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).

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