The One and Only

Published in 2015; author Valerie Tripp; illustrator Julie Kolesova


Maryellen Larkin is a nine-year-old girl, the fourth of six children (older siblings Joan and Carolyn, younger siblings Beverly, Tom, and Mikey). She lives in Daytona Beach, on the Atlantic Coast of Florida. Her mother worked at a line manger in an aircraft factory during World War II, and now manages the household. Her father is an architect. They married during the Great Depression, and now in the booming economic times of the 1950s, want to give their children all they themselves couldn't have when they were younger.

Maryellen likes all the popular TV shows of her time, like The Lone Ranger, and enjoys pretending she's a character in them when she plays with her close friend Davy. But her oldest sister, Joan, warns her that as Maryellen gets older, boys and girls won't play together much--until they get to high school and start dating, like Joan, who's 18 and nearly engaged. Maryellen isn't convinced. She and Davy have lots of fun hanging out, and Davy's always there for her. Maryellen tries to impress her mom's old work friends by painting their front door red so it stands out, and of course the paint spills on the deck. Davy is willing to get up in the early morning and help Maryellen scrub the spilled paint away.

Standing out is important to Maryellen. She wants to be known for being Maryellen, not for being Joan's or Carolyn's sister. This gets difficult when fourth grade starts in the fall: her teacher previously taught both her older sisters, and sometimes calls Maryellen the wrong name.

But soon Maryellen has a bigger concern in fourth grade: she and Davy have a falling out, and she's become good friends with a new student, Angela. Her other friends, Karen K. and Karen S., can't believe Maryellen would befriend Angela. Why? Angela and her family just moved to Florida...from Italy. World War II is still fresh in the nation's memory. Karen S.'s uncle was even killed fighting in Italy. But Maryellen won't let prejudice stand in the way of a new friendship. Angela would have an infant at oldest when the war was ending. After some time, the two Karens realize they're being unfair by judging Angela for what her country's leaders did before any of them were born. Maryellen feels good standing up for what's right.

Soon Christmas is coming. Maryellen is a good artist, very creative. She's always the one to come up with a gift for the kids to give the parents, and often makes presents for her siblings instead of buying them--and she's good enough at handmade things that everyone likes them. But thanks to TV shows, Maryellen finds herself wishing for a different kind of Christmas than she's used to. It never snows in Daytona Beach, it's not cold enough for ice skating...her grandparents live in the mountains outside Atlanta, Georgia, where it snows. Normally they visit for Christmas, but her grandfather's recovering from an illness, so they won't be able to this year. Maryellen has an idea though: for her Christmas present, maybe she can visit them! A trip on her own to a winter wonderland. She secures permission from her parents and grandparents to spend a week at the end of December.

Maryellen takes a train to Atlanta, where her grandfather picks her up. As they drive into the mountains, Maryellen is thrilled to see snow for the first time in her life. She gets to go ice skating, pick out a real live Christmas tree from the forest, and experience an old-fashioned Christmas.

But she starts to miss her parents and siblings. A lot. Her grandparents quickly pick up on this, and, feeling energized by the visit, her grandfather suggests they all drive down to Daytona Beach to surprise Maryellen's family Christmas morning. They'll even bring the tree and some snow in a cooler--it'll keep the sandwiches cold and Maryellen's siblings can see snow.

They drive through the night, arriving shortly after Maryellen's family gets back from church. Everyone's stunned and happy to see them. Soon there's another knock on the door: Joan's boyfriend, Jerry. Earlier, Maryellen had encouraged Jerry to think about how serious he wanted his relationship with Joan to be. He comes in the house, walks over to Joan, and proposes. Before next Christmas, there will be a wedding!

Inside Maryellen's World

The 1950s saw prosperity for much of US, a nice contrast to the Depression of the 1930s and World War II in the 1940s. Many families had several children, and enjoyed giving their kids things and experiences they'd had to do without in the past. Televisions were popular in American households, depicting an idealized lifestyle (some people's version of idealized: nearly all actors were white). This lead to some pressure to "keep up with the Joneses" like Maryellen's wish for a "proper" Christmas. But, while imperfect, the 1950s were an improvement for most people.


This book is dedicated to Ellie.

This is the first time I've read the BeForever version of the main books. Overall I'm neutral on the change--there are two longer books instead of six shorter ones, but the story still follows the same basic format. Obviously that means the books look different, but they're about the height and thickness of the short story collections so that won't annoy me too much when they're on my bookshelf. (They're also a similar size to the historical character and history mysteries, and the girl of the year books, but I don't collect those or girls of many lands; just the central books, best friend books, and short story collections.) But I do miss the family portrait from the beginning of the book. 

The Larkins have an ancient dachshund, Scooter.

Mrs. Larkin was offered a permanent position at the factory after the war ended, but she thought it was unfair that most of the other women were let go, so she quit in protest. She would have had three young children, including an infant (Maryellen was born in May 7, 1945, the day before Victory in Europe Day, or V-E Day). So, three kids, a woman, 1945--she was really good at her job to be offered a permanent one.

When Mrs. Larkin's former coworkers visit, they spend the night. Juggling the rooms inspires Maryellen to suggest all four sisters share a larger room and the two boys take the smaller room--before Joan and Carolyn had that while Maryellen and Beverly roomed with the boys. Mrs. Larkin agrees to experiment for the duration of her friends' visit, and all four girls agree they like rooming together.

Maryellen is left-handed, which makes writing difficult for her. Her hand smears the writing.

Maryellen had polio in 1952, resulting in one leg being weaker than the other and cold-sensitive lungs. These almost never affect her though. One the one hand, it's great that she's determined to overcome her difficulties, on the other...if they really don't impact her, why include them in the story? There's not even a mention of it being a little tricky to balance on ice skates or getting out of breath sooner in the cold when she visits her grandparents for Christmas.

Jerry's a Korean War veteran; a member of the US Navy.

The Larkins use an artificial Christmas tree (pink!). While I prefer live trees, it makes a lot of sense to have an artificial one if you live where the weather doesn't drop below freezing. You don't want to bring in a host of surprise insects or spiders.

Maryellen needs to pay for half of her train ticket to visit her grandparents, eight dollars. That's the equivalent of almost $71 in 2016.

So...Maryellen and her grandparents drive back to Daytona Beach. What about the return train ticket? Can she get a refund?

Maryellen doesn't ask for or get a doll for Christmas, but her parents do give her a jewelry box that, when opened, shows a little figure skating on a pond.


Girl of the Year 2016: Lea and Camila

Author: Lisa Yee and Kellen Hertz
Illustrator: Sarah Davis


Because part of Camila's visit with her cousins in Chicago coincides with Lea's spring break, she's coming to St. Louis for the week. Lea, Camila, and Abby take a photography class together, and also plan to see many sights around the city.

While they're sight-seeing, Lea spots an old photograph of a young girl wearing a compass necklace like her grandmother's. The back reads, "Hallie. June 1956." Lea wants to continue investigating, but Camila's trip is going to be over soon. The urge to find out more about Hallie, who might have a connection to Ama, is hard to ignore even though Lea truly wants to be a good host. The mystery is made more intriguing by an entry in Ama's journal mentioning the necklace and a long-ago promise.

Meanwhile, Abby and Camila are becoming good friends. Lea feels a bit left out, but that's her own doing. She tries to focus on her friends, but their photography class takes a field trip to the Jewel Box, a famous garden--where it just so happens the picture of Hallie was taken. The girls figure out the even was likely her debutante ball. Lea decides to try to find mention of the ball in the city archives during a Cardinals game--Abby called and invited Camila, but not Lea because she only had one extra ticket. Lea tries to be rational, because after all she's not that into sports and Camila is only visiting briefly, but she feels left out again.

The girls sort it out, and the rest of the trip is spent seeing things Camila's interested in. As if to reward Lea's realization that she hasn't been a good host, a trip to search for a stray cat at an historic building they visited earlier reveals another clue about Hallie. While they're there, Abby spies the cat, and in trying to get it, nearly falls through a hole in the decrepit floor. Thinking quickly, Lea's able to get both her friend and the cat out of danger. Lea's parents are happy everyone's okay, but make sure they know the dangers of running around old buildings in the middle of restorations.

As Camila's visit draws to a close, she gathers her courage and goes up the Gateway Arch (yay, I was hoping she would!). She's very relieved to be back on solid ground, but also glad she did it. Camila also wants to help Lea find out more about Hallie, so she asks to visit the Missouri History Museum. With some perseverance, the three girls are able to find out that Hallie was a classmate of Ama's--and that she's still living in St. Louis. They drive over to visit, and after convincing her son to explain that Amanda Silva's granddaughter wants to visit, they meet Hallie. She's very gracious and tells the girls about her kinship with Amanda (they lost touch when Hallie's parents sent her to a boarding school) and how they bonded over a love of and desire to travel.

The weeks is about over, and the photography class ends with an exhibition of the students' work. Hallie and her son accept Lea's invitation to come. It turns out that her son is a real estate developer interested in doing a renovation--just what Lea's mom needs funding for. Hallie and Lea talk, and Hallie gives Lea her compass necklace, the one that matches Ama's.

The book closes with Camila saying her goodbyes and an email from Zac about the worsening poaching situation. He's decided to stay for a while to fight for the animals.


Dedicated to "Mary See. Thank you for always being there for me. -L. H." and "my grandmother Terry, who never let her fears stop her. Thank you for showing me what it means to live life to the fullest.  -K. H."

There's no appendix in this book.

Lea's dad's leg is healing, but not back to 100% yet.

Zac is working at a rehab clinic. Not the same one where Amanda is, though.

St. Louis schools had spring break the last week of March in 2016, not in April. Baseball season starts in April. The Cardinals played home games April 11, 13-20, 29, and 30. All those dates were during state-mandated school proficiency testing for St. Louis schools. They played three games against Milwaukee (winning 2, losing 1), three against Cincinnati (2-1), three against Chicago (1-2), and two against Washington, D.C. (plus one May 1, and lost all three). It would have been interesting if they went to the Chicago game, since Camila's cousins live there.

A good way to get rid of brain freeze is to press your tongue to the roof of your mouth.