. McKennas doing well in gymnastics but struggling in fourth grade. Her parents warn her that if her grades slip too much, she'll have to cut back on gymnastics--and just when she's preparing to try out for a competitive team. But McKenna just can't keep school information in her head. Desperate, she looks at her classmate/teammate Sierra's test. McKenna's parents set her up with a tutor, Josie. Josie uses a wheelchair, which makes McKenna feel awkward at first, but Josie seems nice enough. Soon McKenna's at practice, but there she learns that her best friend Toulane probably can't go on the camping trip McKenna's family takes every year. Her mom thinks Toulane needs focus more on gymnastics so she can make the competitive team.

Soon it's time for a gymnastics meet. McKenna starts her balance beam routine. It starts well, but she tries a stunt she's not ready for and breaks her ankle on the dismount. She can still do some exercises (like bars), but she'll be in a cast until three weeks before her tryouts. Toulane sees McKenna talking privately with their teacher (about tutoring) and starts wondering what's going on, but McKenna is too embarrassed about tutoring to admit it. The girls end up fighting, with Toulane thinking the McKenna is shutting her out. Toulane eventually sees McKenna with Josie and the truth comes out. Toulane is very hurt that McKenna kept secrets from her, and the girls have a falling out.

McKenna offers an olive branch: the family camping trip got moved to this coming weekend, and she invited Toulane as she always has in the past. But when Toulane hears that Josie's coming too, she declines. McKenna and Josie are still able to have fun in Olympic National Forest on the Olympic Peninsula. They're staying at a place with wheelchair accessible paths, perfect for Josie and McKenna, who's still on crutches. Back in school, McKenna finally sees some great progress in her schoolwork. Josie tells her that she's going to a horseback riding club for kids with disabilities. She asks if McKenna can come with for moral support on her first day. McKenna happily agrees, then realizes it will conflict with the appoint she has to have her cast removed. Josie is hurt and angry that she can't reschedule (which frankly annoys me a little--McKenna's had this appointment for weeks and only just found out about the horseback riding with a couple days' notice). McKenna tries to explain how much she's looking forward to getting the cast off, but ends up insulting Josie accidentally ("Do you have any idea what it's like to be stuck in this library barely able to move?").

After some reflection, Josie's decides to reschedule having her cast off, and is able to be there for Josie. It's a good thing she comes, because she's able to grab an errant plastic bag that spooks Josie's horse. And it turns out that Josie invited Toulane, giving the girls a chance to talk. Toulane questions how much McKenna really cares about gymnastics, and more to the point, their friendship--McKenna invited Josie on the camping trip, and showed her their special handshake. McKenna explains that she never meant to hurt Toulane, and that she was excited that schoolwork was finally making sense. The friends make up.

Soon McKenna's cast is off, and her leg is magically healed (I had my broken ankle in a cast for six weeks, not eight, and my calf muscle was noticeably smaller when I got it off). She goes back to practice without even an ankle brace and only a mental block to get over, right back on the regular balance beam instead of the shorter practice one she started with in the book. But Toulane is there to encourage McKenna and cheer on her best friend. She throws herself into gymnastics and school, making progress with both. The day of the tryout/meet, she still hasn't nailed her dismount, but with Toulane and Josie cheering her on, she has the confidence to stick it (looks like there's no time limit for the routines any more? She takes a while). Toulane herself needs some encouragement, but to stand up to her mom and tell her that she doesn't want to compete on such a high level. She'd rather have fun with rhythmic gymnastics. At then end of the meet, the three qualifiers to the competitive team are announced: Toulane, a girl from another team, and McKenna. Toulane's mother finally notices her daughter's lack of enthusiasm, and Toulane tells her everything. Toulane relinquishes her spot, and Sierra (who is a very minor character in the movie) makes the team. McKenna, Toulane, Josie, and Sierra all go out to celebrate.

The movie closes on McKenna giving a big oral report to a gathering of students, from a podium, and delivering it well. No Space Needle dinner, sadly.


Filmed in Canada (Winnipeg)--aside fro the usual establishing shots of Seattle (Space Needle, Pike Place Market, Mount Rainier, Elliot Bay, etc). Most of the scenes look like a generic city, but I can tell it's not set here because there aren't enough deciduous trees--there should be lots of maple, oak, poplar, and alder trees in addition to the conifers. There's also one shot just after McKenna and Toulane see a rhythmic gymnastics practice that shows a Canadian mail box--we don't have those in Seattle. There is a Washington state flag in the school library, though. Manitoba's flag looks nothing like Washington's (it's red instead of green) so that was deliberate.

It looks like one twin is taller than the other, which reminds me of two friends of mine who look similar pretending to be fraternal twins when we were pre-teens. One is taller and they told people--on a ferry ride--that the grew at different rates and would be the same height when the were adults.

McKenna's dad used to be in a band. Because it's Seattle, it was a grunge band.

In the book, the trip to the Peninsula came up out of nowhere, just a spontaneous for-fun thing. In the movie, a family camping trip is an annual event.

McKenna tries out several tutors when she balks at Josie's suggestion to practice reading comprehension with books meant for younger children. The montage of tutors whose styles don't work with McKenna is funny.

I'm pretty sure there's a stunt double for the gymnastics portions--you almost never see the actor's faces, and the girl playing McKenna is fit but doesn't have the muscular definition I'd expect a serious gymnast to have.

Thank you, Mrs. Brooks! McKenna's dad starts saying "Your coach warned you..." right away when she breaks her ankle. Mrs. Brooks shakes her head for him to stop. You can wait to point out your daughter's hubris until at least the next day.

Toulane has a gorgeous gymnastics leotard, purple with a bold design of silver stars swirled on it.

McKenna wears the same grey-and-turquoise-striped dress to school several times. I mainly noticed because it's similar to an outfit that the girl I used to nanny has.

McKenna was born two weeks early.

If you want really good pizza in Seattle, try Toscana. I love the garlic sauce so much that I only get cheese with it--it doesn't need more flavor. Jet City Pizza and Pagliacci are also really, really good. I had the former for my last two birthday dinners (pepperoni and feta on garlic sauce--got to keep the vampires away) and the latter when I watched the Seahawks win the Super Bowl. I also got a gift card from Pagliacci for a friend when her newborn had to be hospitalized until he was a week old (he's fine now, just turned one) because it's close enough to deliver to the hospital. When I asked the manager if they delivered to the hospital and told him why, he reached under the counter and gave me a Pagliacci shirt sized for a baby--free. And it used to sponsor Almost Live! when it was on the air.

The camping trip is at Olympic National Forest in the movie rather than Olympic National Park. It wasn't filmed in either; isn't enough moss on the trees, and too much scrub-like ground cover.

After riding a horse for the first time, Josie suddenly gets a Southern accent.

At the big tryout meet, the different teams parade in while they're announced (and McKenna's mom tries to get her to wave to her--let her focus, Mom). I only did one season of high school gymnastics, but I remember doing this sort of introduction. You can tell which girls are really into gymnastics by how the walk toe first and with a certain carriage.

The announcers at the meet vacillate between pronouncing Toulane's last name as to-MAS and TOM-as.

I'm surprised that no one mentions that the Olympics has rhythmic gymnastics, since 1984. Toulane could still go for the gold if she wanted to.


McKenna Brooks - Jade Pettyjohn
Josie Myers - Kerris Dorsey
Mrs. Brooks - Nia Vardalos
Mr. Brooks - Ian Zierling
Toulane Thomas - Ysa Penarejo
Isabelle Manning - Cathy Rigby (as in, the first American woman to win a medal at a world gymnastics competition, earning a silver on balance beam in the 1970 World Championships)
Sierra Kuchinko - Kally Berard
Grandma - Talia Pura
Mrs. Thomas - Paula Rivera
Mr. Wu - George Chiang
Maisey Brooks - Kadence Kendall Roach
Mara Brooks - Peyton Raine Roach
Announcer - Aisha Alfa
Cowboy Bob - Will Woytowich
Impatient Girl Tutor - Abbey Thickson
Megan Murphy - Emma Leipsic
Gymnast - Laura Cartlidge
School Librarian - Stefanie Wiens


Girl of the Year 2012: McKenna, Ready to Fly!

Author: Mary Casanova
Illustrator: Brian Hailes


McKenna's cast will be off soon, and she's ready to try out for the competition gymnastic team. She has two months--until March--to get ready. She's also still working with Josie, but once a week instead of twice. Josie is going to go to a therapeutic riding center soon, but she's afraid of getting hurt horseback-riding. McKenna offers to come with her--even though she'll have to reschedule getting the cast off. It's important to her to help Josie. Toulane cautions McKenna not to let too much take time away from gymnastics--Toulane's mother is always on her back to focus so she can make the competitive team. 

At the riding center, McKenna is surprised to see one of her classmates, Elizabeth. Her younger brother has a mental disability (and maybe physical; the book isn't clear), and he rides horses there too. Elizabeth volunteers there on the weekends. McKenna mentions it to her gymnastics coach at her next practice (when her cast is finally off) and the whole team will soon be going up to help out after practice one Saturday. Sierra's excited--McKenna notices that Sierra's been very encouraging as she restarts gymnastics--but Toulane isn't sure she can take a break. McKenna's frustrated with how distant she feels from Toulane. The two used to be so close, but now Toulane is obsessing over gymnastics and hardly lets herself think about anything else, plus it seems like McKenna keeps hurting Toulane's feelings. Toulane gets permission to go to the riding center and does pretty well there, but gets flustered quickly and McKenna doesn't get a chance to talk with her.

Soon, a solution presents itself: McKenna's teacher says she no longer needs a tutor (McKenna and Josie will remain friends) and to celebrate, McKenna's parents say she can invite two friends for dinner at the top of the Space Needle (that's a very expensive dinner, but her dad says she's earned it). McKenna invites Toulane and Josie, being sure to tell each that the other is invited. Toulane says yes right away, and also agrees to ask her mom if she can come help at the riding center again. At the riding center that weekend, Toulane confesses her fear of not making the competitive team, and McKenna notes that Toulane doesn't seem to enjoy gymnastics anymore.

Two weeks fly by. It's time for tryouts. McKenna performs well enough to earn one of the two spots on the competitive team, and Toulane gets the other. Sierra comes in third behind McKenna. But Toulane tells the coach she doesn't want to on the competitive team. She'd rather have fun with rhythmic gymnastics, even if it's not what her mom wants--Toulane's the one doing the sport, not her mom. The coach wisely tells Toulane to talk with her mom before saying anything to Sierra. 

The books skips ahead to the Space Needle dinner. Toulane is joining rhythmic gymnastics now that her mother understands how miserable she's been. McKenna and Sierra are now both on the competitive team, and Josie's learning more and more about riding. McKenna's happy to share a fun dinner with Toulane and Josie; happy to have two close friends. 

Real Girls Who Encourage Each Other

Katie W., a thirteen-year-old Wisconsin snowboard champion, began collecting and making hats when her friend Gina was diagnosed with cancer. The two girls donated hundreds of hats, and Gina is now in remission. New Jersey resident Grace G. uses hearing aids, and when she learned that most insurance companies don't the expensive equipment, she campaigned and got a law passed that insurance companies have to cover hearing aids in her state--and the law is named after her (http://graceslaw.com/). Michala R. raised $200,000 to fund autism research in just six months, inspired by her younger brother who has autism. Ruthie, adopted from Haiti, and her best friend Raegan set up a fundraiser wherein Raegan swam more than two miles (in a pool) with Ruthie's encouragement and pledge solicitation, and sent about $70,000 to help fund relief efforts after a devastating earthquake in Haiti.


Dedicated to "the kids and volunteers at Forget-Me-Not Riding Center, for young gymnasts everywhere, and for readers of all kinds and abilities. Follow your dreams!"

I wonder how far from Queen Anne Hill you can actually get in twenty-five minutes (the time to drive to the riding center) on a Friday afternoon. Seattle's rush hour traffic is not kind.

On page thirty-one, Shannon and Logan say hi to each other. Logan is a teenager while Shannon is an adult--did she escape the time warp?


Girl of the Year 2012: McKenna

Author: Mary Casanova
Illustrator: Brian Hailes


When school lets out for the day, McKenna Brooks can hardly wait to get to gymnastics practice. But her mother tells her to do some homework first--there's a half hour before practice and her teacher has warned McKenna's parents that her schoolwork isn't quite where it should be. McKenna knows she's having trouble keeping up, how can she tell her parents that when her father's a high school principal? She tries to focus on her science book, but just can't. Soon enough, it's time to leave for the gym with her grandmother and her five-year-old twin sisters, Maisey and Mara. She has a wonderful time there with her best friend Toulane and meeting a new teammate, Sierra. But after practice her parents show her the email from her teacher, and warn her that she might need to cut back on gymnastics. McKenna's even less willing to ask for help when she sees everyone else in the class breezing through a quiz. She can't even finish it and the teacher tells her to take it home. When McKenna asks another student for help, the student offers to just give her the answers. The other girl's mother sees what's going on and puts a stop to it. McKenna is so embarrassed--she's the only one in her class having trouble, and now she was ready to cheat to get to the answers. 

After a conference with her teacher and parents, McKenna starts meeting with a tutor, a sixth-grade girl named Josie (McKenna's in fourth grade). McKenna feels awkward with Josie at first, in part because she doesn't want to admit she needs a tutor and in part because Josie is the first person McKenna's ever talked to who uses a wheelchair. But Josie is friendly and smart, and the study session goes well. McKenna has to leave class early for her tutoring, and Toulane starts asking where she's going. Sierra deduces that McKenna doesn't want to talk about it, but Toulane persists, asking if McKenna's getting private gymnastics coaching. To get Toulane off her back, McKenna lies and says she's right. Toulane doesn't speak to McKenna for the rest of practice, or the next few days. 

One weekend, McKenna's family takes time to visit the Olympic Peninsula (across Puget Sound from Seattle). Josie and her parents come too. Wanting to be sure Josie isn't left out, McKenna finds some wheelchair-accessible trails in the Hoh Rain Forest at Olympic National Park. The two girls have a wonderful time seeing everything there. McKenna finds some time to read Island of the Blue Dolphins (great book) and is happy to discover that she's retaining a lot of the information, thanks to Josie's tips. Josie also gives McKenna a notebook for writing poetry--it will help her reading comprehension even more. McKenna is happy that she and Josie are becoming friends. 

The next week at school, Toulane and Sierra happen upon McKenna studying with Josie. Her secret--and lie--are found out. To her credit, McKenna apologizes immediately, but her teammates are hurt that she'd lie and keep secrets from them. McKenna takes a moment to collect herself, and buckles down to her schoolwork. Gymnastic tryouts are the next weekend, and she wants to qualify for the next level. The tryouts seem to be going well--until McKenna slips and falls. She breaks her ankle. She'll be out for at least two months, until after the new year.

McKenna is upset, of course. But she realizes that moping won't solve anything. A talk with Josie helps her see that she doesn't need to worry too much what other think of her (i.e.; students seeing her with a tutor). She just needs to be McKenna. Toulane calls and Sierra visits too, and McKenna makes up with her friends. She's also getting back on top of school. McKenna goes to practice to observe, and cheer on her teammates. It's not easy being on the sidelines, but she knows she'll be back soon. 

Real Girls, Real Letters

"Under Pressure" thinks her mom is pushing her too hard in school--her grades are falling because the work is harder--and is told that any grade earned with her best effort is worthwhile, but that she should figure out why her grades are slipping, so they don't slip further. "Stumped and Stupid" is encouraged to ask for help when she needs it, because she can't do everything on her own. "Copycat" gets some studying advice and is told that yes, she has to stop copying other people's work--it won't help in the long run and cheating is dishonest. "Daydreamer" gets some tips on staying focused during lectures, like visualizing what the teacher's talking about or taking notes.


Dedicated to Peyton, and all the girls at Perpetual Motion Gymnastics. Special thanks to Jeanelle Memmel; Patti Kelly Criswell, MSW; Dr. Laurie Cutting; and Dr. Debbie Straub.

This book is first-person narration.

My grandmother is a twin, and has a sister five years older, like McKenna's family. They also had a brother five years older than the older sister, but he died in a military training exercise decades ago.

One of my cousins is a teacher at a school on Queen Anne Hill, the area of Seattle where McKenna lives.

McKenna's mother runs a coffee shop.

McKenna has a pet hamster named Polka Dot, and the family has a golden retriever/poodle mix named Cooper.

One of McKenna's younger sisters seems to have never heard of the Olympic Peninsula. I grew up a suburb of Seattle, and I could have pointed out the Olympic Mountains when I was five, and knew about the Peninsula.

I also knew then that it's Mount Olympus, not Mount Olympia as the book incorrectly calls it. Olympia is the capital city. Some other bits are a little off: Bainbridge Island is across Puget Sound from Seattle, not across the bay (Elliot Bay). The route they take to Olympic National Park is one plausible way to go, but a LOT of driving. Over the weekend, they're spending several hours in the car. And this is VERY WRONG: it's not Pikes Place Market. It's Pike Place Market, at the end of Pike Street.

From the landmarks, it sounds like McKenna and her family take the Seattle-Bremerton ferry, which takes a little over half an hour like the book says.

My favorite haiku (I didn't write it):
Haikus are easy
But they don't always make sense

McKenna's teacher hands out books for book reports. We always chose our own, but the teacher seems to have taken time to select books that people would like (they don't all get the same book).


Girl of the Year 2011: Good Job, Kanani!

Author: Lisa Yee
Illustrator: Sarah Davis


Rachel's been gone two weeks, and summer is fading fast. Kanani is determined to do something to help monk seals, and when she sees her family's new portable shave ice cart, she gets an idea. With her father's permission, she'll sell shave ice to raise money and awareness, with fifty cents of each shave ice cone going to making posters explaining to tourists why they should leave the monk seals alone if they're resting on the beach. But there's not much time, and what little of summer is left gets taken up by surfing and worrying about Jinx, the family's pet rooster which is lost. Kanani doesn't actually like the sport, but her friend Celina loves it and Kanani promised she'd surf with her this summer. And Celina's spending more and more time on the waves. Kanani's father won't let her operate the cart alone. Kanani is happy and surprised when Pika, a boy who's usually boastful and annoying, starts helping. With his charisma, the pair sell lots of shave ice and also collect extra donations for the monk seals. 

Soon, Kanani is only twelve dollars away from being able to afford the posters (approved by the foundation that protects monk seals). But she hasn't talked to Celina in more than a week, and Celina's been off surfing with another girl who's much better at it than Kanani. Kanani's mother and grandmother encourage her to at least talk with Celina again. Maybe their friendship is growing apart, but she shouldn't give up entirely. Kanani isn't convinced until she finds Jinx. The rooster made its way to her grandmother's yard (her paternal grandmother, not the one Kanani shares with Rachel) and has really taken to her grandmother's chickens and her grandmother. Kanani declares that the rooster has found a new home, and is happy that it brings her grandmother happiness. A bit later, Kanani hears that Celina is in a surfing competition, and goes to watch. Celina wins second in her division, and the girl she's been hanging out with gets first in hers. Kanani ends up talking with the girl, Jo, and finds her very nice. Her father is a photographer, and Celina has told them about Kanani's photography hobby. Jo's father wants to see Kanani's work! He offers to buy one of her pictures for ten dollars. Kanani asks for twelve, the last bit she needs for the monk seals.

After the surfing competition, Kanani and Celina make up. Celina didn't realize how little Kanani liked surfing, and they agree to not pressure each other into things they don't like (Celina didn't like taking up so much of her day selling shave ice). The posters are printed soon after, and Kanani and Celina pass them out around the town. Kanani also sends one to Rachel. 

Real Girls, Real Stories

Francesca L. of Florida used her new birthday camera to take pictures of people in homeless shelters (with permission) and made little albums for the families there, and for the last six years has returned every Mother's Day to take family portraits. Haley T. of Georgia grew her hair out for almost a year and a half to donate it for wigs. Canadian Andrea F. sewed pillowcase for patients at a children's hospital and also did in-person charity work at a South African orphanage, and asked family and friends to donate money to it instead of buying her birthday presents. Lindsey M. made emergency kits with meal supplies for elderly and disabled residents of her Colorado mountain town, and also collects supplies for a crisis pregnancy center and donates money and toys to children in need. Ellen B. and her friends raised money to give the custodian of their North Carolina school his dream vacation: a family trip to San Francisco. Emily L. of Virginia rallied her community to donate more than two hundred pairs of shoes to a program in Ethiopia that provides girls education and exercise.


Dedicated to Roger and Pat. With special thanks to "Jennifer Hirsch for helping bring Kanani's story to life."

In an email, Rachel says that she's happily settling into life with her mother and stepfather, and has gotten a pair of parakeets, Fred and Ginger.


Girl of the Year 2011: Aloha, Kanani

Author: Lisa Yee
Illustrator: Sarah Davis


Ten-year-old Kanani can hardly wait for her fourteen-year-old cousin Rachel to visit. She'll be there a month while her mother is on a honeymoon (she just remarried after a divorce) and moving into a new apartment. They haven't seen each other since the family reunion four years ago, and Rachel, a New Yorker, has never been to Hawaii before. When she arrives, Rachel seems shy, or maybe tired: it's a long trip from the east coast. Once she's had a chance to rest, Kanani shows her town. She finds herself wondering if her trendy cousin thinks the buildings and people there are too backward, but Rachel does seem interested in learning about the place she'll be staying for a month. But when Kanani says they should swim, Rachel won't, and she's overwhelmed by all the new food and culture, shrinking back from it all rather than jumping in. It's going to be a long month if Rachel doesn't want to experience anything Hawaiian. Kanani worries she's offended Rachel. 

The next day starts out a little better, with Rachel being more open to experiencing Hawaii. But soon the girls get in a fight, Kanani accusing Rachel of looking down on everything in Hawaii for not being as trendy as the things in New York and Rachel saying that Kanani won't shut up about how Hawaii is the greatest. Rachel goes on, and it's clear that she feels abandoned: her mother doesn't want her on the honeymoon and her dad's too busy with work and a new baby (he's remarried too), so she's sent off to stay with family she hardly knows. The girls are distracted from their fight when they spot a rare monk seal, a pup tangled in a fishing net. Rachel stays with it while Kanani gets a federal worker to help (monk seals are endangered and each time one is spotted they're supposed to alert a particular rescue group). The seal is soon freed and swims away, having been declared healthy by a biologist. Kanani is thrilled, but Rachel seems upset. Kanani can't figure out what's going on with her cousin. 

But then she has an inspiration. Kanani takes Rachel paddleboarding---and Rachel loves it! She can see the beautiful things in the ocean without getting in it. Rachel's a decent swimmer but afraid of deep water. The paddleboard is perfect for her. Once the cousins have found something Rachel loves, time passes quickly. Before Rachel goes back to the New York City, Kanani takes her snorkeling. They also visit a secluded cove, and see the monk seal they helped rescue. Kanani is excited to write about the sighting in her journal, but she finds it under Rachel's pillow (the girls are sharing a room). Why would Rachel take something so private? And she's used it as her own! Of course, it's soon cleared up as mistaken identity: the cousins' grandmother sent the girls the same journal, and Kanani accidentally read some bits of Rachel's. Bits like Rachel worrying that her mother and stepfather won't want her around now that they're married and that Rachel has been crying herself to sleep, quietly so as not to wake Kanani. But it turns out to be for the best: Kanani tells Rachel how she accidentally read some of her journal, and Rachel opens up about how overwhelming and scary the changes are, and the girls bond. 

On Rachel's last night, there's a surprise going-away party. The two cousins have fun and stay up late talking. They promise to keep in touch better, and even plan ahead that maybe Kanani can visit Rachel in New York. Back at home, Rachel soon writes to Kanani asking about the monk seals. Kanani replies that she's going to raise money to help the endangered animals. 

Real Girls, Real Stories

Meimei N. does hands-on work with Hawaii's green sea turtles to help biologists track their health. Nicole H. of Wyoming raised money to get power lines installed underground instead of overhead, where they were trapping and killing trumpeter swans. Nichole S. of Ohio nursed an injured fawn back to health, and was later rewarded when the healed deer came back to visit--with twins! Brook B. founded Ohio's Heroes of Animals and influenced an older man to will his property to an over-crowded pet shelter--but not so crowded now since she's helped more than fifty dogs find homes. Vanja G. works with Virginia animal shelters to help cats be adopted.


Dedicated to "Nicole and Jordan." Special thanks to "Peter Apo and Maile Meyer for their insights and knowledge of the Hawaiian culture, and to Sue Kanohoof the Kaua'i Visitors Bureau for her gracious hospitality. Mahalo to the Kaua'i Monk Seal Watch Program: to Ronalee Eckberg and Denise Jones; to Donna Lee and Millie Johnson, who showed me around the island; plus a special shout-out to Tim Robinson for his invaluable information about the Hawaiian monk seal and the island of Kaua'i." And "with special thanks to Puakea Nogelmeier for his guidance on the Hawaiian language, and to the National Wildlife Federation for advocating on behalf of endangered species."

And we're back to third person narration.

Rachel has a necklace that her stepfather gave her when her mother re-married. One of my friends got married a few years ago and after they exchanged vows, her husband gave her daughter a necklace with three hearts on it to symbolize their new family (the daughter's father is dead, so my friend's husband wasn't shutting anyone out or anything like that).

Kanani's family owns a shave ice and candy store. They add a new flavor in honor of Rachel: Rachel's Big Apple.

There were a few parts when I got annoyed with the adults in the story. They seemed to be pushing Kanani to always be showing Rachel this or that when Kanani explained that Rachel wanted some time alone. I love my alone time, and would be very annoyed if I couldn't get any of it for a month.

I actually moved to Honolulu a few weeks ago (my husband got a new job). I've yet to see a monk seal in the wild, but the aquarium has some. They're HUGE. I thought they'd be harbor-seal-sized, but they're almost as big as sea lions. Also, shave ice is really good for nineteen-month-olds who cut their lips and need something cold. Bonus points if you get strawberry so the blood doesn't show.


Girl of the Year 2010: Lanie's Real Adventures

Author: Jane Kurtz
Illustrators: Rebecca DeKuiper and Robert Papp


Lanie's aunt Hannah has returned, in time for a family camping trip. Lanie and Hannah sleep outside in a tent while the rest of the family sleeps in Hannah's trailer, but the family is still together on a camping trip. Lanie couldn't be happier.

When they return, Lanie and Emily start planning another garden in the front yard, a butterfly haven. The next-door neighbor comes over to complain about it, though. She's worried that the Holland house is becoming an eyesore (Hannah's camper has been in the driveway for at least two months now, and there are city ordinances about front yard appearances). She's also worried that the seeds from the native wildflowers they're planting--weeds, she says--with blow over to her yard and ruin the perfectly landscaped rose garden she has. She's also using harsh pesticides and herbicides, which Lanie worries will kill butterflies and maybe even get into the Hollands' vegetable garden.

Lanie has also joined a summer gardening program through her school. She learns about natural pesticides and herbicides, like using ladybugs to eat aphids. One boy in class, Nicholas, is an aspiring entomologist. He shows Lanie a newspaper article about how he found a particularly rare ladybug. It hadn't been seen in fourteen years so was presumed extinct, and he found the second specimen (see "Real Girls, Real Stories" below). When Lanie learns that ladybugs seek out and eat aphids, she collects several of them for her neighbor, having already made inroads with her by giving her a natural aphid spray and some homemade zucchini bread. The neighbor is skeptical but intrigued, especially when she's told that some commercial farmers use natural solutions like ladybugs. Lanie eventually decides to forgo the front yard garden, and the neighbor starts using natural pesticides and herbicides.

Inspired, Lanie suggests the gardening program put on a festival. They can raise money to help the endangered orangutans that her best friend Dakota told her about: the local people in Indonesia are mostly very poor, and illegal logging of the rain forest is a quick way to earn money, but it displaces the apes. The emails from Dakota are a good thing for Lanie, as she'd been discouraged thinking kids can't make a difference. But then Lanie's neighbor becomes more open to ideas, and the garden festival goes so well. Emily even finds monarch eggs in the Hollands' back yard shortly after Dakota returns home. When she's interviewed at the garden festival, the TV reporter asks Lanie what one thing she wants people to learn from the festival. She says that people shouldn't give up, because one person can make a difference.

Real Girls, Real Stories

Jilene and her brother Jonathan saw a rare kind of ladybug one day, a species native to their Virginia home, which hadn't been seen in fourteen years. They told a friend of theirs who was majoring in entomology, and the friend started a conservation project to help protect the ladybug, once thought to have been extinct. Sabra is a junior ranger in California, helping take care of the redwoods forest. Julia helped her Maryland school get a recycling program (sounds like she was less grating about it than someone else). Isabel and her friend Gabe started a club at their Pennsylvania school to raise money for manatee research and protection.


Special thanks are given to Kathe Crowley Conn.

Like Lanie's first book, this one is full of illustrated nature facts.

Ah, now Hannah is an ornithologist.

Everything is made of chemicals. Water is H20--a chemical. Chemicals aren't necessarily bad (or good).

Yule Tree Farms in Oregon was featured on an episode of Modern Marvels ("Christmas Tech"). It uses ladybugs and similar things for pest control, but occasionally resorts to artificial chemicals to fight particularly bad infestations, targeting the specific trees that are affected.

The next-door neighbor hears Angela playing her cello, and arranges for her to audition for a youth program with the Boston Pops.


Girl of the Year 2010: Lanie

Author: Jane Kurtz
Illustrators: Rebecca DeKuiper and Robert Papp


Lanie Holland, a budding scientist, sometimes wonders how she ended up in her family. She loves her mom and dad (architect and college professor, respectively) and both her older and younger sister, but they're homebodies and like to stay inside. Lanie is happiest outdoors, observing the world and walking her rabbit Lulu. Her older sister Angela is too busy practicing her cello and her younger sister Emily recently became terrified of bugs and refuses to go outside unless it's necessary. Lanie used to explore with her best friend Dakota, but Dakota's in Indonesia for six months while her father studies the rain forest there. Lanie is thrilled when her aunt Hannah comes to visit for the summer. Hannah, an ornithologist, is adventurous like Lanie. The two make a wildflower and vegetable garden, and plan a trip to see a fantastic gathering of birds in May.

But one morning she wakes up to find that Hannah has jetted off to Costa Rica, to see a rare bird. Lanie's alone again. On day her annoyances all pile up: Dakota is nursing baby orangutans during a fantastic adventure, Angela's been practicing the same piece of music forever, her parents only enjoy doing things inside, the new next-neighbor is a snob, her aunt didn't even say goodbye before leaving for six weeks, and Emily scribbled childish drawings on the last pages of Lanie's field journal. Lanie's able to calm down after a heart-to-heart with Angela and another with her mom, who reminds her that Emily only wants to imitate Lanie because of how much she looks up to her big sister (she really should have been reprimanded for getting into someone else's property though, especially after she was told explicitly not to). 

Lanie sets about doing what she can to occupy her time. She plants the vegetable seedlings (only peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, and herbs--no lettuce or carrots or beans or peas or potatoes?) and spends a night on the porch, observing the constellations (it's late spring in Massachussetts). And the next morning Emily helps her with some gardening chores, having forgotten to worry about bugs. Lanie hears some bird calls and is pleased to discover she can identify them. That gives her an idea: maybe she can't visit an exotic location, but there's plenty to discover in her own backyard. And in five short weeks, Dakota will be home.

That night at dinner, Emily starts talking about pepperoni pizza--she's a very picky eater and only eats food that looks like pizza, so the family's been making several varieties. Lanie has an idea: they can grow pizza ingredients in the garden! Emily loves the idea, and if she's growing the vegetables she'll be more likely to try them. Soon, the sisters are outside planning a bigger garden and making observations in a shared field journal. As the garden grows, the whole family even makes plans for a camping trip!

Real Girls, Real Letters

"Garden Girl" gets some tips about starting a backyard garden. "Curious" gets some about helping endangered tigers. "Want to Help" is commended for being concerned about the waste Christmas trees might cause, but reassured that the trees are raised specifically to be decorations and any remaining after the holidays are mulched. "Discouraged Dreamer" is encouraged that everyone starts somewhere, and no matter what people say, there's no reason she can't pursue her dream of being a wildlife photographer. "Making a Difference" writes in with an idea for girls who want to raise money to help causes: they can ask for donations instead of presents for their birthdays and other occasions like Christmas.


Dedicated to "Ellemae and Noh, new to this world of worm watching and ladybug loving."

Special thanks are given to Kathe Crowley Conn.

I think it's an interesting coincidence that Lanie is the Girl of the Year for 2010 and has blue eyes and curly blonde hair...like my older daughter, who was born in 2010. (Saige, the Girl of the Year for 2013, has blue eye like my younger daughter but wavy brown/auburn hair instead of blonde, very, very curly hair).

Lanie's dad experiments with a new food combination every Friday. Lanie says they're often good, but once he made corn ice cream.

Scattered throughout the pages are little illustrations of different things Lanie has learned from her research, like the gestation period of a rabbit and that bamboo grows faster than any other plant.

You might notice that I don't often refer to younger siblings as "little." That's because my younger brother told me I wasn't allowed to call him my little brother since he's taller than I am, so I'm not used that phrasing.

I find it baffling that Hannah is described a scientist and calls herself a bird scientist, and the book is full of science facts, yet the word "ornithologist" is never used.


Girl of the Year 2009 Movie: Chrissa Stands Strong

Released on DVD in January 2009


It's Valentine's Day, Chrissa's first day of school in a new state, having just moved in with her recently-widowed grandmother after her mother got a new job at the nearby hospital. Though shy, she's eager to make new friends. But the other three girls assigned to her table in school pointedly ignore her. At lunch, Chrissa tries to get to know another girl in the class, Gwen, but as soon as Chrissa sits down, Gwen says she's finished eating, and leaves. Despite the class knowing that she was coming and Chrissa taking the time to make Valentines for everyone by hand, Chrissa gets none. That night, one of the girls at her table, Sonali, comes by with a stack of Valentines--the mean girls stole them, and when Sonali's mother found out, she forced Sonali to bring them back with an apology (she's also grounded for a week). Chrissa decides to join the school swim team in hopes of having some fun, but the mean girls keep at it. They "lose" her permission slip for swimming, and constantly make catty comments. The leader of them, Tara, even intimidates Chrissa into throwing a swim race, letting Tara win.

Chrissa's determined to not let the mean girls ruin things for her. She invites people to come over on the weekend to paint ceramic bowls her father's making for a homeless charity fundraiser. Sonali signs up, despite, Tara, the leader of the mean girls, telling her not to. She and Chrissa start to get along, but Sonali's clearly still under Tara's influence. Chrissa reaches out to Gwen too, having realized that Gwen isn't mean, but shy. Gwen is polite, but remains closed-off. It's not until they're setting up for the fundraiser that Chrissa learns Gwen is homeless, and living at the homeless center. Gwen swears her to secrecy, and Chrissa says that even though Gwen can't reciprocate, she's still invited to spend time at Chrissa's house.

One day at school, Tara overhears Gwen mention that she and her mom are moving into an apartment and will no longer be homeless. When Gwen asks Chrissa to help her cut bangs, Tara butts in and says that she can do it. She purposely does a terrible job, declaring that now Gwen really looks homeless. The principal is furious, and demands to know what happened. Tara expects her friends to support her version of the story (that is, the lie that Chrissa told them Gwen's secret and then cut her hair badly), but Sonali stands up to her. The principal suspends Tara for three days and the other two girls for a day each.

When they're all back, the teacher moves the group around so that the mean girls are broken up. Tara and the other girl, Jayden, put up cruel posters mocking Chrissa: they're getting revenge. Gwen and Sonali stand by Chrissa's side, but it gets worse. Soon there are vicious rumors being posted on the swim team's website. The coach, unable to figure out who's responsible, punishes the whole team. Tara makes some mean comments and the coach benches her for the rest of practice. Angry, Tara taunts Chrissa's brother while he's on the high dive, even climbing up onto the board to do so. Chrissa tries to stop her, but Tara throws off his balance, and he hits his head, falling unconscious into the water. He's going to be okay, but he'll have to sit out the rest of the season. Tara is punished with being on towel duty for the rest of the season. Chrissa quits, unwilling to go on without her brother (she's on classroom cleaning duty for climbing the ladder instead of immediately telling the coach, because people never panic).

After a talk with her art teacher, Chrissa finally decides to talk with her parents about the bullying. With encouragement from her parents, Chrissa suggests that the class picks school bullying for its fourth grade project. After an impassioned speech from Chrissa, the whole class agrees--even Tara. Chrissa rejoins the swim team too, confident that her brother can cheer her on from the sidelines no matter how loud the bullies might get. She wins her race, refusing to let Tara bully her into not doing her best. Chrissa talks with Tara briefly, explaining that she doesn't expect to be friends, but they are teammates and together they can help their relay team win, thus winning the whole meet. They put aside their difference for the race, with Tara even giving Chrissa tips. Their team wins!

The movie ends with the class unveiling its mural, about the importance of friendship, to a thrilled school audience.


Filmed in Los Angeles.

Chrissa has a lot of funny spots when she imagines the mean girls getting their comeuppance in very melodramatic fashion.

I'm sad that Jayden doesn't end all her sentences with questions, like in the books? You know, like this? Also, Chrissa's right-handed instead of left-handed. Why specify that in the book if you're already making the movie and know your actor is right-handed, or if you can't guarantee you'll find a left-handed girl to play her?

At dinner on Valentine's Day, Chrissa and her brother give their grandmother a special card, as it's her first Valentine's Day in decades without her husband. It's really sweet.

The movie way underplays the horror of lutefisk. It's not just "air-dried whitefish." It's dried cod that's been soaked in lye (yes, the poison), washed in cold water, and served when it's the consistency of gelatin. Mmm, fish Jello.

Yes, you can join local school teams if you're homeschooled (at least in the US). You typically compete at the public school you would have attended, or the school that you're doing your homeschool curriculum through.

Way to bury the lede, Nana. "Oh, what do you kids want to name the baby llama?" several days later "Hey, your grandpa had a named picked out. Oh yeah, I guess it is perfect!"

Chrissa's dad wears really nice clothes when he's working with pottery. Good thing that's not a messy endeavor or anything.

In the book, Gwen and her mother lost their house after Gwen's father took off. In the movie, he died.

Chrissa's mom is annoyingly competitive and judgmental. Not everyone has to the best at everything. Sometimes just trying hard and doing well is plenty!

No! Don't mess around with your relay order seconds before the race! You need to be able to practice at least once!

The relay is the 200 meter medley--one swimmer does the butterfly, one backstroke, one breaststroke, and one freestyle (more reason to not screw with your relay order). In the movie, all four swimmers do the butterfly.


Chrissa Maxwell - Sammi Hanratty
Meg Maxwell - Annabeth Gish
Paul Maxwell - Timothy Bottoms
Nana Louise Hanlon - Michael Learned
Tyler Maxwell - Austin Thomas
Tara James - Adair Tishler
Sonali Matthews - Ariela Barer
Gwen Thompson - Kaitlyn Dever
Jayden Johnson - Shelby Harmon
Mr. Beck - Don Franklin
Mrs. Ziminsky - Joanne Baron
Joel - Christian Pikes
Mrs. Rundell - Jennifer Tilly
Janine Thompson - Jennifer Parsons
Alexandra - Kaylin Stewart
Swimmer - Ashley Ausburn
Lifeguard - Trevor Brunsink
Swim Meet Official - David J. Law
Additional Voice - Grace Rolek
Student - Preston Strother
Student - Tyler Strother (Preston's brother)


Girl of the Year 2009: Chrissa Stands Strong

Author: Mary Casanova
Illustrator: Richard Jones


Summer's wrapping up. Chrissa, Gwen, and Sonali have had a great time getting to know each other the last few months, spending lots of time swimming in a nearby lake. While back-to-school shopping, Chrissa sees Tara, who acts uncharacteristically friendly and even sort of apologizes for the previous school year. She says she wants to be friend. Sonali doesn't believe Tara for a second, and Gwen is skeptical too. When an unknown number sends a mocking text message about Chrissa, Sonali says it must be from Tara. But there's no proof, and Tara seems genuinely nice at swim team tryouts. Maybe she deserves a second chance.

Tryouts go well: Chrissa and Sonali make the diving team (so does Chrissa's brother, and Tara and Jadyn). Gwen will the manager for the dive team, and hears the coach saying that Chrissa might be good enough to swim on a relay team. But then cruel messages get posted on the team's online board. Sonali is accused of having a contagious disease that can be spread through water. Chrissa still maintains that they don't know Tara is behind the messages. Gwen and Sonali can't believe Chrissa doesn't see the truth when she knows first-hand how mean Tara can be, and say they need a break from Chrissa for a while to cool off. With no one else to turn to, Chrissa calls up Tara, taking her up on her offer of friendship.

Tara comes over a couple days later, just in time to see the newborn baby llama. The two girls have a fun time swimming, although Chrissa finds herself snapping at her brother more than usual--is Tara poisoning her like Sonali thought she might? Later that evening, Sonali calls and Chrissa mentions that Tara came over and was nice. Sonali is hurt that Tara saw the baby llama first. And the next day there are more malicious emails and board postings about Gwen and Sonali. Sonali points out that there's nothing about Chrissa, and that she knows Tara can be persuasive. Chrissa confronts Tara directly, and she denies any part in any of the messages. The next day there's one about Chrissa.

Then something worse happens. Chrissa and Tara are grousing about how much Chrissa's brother brags, and Tara decides to play a joke. She climbs up to the diving board where Tyler is, despite Chrissa's protests. It culminates in Tyler hitting his head on the board and falling unconscious into the water. At the hospital, Chrissa and her parents learn he has a concussion, but no fractures or spinal injuries. He's released from the hospital the next day. Chrissa apologizes for being so short with him lately, and they agree that they're not only siblings; they're friends too.

That same day, Chrissa's parents tell them some recent developments. Because Chrissa didn't call for the coach as soon as she saw Tara on the diving board and instead also climbed up, she's suspended for two weeks (so is Tara). Jadyn's parents are tech experts, and they've uncovered the person behind the messages: Jadyn herself. Chrissa and her parents are invited over so Jadyn can apologize. She sent the text messages because she was trying to get Sonali back, and then posted the other messages trying to keep Tara from drifting away. Jadyn ends up suspended from the team as well.

Gwen and Sonali approach Chrissa at the next swim practice, which she has to watch from the sidelines (Jadyn isn't even allowed to come). Tara's with her, and they apologize for suspecting her of sending the messages. Tara says she can see why they did, and apologizes for her own behavior. The four girls might all get along in the end. A short time later, the school holds a meeting to discuss bullying and how to fight it. Chrissa sees Jadyn for the first time since the apology then, and extends an olive branch. The book closes with Chrissa, Gwen, Sonali, Tara, and Jadyn all playing cards with Tyler and his best friend.

Real Girls, Real Letters

"Not Laughing" is encouraged that being different doesn't mean being wrong or bad, and that she should talk to a responsible adult about the harsh teasing she's enduring, agreeing with her that ignoring or laughing it off doesn't work. "Bored But Can't Admit It" is told that it's okay to politely decline invitations to play even with close friends, and advised that she and the friend who it's no longer fun to hang out with can investigate new activities together. "Divided" is told not to let her old friends decide whether she can make new friends. "Confused" is advised to give her relationship with her good friend a breather since they've been fighting, and maybe they'll be closer later, but it is possible they've outgrown the friendship. "Wondering" has her concerns confirmed that her supposed best friend is actually trying to control her, and no friend at all. "Sorry" is advised to follow her heart and apologize for being mean to a former friend, with the understanding that they might never make up, but at least she'll have finally done the right thing.


Dedicated to "my daughter, Kate, who continues to inspire and teach me."

Special thanks are given to Patti Kelsey Criswell, MSW; Dr. Micahel Obsatz, and Susan Kovacs.