10/6/15

Girl of the Year 2015 movie: Grace Stirs up Success

Released on DVD in July 2012

Plot

Grace and her friends Maddy and Ella plan to enter a bike race at the end of the summer and want new bikes for it (understandably; Grace's is obviously not right for racing). Grace's parents say she needs to raise the money for it herself, so she decides to start a baking business with her friends, just as soon as summer vacation starts. She gets permission from her grandparents to use their bakery, where she often helps out. Their bakery is getting rundown, but the food is still delicious.

The girls do brisk business selling fancy cupcakes at little league games and the like. Grace is excited, sure they'll be able to afford new bikes soon. But then her mom announces that she and Grace will be spending several weeks in Paris to help Grace's aunt, who is on bedrest in her last weeks of pregnancy, and her family. While Paris does sound exciting, Grace is stunned by this out-of-left-field news. Maddy and Ella are excited for Grace, and say that since baking doesn't come so naturally to them, they'll find other ways to raise money. Grace puts her foot in her mouth, asking how they'll manage without her to organize things. Maddy takes offense at essentially being called disorganized and incapable of planning things, but Ella smooths things over.

Soon after, Grace and her mom arrive in Paris. Grace is at little put-off by what she thinks is her cousin Sylvie's rudeness, but it's really just Sylvia feeling shy and sort of put-out by having to share her space when she's still adjusting to the idea of her step-mother having a baby.

Grace helps at her aunt and uncle's bakery, but it's very different from helping at grandparents'. French pastries have exacting requirements, and even Grace's rigid "THE RECIPE MUST BE FOLLOWED EXACTLY" mantra doesn't cut it. Clearly unused to being told no, Grace soon feels lost in the kitchen, something she's never experience before, and her awkwardness leads to clumsiness. After talking with her mom, Grace swallows her pride and accepts that she can't just jump to being in charge in someone else's bakery, and lets people show her the ropes. She settles in better when she's not assuming the best way to help, and learns that it's okay to improvise with recipes (even though she knew that in the book already...). She also befriends a stray French bulldog, which she calls Bonbon.

During a visit to the Eiffel Tower, Aunt Sophia goes into labor. She's able to get to the hospital before her baby's born. The experience gives Grace and Sylvie a chance to bond, although Sylvie is now unsure how she fits into her family. She was used to it being just her and her father after the death of her mother, and now her father has remarried and has a new baby...it's a lot to take in. But becoming friends with Grace helps Sylvie.

Grace gets it into her head that she can help her uncle by convincing the owner of a fancy hotel (who he's been trying to meet with) to try some pastries from the bakery--surely he'll want the food for his hotel if he just tries it. A series of "wacky" hijinks follows, culminating in Bonbon delivering some macarons. They impress the owner enough that Grace's uncle is hired to cater the desserts for the hotel's Bastille Day celebration. The owner is so impressed with the catering that Grace's uncle is given a contract to supply pastries to the hotel on a regular basis.

Upon returning home, Grace finds things have changed in her short time away. When she too forcefully tries to "help" Maddy and Ella with their dog-washing, they end up insulted that she's trying to take over. And her grandparents' bakery is closing. She has to try to find a way to save it. She apologizes to Maddy and Ella, who admit they took offense too quickly, and they work together to modernize the bakery. Business picks up significantly, but with much of the baking equipment worn out, it's not quite enough.

Then Grace finds out that her grandmother entered her in the Master Chef Junior baking competition, and she's been accepted as one of about a dozen contestants. If she wins, she'll get a hundred thousand dollars, surely enough to put the bakery back in the black. She makes a fancy tart to earn her a spot in the finals, where the remaining bakers have to use one of the supplied exotic ingredients (apparently balsamic vinaigrette is exotic...I guess for use in desserts, maybe). She picks the violet blossoms used as a garnish, having tasted candied violets in Paris, and uses the decorate a fancy macaron cake. At first she's told the violets weren't one of the ingredients, but she counters she was told to use anything on the table, so she's technically correct, which is the best kind of correct. For her talent and ingenuity, Grace wins the grand prize.

Grace gives the money to her grandparents so they can buy a new oven and other things they need. They insist she should have some of it for the bike she wanted, but Grace says her old bike is fine (it's not, but whatever). If she were to use some money for something, Grace would fly Sylvie out to visit. Because a round-trip ticket from Paris is about the same as a new bike, right? (I just looked it up, and unless Grace had her heart set on carbon fiber frame, which would be ridiculous at her age and non-competitive level, the ticket would be about double or triple the cost of a decent bike.)

Just as she's saying this, surprise! Her grandparents flew Sylvie and her whole family in for a visit, and they've just arrived. With Bonbon--and Grace gets to keep the dog!


Misc

Filmed in France, Hungary, and Romania.

I put this on hold at the library, but there are over a hundred people ahead of me. So, like with Isabelle's movie, I found it on Youtube.

Grace's bike is too small for her. She needs a longer frame (I used to work at a bike store). And she rides without a helmet, odd for a movie aimed at present-day girls.

Grace's grandparents have accents, but I don't know from where. I think France, but I can't place accents very well.

I would complain about how giddy and giggly Grace and her friends often are, except I've spent a lot of time around ten- and eleven-year-old girls, and they're not acting that unusually.

In addition to having a talent for making delicious food, Grace has good business sense too. She's very good at advertising.

The subplot of Grace's mom training for and running a half-marathon is dropped for the movie. The actor playing her mom doesn't have a runner's build--she's not fat, you just don't think "half-marathoner" when you look at her.

Sylvie is near-fluent in English in the movie, although she doesn't reveal that at first, being unsure what to talk to her cousin about--they've never really spent time together before now.

And everyone speaks English, almost all the time. Grace gets almost no chance to learn French, and why should she if Parisians speak solely English to each other instead of their native French, even in the privacy of their own homes?

There's a Parisian street band that sort of acts as a Greek chorus. Which Grace briefly hallucinates at the end of the movie.

I was just about to mention that Grace's aunt doesn't take her bedrest orders very seriously when she mentions that her doctor lifted her restrictions.

Bonbon is  referred to as "he" and "him" in the movie, which is good because it's hard to hide that the short-haired dog is clearly an unneutered male.

If someone tells me "I'm too nervous" about holding my baby, I accept that. I don't want a nervous person potentially dropping my kid.

Grace and her mom return to the US shortly after Bastille Day, July 14. According to a school calendar I found for Bentwick, MA, school gets out in mid-June, so they spent about a month or so in Paris.

Everyone's in long pants when Grace returns, in a humid New England summer. TOO HOT.

Grace feels nostalgic and looks through the most disorganized photo album ever. It has random pictures of her and her brother at different ages with no sense of continuity and then a picture of her grandparents on the opening day of their bakery. For someone as compulsively organized as Grace is said to be, it stands out.

The baking contest appears to be airing live, from the real-time reactions of people watching at home.

Ground coffee in a chocolate cake? THIS IS MOST UNORTHODOX! (Seriously, why was that idea labeled "courageous" by the baking judges? I wouldn't like it myself, but that's basically tiramisu.)

The end credits play over scenes of Grace being lost in Paris.


Cast

Grace Thomas - Olivia Rodrigo
Mrs. Thomas - Virginia Madsen
Mr. Thomas - Rafael Edholm
Josh - Tom Doherty
Maddy - Caitlin Carmichael
Ella - Notlim Taylor
Sylvie - Eloise Webb
Aunt Sophia - Lili Bordán
Uncle Bernard - Fabrice Michel
Grandma - Krisztina Peremartoni
Grandpa - András Ba]álint
Colette - Roxane Bret
Joe Bastianach - himself
Parisian Vendor - Karen Gagnon
Paris Street Artist - Luca Fiorilli
Concierge - János Fuzi
Shopkeeper - Barnabás Toth
Judge 2 - Philip Waley
Judge 3 - Alexis Latham (Judge 1 is Joe Bastianach, also the show's host)
Carter - Maxime Leigh-Wood
Red Boy - Benjamin Lavoie
Jean Luc Pernaud - Thierry Harcourt
Wildcat Player - Nicholas Waley (son of actor Philip Waley, who also produced the film)
Taxi Driver - Zoltán FriedenthalVarious Voices - Hélène Cardona, Karen Strassman, Luke Stratte-McClure

9/29/15

Girl of the Year 2015: Grace Makes It Great

Author: Mary Casanova
Illustrator: Sarah Davis

Summary

The girls' business is really taking off. They have almost too many orders to fill! Maddy's mother has been researching business licenses, and it turns out they need a few even for baking out of the Thomas kitchen. And no animals can be in a commercial kitchen, ever. Bonbon's crate is kept in the kitchen...Grace has an idea: she and her friends can rent space from her grandparents' bakery! The grandparents agree, on the condition that an adult is always there to supervise. Ella's dad is still unemployed, and agrees to help at least until he finds a job. 

They settle into a routine, balancing school work and their business. Grace's teacher is all about space exploration, and every project ties into that somehow. Grace worries that Maddy and Ella, who are in her mom's class, are jealous of the fun things her class gets to do. But at the same time, she finds some of her schoolwork very demanding of her limited time. Near Halloween, she learns that her mom's class is doing its own creative thing, and is happy that her friends enjoy having her mom for a teacher.

But around the same time, Grace's grandparents announce that they're going to sell their business. Sales have been lagging, and it's just not sustainable anymore. Grace and her friends can use the bakery until it sells, but after that...they might have to shut down. 

Grace isn't ready to give up on her bakery or her grandparents' just yet. She and her friend redecorate the bakery, updating its look with fresh paint and nice tables and chairs donated from the thrift store Maddy's parents own. Business does pick up by the time Thanksgiving comes around, but Grace's grandparents aren't sure things will stay successful. They still haven't taken down the for sale sign.

But there's a glimmer of hope! For her birthday in back in September, she'd gone on a train ride with Maddy and Ella and ended up chatting with a worker there. That same worker sought out her grandparents' place, and has placed an order for a variety of French pastries for a stop on the company's Christmas-themed tourist train ride. Between the guaranteed business from that and all the extra attention the girls' French cooking is getting, Grace's grandparents come up with an idea: they'll buy out the company Grace and her friends have, and switch to specializing in French treats, which seem to be much more in demand. There have even been orders from out of state! Grace, Maddy, and Ella will still bake and earn a wage, but the business will be able to keep up with the greater demand. They're even able to hire Ella's dad, part-time at first, but if things go well, he can be full-time later.

Grace then gets more good news: she'd come up with a recipe while feeling down about her business possibly closing down, and submitted it to a baking contest. She won the contest--and the thousand dollar prize. She uses some of her prize money to fly Sylvie in from Paris (Grace's aunt also comes along with baby Lily). Sylvie arrives just in time for the Christmas train tour, and gets to meet Maddy and Ella plus she can spend some more time with her (step) grandparents. If the business goes really well, maybe Grace, Maddy, and Ella can visit Sylvie sometime!


Misc

Dedicated to "Erin Falligant, fine editor, writer, and friend."

The girl I used to nanny had a teacher like Grace's. Every project had to be CREATIVE! and EXCITING! Honestly, it made everything a lot harder than it should have. Some creativity is fantastic, but she'd end up spending more time on an idea to make the project "fun" than actually doing the research for the project, and it really stressed her out. There was also the assumption that everyone's parents had the extra cash and time to accommodate the projects. A happy medium would have been nice.

It's a good thing that Grace, Maddy, and Ella don't want to do any school sports or clubs; they'd have no time!

Ella's dad has been keeping chickens (Rhode Island Reds) for their eggs, which the girls use often in baking. That would be a big selling point if they advertise using fresh eggs.

9/22/15

Girl of the Year 2015: Grace Stirs It Up

Author: Mary Casanova
Illustrator: Sarah Davis

Summary

Grace is back in the US now. She's working hard to get Bonbon used to living in a home (e.g.; she's not housebroken), missing her cousin, and feeling a little distant from Maddy and Ella. But she has high hopes of reconnecting with her friends by starting a French bakery business with them. Ella is reluctant at first--her father lost his job and she won't be able to help buy supplies. But Grace and Maddy assure her that she can still be part of the business, and they'll think about financial contributions later on, when the business is successful.

Things get off to an inauspicious start--while their first creation is delicious, the next one's batter overflows onto the oven's heating element and sets off the smoke alarm. When Grace's mom opens the door to let out the smoke, Bonbon darts out too. Fortunately Grace finds her quickly, making friends with the neighbor's dog. The three girls also butt heads over things like whether they should schedule their baking time or just have fun. Maddy especially has trouble not being in charge. In an effort to smooth things over with Maddy, Grace agrees to pass out brochures for their bakery before things are really ready. Things like asking permission to use her parents' land line as the information line... But after a meeting with their parents and Grace's grandparents, the girls are back on track. They're going to set up a website with help from Maddy's mom for customers to place orders, and also have a booth at the half-marathon Grace's mom is running in at the end of the month (only two weeks away), and also plan to sell treats at Ella's dad's softball games. Grace's grandparents help them figure out how to set prices, putting Ella's math skills to good use. Things still feel tense between Grace and Maddy, but Grace isn't sure how to fix it, especially with things being so busy.

The tension finally comes to a head in an argument and Maddy quits. The very next day, there are two orders to fill, but even texting Maddy that news doesn't get a response. Grace and Ella make the pastries and deliver them on their own, using a bike trailer Grace's brother Josh fixed up for an early birthday present (she later plans to train Bonbon to ride in it). The first delivery goes well, but the second results in a bad review: the tartelettes were broken upon delivery (this is why you always check the food you order before you pay for it...). The girls bring him another set free of charge and refund his payment, hoping he'll give them another chance. The stress of disappointing a customer really gets to Ella, and she feels too ill to help Grace prepare for the half-marathon.

A couple days before the half-marathon, Grace has some epiphanies: Bonbon and Maddy need freedom to thrive. Grace goes to Ella's to do some baking, and brings Bonbon along to play with Ella's dog (she gets permission first). And when a review from the disappointed customer comes in praising the girls for quickly righting their error and promising to order from them again, Grace takes special effort to show Ella that mistakes can be forgiven. They go to Maddy's to see if they can also repair that relationship. Maddy is not only calmed down enough to see them, she's been making stickers to act as labels on pastry boxes, featuring a drawing of Bonbon.

Finally, the half-marathon arrives. Grace's family built a beautiful pushcart for the girls' business, and they're nervous but ready to go. Bonbon comes along too, as their mascot, and behaves well. The day ends in success: Grace's mom is pleased with her finish time, and customers line up at the cart all throughout the event. More importantly, the three girls are friends again.

 
Glossary of French Words

Same as last book.


Misc

Dedicated to "my niece, Grace, who shares the same lovely name."

Grace wanting to put her dog in the bike trailer reminds me of a man I saw riding his motorcycle through a downtown once--the speed limit was only about 25 so he was going slowly, and where a sidecar could attach, he had a wooden platform on wheels. On top of the platform was a cat in a large carrier, looking very content.

Josh is mostly self-taught with piano, and very good at it.

Why did Grace and her friends clean up flour with wet sponges instead of just sweeping it? Wet flour is hard to clean.

I want to know Grace's mom's time in the half-marathon. Wish it had been given.

9/15/15

Girl of the Year 2015: Grace

Author: Mary Casanova
Illustrator: Sarah Davis

Summary

Grace Thomas lives with her parents and older brother Josh in Massachusetts, near her maternal grandparents' bakery. Grace, her grandmother, and her aunt Sophie (her mom's younger sister) all love baking and are very good at it. Grace would love to own her own bakery some day. Together with her two best friends, Ella and Maddy, she figures why not get started this very summer? The last day of school was yesterday, so there's no time like the present. They settle on dog-walking: outgoing Ella already has a dog that needs a daily walk, and shy-and-intelligent Maddy reasons there will be little overhead, since dog owners will already have the necessary leashes and other supplies.

But then Grace's mom gets a call from her sister: Grace's aunt is nearing the end of her pregnancy, but due to complications, is being put on bedrest until the baby comes. Grace and her mother decide to go to her home in Paris for those five or so weeks to keep Aunt Sophie and cousin Sylvie (technically step-cousin) company. Grace tells her friends to start the business without her but they say they'll wait until she returns.

In Paris, Grace is amazed by all the sights. She adores her aunt and uncle's bakery from the start. She's unsure about her cousin--she and Sylvie only met once before, about three years ago at Aunt Sophie's wedding to Uncle Bernard. Sylvie speaks about as much English as Grace does French--not a lot. And her (paternal) grandmother recently passed away, so she's dealing with that. Grace gets the impression that Sylvie doesn't want her around.

Before she can worry too much about how to interact with her cousin, Grace's aunt has her baby, a couple weeks early. It's a girl, Lilou, Lily for short. Grace thinks her baby cousin is absolutely perfect. Sylive seems enamored with her baby sister too. But it's not all bliss: Aunt Sophie had to have a c-section (the text is that the delivery required surgery and she can't lift anything for several weeks; sounds like a c-section) so she needs lots of help with Lily, who is getting fussier as she gets older. All the help the little family needs has a nice silver lining, though. Sylvie asks Uncle Bernard if Grace can join her in the bakery to help run it. Sylvie does want her cousin around!

Working in the bakery isn't easy. Grace doesn't understand enough French or of the business to do anything other than grunt work. And she does the wrong grunt work: she sweeps up the flour instead of washing the dishes (she misunderstood the gesturing one worker did), and due to an ill-timed breeze, the dirty flour blows on fresh pastries. She gets permission for a short break, but due to a combination of her embarrassment and following a stray French bulldog Sylvie had shown her earlier (petit chienne), Grace ends up lost. Sylvia and a bakery employee find her after not too long, and Grace shares a nice moment with her cousin, but she still feels awful for all the trouble she's caused. Then Grace finds out that Maddy and Ella went ahead and started the dog-walking business without her. Grace is welcome to join upon her return, but she still feels left out and almost betrayed.

A Skype chat with her father helps Grace sort out her emotions. She decides to continue trying, and by the time Bastille Day rolls around Grace is settling in nicely at the bakery and her aunt and uncle's home, and has even made friends with the stray dog, which she names Bonbon. She learns French recipes, and is able to move past the issue of the dog-walking business and talk (online) with her friends. She and Sylvie grow closer, with Sylvie enjoying her role of French teacher. Grace helps Sylvie learn English as well, and even helps her write a postcard to Grace's grandparents, Sylvie's step-grandparents. With the dog-walking business not going well, Grace and Sylvie also work together to try to come up with new business ideas. Inspired by what she's learned in Paris, Grace finally settles on a Parisian bakery.

In the midst of this, Bonbon goes missing. Grace is worried that the dog was found out by a shelter, and is in danger of being put down (neither Sylvie nor the bakery employees are able to take the dog in). She tries to put her worries out of her mind as the trip nears its end; she wants to enjoy her time with Sylvie as much as possible. On the last day before the flight home (and during the country-wide vacation most French take in August), Grace and her extended family see some final sights, including Sacre-Couer (an absolutely beautiful church, made of white stone...try to go at noon, when the nuns sing the Angelus). The day ends with a trip to a...farm? Where a big secret is revealed: Grace's mom and aunt found Bonbon, got her checked out by a vet, and cleared her for travel to the US. Grace gets to take the dog home with her!

 
Glossary of French Words

Bah, this book doesn't have any sort of appendix beyond a tiny French-English dictionary.


Misc

Dedicated to Capucine.

Like others, I've noticed the lack of diversity in the latest American Girl offerings, especially when you have characters in settings where non-whites are common and they could have been a minority with probably few if any changes to the story (e.g.; Saige in New Mexico could have been Hispanic, and Isabelle in Washington, D.C. could have been African-American, and McKenna could have been Asian pretty easily without that being a stretch; the Seattle area has a lot of people of Asian descent). This blog is more about summarizing the books than delving into the politics of them, so I won't go into that much. Others have done it better than I could anyway; checking some of my recommended blogs or a Google search will show those. But it does seem like some diversity is overdue, if not for more lofty reasons of inclusiveness, than at least marketing strategies of giving the fan base the wider range of ethnicities it's asking for. There are some groups that haven't been represented at all: it would be really nice to see a girl of Middle Eastern descent in a post-9/11 world.

There's a short story called "Grace and Sylvie: A Recipe for Family" that depicts this book from Sylvie's point of view, but I'm unable to find it so far.

Grace's mom is training for a half-marathon. And waited twenty minutes or more (enough time for Grace to mix ingredients for muffins and bake some) before showering after a run...I like to get clean faster than that.

Adding lemon zest to blueberry muffins (Grace's "secret ingredient") isn't that outlandish of an idea.

The picture of Grace on the book's cover looks a lot like my youngest god-sister when she was a young teenager.

Grace's mom is an elementary school teacher and also likes to make metal sculptures. Grace's dad is a therapist and enjoys landscaping. Grace's fourteen-year-old brother is really into fixing things.

I've been to Paris very briefly, for a week in the spring of 2000. In my experience, Grace's advice to be polite works very well for getting along with Parisians. I knew a tiny bit of French, including a very polite way to ask for things ("J'aimerais __ s'il vous plait." or "I would like ___ please") and everyone I spoke with was willing to at least try to help me. My dad got along well using the Latin he remembered from high school.

Grace appears to be at least a casual fan of the New England Patriots...the team my Seahawks lost to in the Superbowl. Oh well. The Seahawks played hard, and Butler (Patriots player) made an amazing interception to stop what would have been the game-winning touchdown, Can't fault him for doing well, even if it was a play by my favorite Seahawk (Jermaine Kearse) that set up that touchdown attempt. As much as I would have loved to see my team get back-to-back Superbowl Championships, taking second place after the terrible seasons of the team's younger years isn't too bad.

9/8/15

The Jazzman's Trumpet

Published in 2015; author Elizabeth Cody Kimmel; illustrator Juliana Kolesova

Plot

Kit wins tickets to a sold-out jazz concert, and her boss at the newspaper tells her that if she writes a good enough story, he'll publish it in the regular paper, not just her usual column in the kid section. Thanks to her connections gained in A Thief in the Theater, Kit is able to watch while the jazz band sets up and rehearses for the concert. She gets to meet some of the members, too. During her first day of observing, Kit spots another girl about her age hiding in the theater. Kit talks to the girl, named Trixie, and learns that Trixie is a font of information about jazz in general, and this band in particular. Kit brings Trixie along with her the other days, having her pose as an assistant but really just enjoying hanging out with her. 

Kit does find it odd that Trixie seems enamored with the band's leader, Swingin' Slim Simpson, but is nowhere to be seen when they have a chance to meet him. She starts to wonder more when she notices some vandalism around the theater--broken advertisements for the show, screwed up marquee signage telling Slim to get out...but surely Trixie wouldn't do that. Maybe that sax player who's the opening act, who used to be good friends with Slim, but got rudely left behind when Slim's popularity soared. Or could the vandalism be connected to the angry letter to the editor in the paper, claiming jazz is a sleazy sort of thing and shouldn't be allowed. Those leads seem more likely that Trixie, who could just be very shy.

But the day before the concert, when Kit scores a brief interview with Slim, she sees Trixie dashing away from the theater, clutching something to her chest. Upon returning to the theater, Kit and Slim learn that Slim's trumpet is missing. A bit later, Kit visits Trixie (to apologize for standing her up; they were supposed to meet when Kit had her interview and there wasn't time for Kit to tell Trixie she couldn't meet). As she sits down on Trixie's bed, Kit discovers the trumpet under the covers! Trixie explains that she couldn't help but look at the instrument, and as she was holding it, she walked outside and got locked out of the building. Instead of trying to find a way back in and face the people inside, she panicked and ran. Kit is sure she can get the trumpet back to its owner, and takes it down to the theater. She's briefly accused of having arranged for it to be stolen during the interview so she'd get a better story, but the people who know her believe her story that a friend accidentally took it, and the mystery of the stolen trumpet is resolved.

That still leaves the question of who is behind the vandalism, and why Trixie has been acting so nervous. Kit remembers hearing about the act that was supposed to be playing at the theater, but lost out to Slim and his band when he failed to pay his deposit. She asks the theater manager about him, and her timing is just right--turns out that man has been posing as a member of the set-up crew, and they're able to blow his cover (just by calling out his real name and having him respond; not a clever man). So that's taken care of. Slim, who had thought Kit staged the trumpet theft, gives her an extra ticket he was hanging on to for "someone" in gratitude.

Stirling helps with the question of Trixie: Slim has a daughter named Beatrice, and he's estranged from his wife and his daughter. Kit goes over to Trixie's and confirms that she's Slim's daughter. Slim had sent some letters lately, but because of how hurt Trixie was when Slim first left them, her mother never gave Trixie the letters. But she agrees that Trixie should at least go to the concert with Kit's extra ticket. When they arrive, Kit gets a message to Slim to look for his daughter during the concert, and he quickly spots Trixie. He invites her up on stage, and Kit urges to go--she'll remember this for the rest of her life. And so father and daughter are reunited.

All of Kit's hard work--getting into the theater, scoring the interview, helping solve the vandalism--combined with the extra intrigue of Slim's daughter, pays off. Her story gets published in the "real" newspaper. She even gets paid five whole dollars (nearly $90 today).

Inside Kit's World

With the advent of radio, jazz exploded in popularity during the 1930s (the radio also helped minority musicians--their music could be heard regardless of segragation laws, since listeners couldn't see who was on the radio). Not everyone was a fan though; as is the stereotype, older generations didn't understand the new music, considering it just unpleasant noise. Moral crusaders even thought the fast dancing it encouraged could corrupt listeners, even infants. Fortunately for those of us who enjoy swing dancing, the critics were in the minority.

Misc

This book is dedicated to "my poet, TR, who speaks Jazz."

Thanks to the title of this book, I have the song "Jazzman" by Carol King stuck in my head. Not a bad thing, though. 

The titular missing trumpet is a plot point for about two chapters.

Stirling and Kit claim most crimes are committed for profit or revenge. Certainly, a lot are, but pinpointing the "main" reason for crime is really, really hard to do, especially when so many crimes are spur-of-the-moment, and there are so many different kinds of crimes.

One of my older relatives was in a swing band that put a CD. The cover of the CD was supposed to read "Swingin' Seniors" but thanks to a typo, it read "Swiggin' Seniors." We spent a lot of time commenting on how good they sounded, especially considering they were all drunk.

9/1/15

Danger in Paris

Published in 201; author Sarah Masters Buckey; illustrator Juliana Kolesova

Plot

Nellie and Samantha are going on a trip to Paris with Grandmary and Admiral Beemis. They're having a wonderful time experiencing a new culture, when Samantha accidentally eavesdrops on a conversation and learns that her grandfather, being a retired admiral and friends of the Russian ambassador, has been asked to deliver a letter to the Russians. It's one that people high up in politics hope will ensure peace in Europe...and one that Germany might like to get its hands on. It's possible the Admiral is in danger.

But the Admiral assures Samantha there's nothing to worry about. She tries to relax and enjoy sight-seeing, including the Eiffel Tower (at the time, the tallest structure in the world...currently the Burj Khalifa holds the record, 2,722 feet tall to the Eiffel Tower's 986 feet) and a tour of the catacombs. But in those dark tunnels, the Admiral slips and cuts his head badly. Even though the path was dry, not slippery...and his wallet's missing. The letter isn't...was someone trying to steal the letter, or was it just a pickpocket? And Samantha and Nellie can hear someone lurking around their hotel room at night.

As their tours of the city continue, Samantha and Nellie find more clues (and, being a young adult mystery, red herrings). They eventually figure out that two women who are signed up for the same tours are the ones trying to steal the letter--but they failed, because the Admiral kept it in a hidden compartment of his walking stick. Having found the would-be thieves, Samantha and Nellie alert the authorities and are invited to accompany the Admiral to deliver the letter to the Russian ambassador. 

(Too bad this is late 1907...Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated not quite seven years later, starting the first world war)

Inside Samantha's World

When Samantha was growing up, traveling Europe was considered part of a high-class education, to expose children to the culture of Europe. It wasn't just to show off, although of course only the wealthy could afford the cost of a trans-Atlantic ship ride and sight-seeing in various countries. But especially during Samantha's time, political tensions were running high: it wouldn't be long before World War I started.

Misc

This book is dedicated to Peg.

Grandmary had a governess as a child.

There's a little scene where Grandmary quietly reminds Nellie how to act like a lady, giving her gentle instruction. I like how Grandmary wants Nellie to know learn manners but understands that Nellie's upbringing didn't leave a lot of time for the specifics that are expected in the wealthy upper class.

Samantha and Nellie visit Notre Dame Cathedral. I went to Paris for a week once, and my younger brother happened to be studying for his First Communion, and our priest agreed he should just have First Communion at Notre Dame. Pretty cool.

Nellie mentions that France uses Celsius instead of Fahrenheit for temperature. While a lot of the world does use Celsius, this graph illustrates how Fahrenheit might be more useful for describing temperature in terms of weather (but really, the easiest scale to use is whatever you're used to):



8/26/15

The Smuggler's Secrets

I was finally able to get my hands on the six books published this year! I only have them briefly while I'm on a trip, so the summaries are brief as well.

Published in 2015; author Kathleen Ernst; illustrator Juliana Kolesova

Plot

Caroline is staying with her cousin Lydia, whose family is having a hard time due to the war. Many of their neighbors are in similar straits, with a drought worsening things. Rumor has it that some of the people where Lydia lives are smuggling goods to the British. Even though they're fighting the British, destitute farmers might become desperate and sell meat or potash (made from lye and used for gunpowder) or other goods to the enemy. The British are paying well for smuggled goods, and for a family on the brink of starvation, it's tempting.

Still, Caroline and Lydia have a hard time believing that people would help the enemy during wartime. They decided to poke around the town to see if they can find any clues for Mr. Lennox, a lawman looking for smugglers. Caroline gets worried when she overhears an argument between her aunt and uncle about the uncle doing something dangerous that pays well. Is he going to start smuggling to support his family? Caroline doesn't share her suspicions with her cousin as the two continue to investigate.

But Caroline's not the only one watching her uncle--Mr. Lennox soon arrests him. Now Lydia wants to work harder to clear her father's name. Caroline continues the search for clues as well, hoping her concerns about her uncle are wrong. As the plot advances, the cousins find a hidden clearing where someone's been making potash, a secret road, and overhear conversation that indicates a neighbor didn't have his oxen stolen--he slaughtered them and sold the meat to the British. The cousins start to wonder about their friend Rhonda, whose widower father is very well-off...and who has some fabric that is made in England.

As they investigate further, Caroline and Lydia find that some kind neighbors are selling potash across the border--their older son was killed by enemy soldiers, and extorting as much money as possible from the enemy is one way they can think to get revenge. Furthermore, the neighbor who claimed to have had his oxen stolen is actually running goods across the lake. He's sickly, and wanted to earn a cache of money to support his wife when his illness inevitably takes him. Caroline and Lydia inform Mr. Lennox what they've learned, and it turns out he's been suspicious of the same neighbors but unable to gather evidence.

That's why Mr. Lennox hired Caroline's uncle--his dangerous work wasn't smuggling, but covertly gathering information. The arrest was fake, to throw the real smugglers off the trail. With the help gotten from Caroline, Lydia, and Caroline's uncle, Mr. Lennox arrests the real smugglers.


Inside Caroline's World

Following an 1807 law forbidding United States citizens from buying or selling goods made in other countries, smugglers could make a tidy profit on the black market. There was still a high demand among the British for the products, and subsistence farmers on the edges of the frontiers didn't always care about the politics back in the nation's capital. 


Misc

This book is dedicated to Stephanie.

There's a subplot about having a quilting bee with the neighbors. Caroline and Rhonda (from the previous mystery) made a quilt top for Lydia, and several neighbors gather to help piece it with some wool for batting and backing.

One meal Caroline eats at her aunt and uncle's is a watery soup, made of what they could harvest from the drought-stricken garden and the meager catch from hunting. Soup's a good way to spread out small amounts of food--my girls love Mickey's Christmas Carol (so do I), and the scene when the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge how the Cratchits are just scraping by bugs me, because they're eating a tiny bird, like a game hen, with a few vegetables and the food is broiled. Make it into soup so the bones can make a richer stock, and the water can fill you up so you don't feel hungry!

Caroline learns that Rhonda has illegal fabric when one of Mr. Lennox's deputies threatens to arrest Caroline after seeing some of the fabric in a patchwork bag she sewed. She'd gotten the fabric scraps from Rhonda, who it turns out traded some of her own fabric stash for fabric from one of the smuggler neighbors.

One of the "bad guys" has the same last name as an elementary school teacher of mine...I would be very surprised to find that teacher smuggling.

6/12/15

Not really an update...

Just letting anyone who's curious know that I'm still alive. I haven't been able to get my hands on the new American Girl books (moved 2500 miles away, difficulty getting a library card, library not having the books, sold the car, another kid on the way...). Still trying, though!

In the meantime, my mom sent me this picture. I made a Kid-Kit when I was younger and the box is in my parents' garage. It's being used to store some of their stuff; no fun kid things inside. I remember I used to have picture books and little toys inside, and I'm happy to say that I'm much better at writing with glitter now, and writing in general: