Author: Ann Howard Creel
Illustrator: Doron Ben-Ami
School is about to start up for Nicki again. She's had a productive summer training Sprocket, and has also grown close with Kris. She feels a little guilty about this, because Becca was away all summer at her grandparents' farm in Oklahoma, and doesn't know about it. Nicki worries that Becca will feel replaced, when Nicki just wants to be good friends with both girls. With that potential conflict, Sprocket nearing the end of his training with Nicki, and the due date for the twins getting closer, it's going to be an interesting autumn.
The first day of school doesn't go so well. Becca is indeed jealous that Nicki spent so much time with Kris, and has already decided not to like her. Kris worries that she'll be shoved to the side in favor of Nicki's original friend. The three girls are all in the same class, so they'll be forced to see each other a lot every day. The teacher is a man, which is new for Nicki, and she's not sure she's okay with having a male teacher during the year students get the Growth and Development Talk, more casually known as the Puberty Talk. Plus, after school Nicki learns that Sprocket will be leaving for advanced training in just three weeks.
As September continues, Becca and Kris are still at odds with each other, competing for Nicki's favor, not believing that she can be friends with both of them. The day that Sprocket leaves for advanced training though, both girls seem to try to get along, knowing how broken up Nicki is. Their uneasy truce continues for a while, and the three even agree on Halloween plans: first they'll trick-or-treat (Becca's preference) then when it's cold and dark they'll host a part at Kris's house (her preference). They start bickering soon after that, though.
Tensions run high in Nicki's family, too. Nicki and Adam miss Sprocket deeply, and wonder at the wisdom of taking in a dog, bonding with it, and giving it away a few months later. Nicki's mom is nearly term and under doctor's orders not to do much, so more work falls to the kids. Nicki's dad is stressed too, trying to keep up on ranch work while his wife is going to have two babies any day now, and his kids are upset. Nicki gets some welcome relief on Halloween, when everything with her friends goes well--she even has a good enough time that for a few moments, the pain of missing Sprocket isn't at the forefront of her mind.
The next day after school, Nicki's mom tells her that Sprocket passed his advanced training and has been placed with a girl in Denver (the nearest city) who uses a wheelchair. Nicki's parents tell her they're proud of how hard she worked with Sprocket and the way she's helped the girl in Denver, but all Nicki can think of is how she'll never see Sprocket again. Nicki can't bear to go to school the next day. When she returns the next school day, everyone is treating her with kid gloves (Sprocket had come to school a few times; everyone knew about the service dog training). Everyone except her teacher. In fact, he has a very rigorous lesson plan that day. Partway through, Nicki realizes it's on purpose: he's keeping everyone too busy to pelt Nicki with questions, and Nicki too busy to think about missing Sprocket. She gains some respect for her teacher
And two days later, Nicki's dad wakes her in the middle of the night. They have to get to the hospital: her mom's in labor. After a few hours, Nicki and Adam learn that they have two new baby sisters, both healthy, weighing about four and a half pounds each--good for twins. The little girls just need names now, and the family says that Nicki should name them. (The parents didn't even have a list of ideas? The list they were talking about in the previous book?) Becca and Kris come to the hospital to visit after school, and pore over baby name books with Nicki. Suddenly, Nicki knows what to name her sisters: Rebecca and Kristine. Becca and Kris are stunned and honored. The three girls hug, finally all friends now.
When the babies are about a month old, Nicki asks her mom if the family can visit Sprocket. Nicki is happy to see that Sprocket remembers her, and notices bittersweetly that he also loves his owner, Laura. Laura shows Nicki how much Sprocket helps her, and gives Nicki permission to pet Sprocket. This gives Nicki the closure she needs, and as she and her mom head back home, she knows that everyone will be okay.
Nikita is a girl in California who has something like cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. Her golden retriever service dog Morell helps her with all sorts of tasks, from picking up dropped items to opening doors to operating light switches. He also allows her more independence than she'd had and gives her confidence. Shea is in a wheelchair and her black lab service dog, Mercer, helps her in a similar way. Celia and Abby, the sisters from the previous book, are training another dog to ease how much they miss Elan, Terese. (Elan actually didn't pass the training, but since the family was already training Terese they didn't adopt him--he is with another loving family, though.) To keep from bonding with her as much as they would with a pet, they keep in mind how much she'll be needed and loved by someone else.
Starting with Nicki, the Girls of the Year have two to three books each. Some later ones have movies, too.
Heather is also in the same class as Nicki, Becca, and Kris.
Nicki's class gets The Talk all at once, not segregated by gender like it was at my school and at the school of the girl I used to nanny.
Yes, sometimes ultrasounds are wrong about babies being boys or girls, but it's rare, especially with how many ultrasounds a twin pregnancy often has (bring on the anecdotes). The way people talk, you'd think it happens all the time. I worked at an OBGYN office for more than two years, and we never had a baby turn out boy instead of girl or vice versa in that time. Although when I was pregnant and the office gave me a baby shower, the woman who did my ultrasound looked at all the pink and asked worriedly, "How sure was I that you're having a girl? If I was wrong, I'll go exchange everything for you." She'd seen very clearly (two dark lines indicate a girl, not just the absence of a penis) and she was right. Of course, it's still up to the expectant parent(s) to decide when to find out the gender--during the ultrasound or at birth.
For Halloween, Nicki is an Irish line dancer, Becca is a hobbit, and Kris is "some kind of princess from outer space."
In the book, Halloween, November 1, and November 2 are Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, accurate for 2007. I was hoping the twins would be born that Friday, which is my birthday.
Nicki's brother Adam gets himself a pet hamster after Sprocket leaves.
No, you don't have to have names picked for your baby before you leave the hospital. The hospital will discharge you and the baby regardless (no matter what lies my brother and sister-in-law were told--they had two name ideas and it took them another couple days to decide). If you don't have a name picked by the time the baby's two weeks old the birth certificate will be issued with no name and then there are hoops to jump through to get it updated, but there is no law forbidding a parent from taking home a baby before naming. Any hospital employee telling you you're required to pick a name before leaving is lying or misinformed.
Nicki says her parents take turns with the nighttime diapering and feedings, and her mom also leaves the month-old twins home with Dad while visiting Sprocket in Denver. I wonder if that means the twins are being supplemented with formula or having only formula, or if she's pumping milk and freezing it for later use. A breast-feeding mom will have a better milk supply if the baby is fed breastmilk exclusively, but not everyone has an adequate supply. With my daughters, my husband would go get the baby and change her, then bring her to me in bed so she could nurse (my older daughter would have some formula after, before my milk supply came in fully). He'd fall back asleep, and I'd put the baby back to sleep after she finished nursing.
The very end of the book has information about service dog training programs and basic commands service dogs need to know. Seventy percent of dogs don't pass the advanced training!