Contemporary Character 2017: Tenney Shares the Stage

Published: 2017. Author: Kellen Hertz. Cover illustration: Juliana Kolesova and Sonya Sones


Tenney and Logan are starting to mesh well as a duo finally--not perfectly, but with help from Portia and encouragement from Zane, they're able to bring out each other's good qualities rather than antagonize each other. They're meeting more often, despite Logan's odd insistence on not being able to work certain days or times. The turning point seems to be when Tenney writes out some frustrated lyrics to go with a song Logan wrote...not very vaguely describing how he annoys her. Logan responds with a second verse about how Tenney annoys Logan. The song's really good though, and they have fun playing it together. It ends up showing them how to work together.

But just when things are going so right, Logan fails to show up to a meeting with Zane and Portia to perform their new song. He's not just late, he never comes. Tenney is surprised to find herself wanting to defend Logan and explain his absence, insistently reminding the adults how much Logan loves music. Soon the reason for Logan's disappearance is revealed: he was arrested for shoplifting.

Tenney and Portia go to Logan's house (Tenney and her father had given Logan a ride home a few days before). Logan's not there, but his mother and younger brother are. Logan's mother explains: Logan's brother had had an asthma attack, and when Logan went to pick up his new inhaler at the pharmacy, he'd forgotten his wallet. He intended to pay the pharmacist back later, and thought he had an understanding with her, but when he took the medicine another worker saw and reported it as theft. It turns out that Logan's dad has been on a music tour for months, and might not be back for another few months. Even worse, he won't be paid until the end of the tour. Logan's been trying to help by watching his younger brother and even working as a janitor at his mom's hospital (his mom is a nurse; she's been picking up extra shifts). Tenney tries to be understanding but does an imperfect job of it, and Logan's embarrassed of his circumstances. He ends up quitting the duo.

Tenney is more upset than she expected she'd be. It was only recently that she never wanted to see Logan again, but now that she knows him better and sees how well they work together, she can't imagine performing without him. Her parents and Zane tell her to move on, because Logan either can't or won't focus enough on his music, and will hold Tenney back. But Tenney just has to try once more. Her older brother Mason understands, and drives Tenney around to look for Logan. She finds him at the hospital where he works, and just before his shift is over she meets a young girl with a chronic condition (it's not specified what she has). Logan's told the girl, Alice, about Tenney because Alice is one of Tenney's biggest fans. Meeting Alice gives Tenney an idea for fixing everything.

With Mason's help, Tenney gets permission from the hospital to put on an acoustic session for the sick children there. Logan is happy to agree. Tenney doesn't tell him that she's inviting her parents, Logan's mom, Zane, Portia, and just for good measure, Belle Starr (she's probably too busy, plus Logan's quitting meant cancelling a schedule gig opening for one of Starr's private shows in Nashville). Of course, she doesn't tell anyone besides Mason that Logan's going to be there. They're all peeved when they find out, but it's too late to cancel with all the hopeful children waiting for there performance. After it's over, everyone agrees that with a little help (for example, Logan's brother can come to the Grants' music store for rehearsals and play with Aubrey so that Logan doesn't need to baby-sit) Tenney and Logan are back together.


Dedicated to "John--I love sharing our song with you."

The Southern (or "Southun" as my Georgia-born granny would say) really shows up a lot in this book. Lots of y'all and Southern foods are mentioned, more so than in the previous two books.

Another thing that shows up more in this book is Tenney's habit of assuming she knows what people are thinking and forging ahead with those assumptions, which are often wrong. As in, "Logan must be upset because of X; I'll try to reassure him about X without asking if that's actually the problem."

To her credit, Tenney does realize that she has a pretty privileged life: a loving, supportive, and stable family, and the money and opportunity to foster her natural talent.

Tenney's younger sister Aubrey plays accordion for one of the songs during the acoustic performance. I can't quite imagine how accordion would sound with guitar, but I'm not very musical. The audience loves it, and Aubrey is apparently very good at accordion.


Contemporary Character 2017: Tenney in the Key of Friendship

Published: 2017. Author: Kellen Hertz. Cover illustration: Juliana Kolesova and Sonya Sones


Tenney's excited to start recording her songs in a professional studio. There's a steep learning curve though; things that she thinks sound perfect aren't quite right and need tweaking from Zane Cale (the recording person who sought her out) and Portia. Then Zane pairs her with Logan Everett, a drummer her age. Logan seems to think pretty highly of himself, barely giving Tenney the time of day while taking over her songs with his drumming.

Tenney's also distracted by the fundraiser Jaya's working on. Jaya's cousin lived in Bangladesh, and her school was badly damaged in a storm. They need three thousand dollars for the necessary repairs, or the school year won't be able to continue. And if all the teachers leave to seek work elsewhere, there might not be school the next year either. Tenney wants to help Jaya, but she's so busy with her songwriting that she can't devote the time needed. Jaya ends up enlisting the help of Holliday, of all people. While Tenney acknowledges that Holliday is great at organizing things, she can't quite over Holliday's mean streak. And then Jaya agrees with Holliday that Logan might improve Tenney's music.

Fuming at the idea of Logan touching her songs, Tenney tries to get sympathy from her family and from Portia, but they all remind her that much of music is collaborative, and encourage her to set aside the abrasiveness and irritation from her first meeting with Logan and really try to listen to his music. Tenney has to admit that he has some good ideas; the drum beat that he sent her via text is a good fit for her song. She takes Portia's advice to focus on the music rather than the tension between her and Logan, and the next recording session goes much more smoothly. They get the new song sorted out, and everyone agrees it sounds great.

But then Zane mentions the date of the performance he has booked for Tenney and Logan: the same day as the book sale fundraiser for Jaya's cousin. Tenney doesn't want to screw up her chances with music, so she doesn't tell Zane about the time conflict, reasoning that she can just be late to the fundraiser. She's sure Jaya will understand, but Jaya gets very terse with Tenney when she tells her about it.

The performance goes well, despite Logan playing faster than they had practiced. He says he was reading the crowd and responding to what the people wanted, but Tenney feels like he was competing against her rather than playing with her. Still, she had fun playing, and even gets to talk to her younger sister's favorite musician, Belle Star, and get some advice about keeping friendships through all the hard work. And it's then that Tenney realizes she's stayed too late. She rushes out to her dad's car, but by the time they arrive at the book sale, it's been over for half an hour and everyone's cleaned up and gone home. Tenney calls Jaya and leaves a message, but Jaya doesn't respond. After a while, Tenney takes her dog on a walk to Jaya's house. She starts out apologizing fine, but then it deteriorates into an "I'm sorry you're mad" rather than "I'm sorry I screwed up" apology. Jaya says they need to accept that since Tenney's been "discovered" she doesn't have as much time for friendships, and their friendship will have to take a backseat.

Tenney is surprised to find guidance in Holliday, who points out that Jaya feels ignored, and she's worried about her cousin, who she wasn't able to help as much as she wanted (they only raised a third of the needed amount from the book sale). Holliday suggests Tenney do something to show Jaya that she cares about the things (and people) Jaya cares about. Tenney thinks if she puts on a benefit concert at her dad's music store, she can raise the remaining amount. Given the limited number of people who can fit in the store, the tickets would need to be $15 each, a lot for a benefit concert. But maybe between Tenney have personally talked with Belle Star and Holliday's dad being vice president of Star's recording company, they can get her to come. That would be worth $15! Jaya is touched and happy that Tenney is showing such interest in helping her cousin. And Holliday is ready to help organize. Together, the three girls are sure they'll raise the money easily. Portia will play in the concert too. Tenney even reaches out to Logan to have him perform with her. Due to some rude things Tenney said (both intentionally and unintentionally), Logan says he'll perform to help the cause, but then he and Tenney are going back to solo. She happily agrees--Logan's not the most polite person, either.

Unfortunately, Belle Star is touring out of the country, and can't make the show. But she does post about on Twitter and encourages her fans to go--resulting in more people showing up than can safely fit inside the building! Quickly, they set up in the parking lot, allowing more people to see the show--and buy tickets to rebuild the school. The crowd loves the music, and they raise $5,000, more than enough to rebuild the school. Jaya's cousin sends a thank you video of her class singing Tenney's newest song, inspired by her friendship with Jaya (Jaya's mom recorded the performance). Between the success of the concert and the publicity from Belle Star, Zane says that they should start booking small venues, a step on the way to a recording contract. "They"--he wants Tenney and Logan to be a package deal. When Tenney sees that Logan has already signed the contract (her parents looked it over to be sure Tenney was being treated fairly), she agrees. She and Logan are learning to get along, and to play well together. She's excited to see how far they'll go.


Dedicated to "Mom and Dad, who taught me to sing my own song, and Katie, who was always there to listen to it."

A boy is added to a traditionally-female group (American Girl dolls; Logan's available as a doll), from the South, with blonde hair, named Logan... Remind you of anyone? Louisville isn't even three hours from Nashville.

This book is better about people liking different styles of music than the first one. The big performance that Tenney and Logan have is even at the home of the pop star Tenney's little sister likes, and Tenney is a bit star-struck by her. The pop star's music isn't Tenney's taste, but she's still a professional musician like Tenney wants to be. Tenney also specifically mentions liking Taylor Swift.


Contemporary Character 2017: Tenney

Published: 2017. Author: Kellen Hertz. Cover illustration: Juliana Kolesova and Sonya Sones


To say that twelve-year-old Tennyson "Tenney" Grant comes from a musical family might be an understatement: her father plays all manner of stringed instruments, her mother plays autoharp and sings, older brother Mason plays mandolin and drums (and likes repairing and working on electric instruments), younger sister Aubrey is learning accordion, and Tenney plays guitar and banjo, and writes songs and sings. Her dad is a member of a band, and various members of the family have been in it at times. Currently Tenney does backup vocals, and Mason plays in it too. Living in Nashville, TN is a great place for a family so into the music scene. There are tons of opportunities, even down to organizing a jamboree with the senior center through Tenney's middle school.

Tenney gets a huge opportunity (and surprise) when the band's lead singer suddenly quits before a performance. She volunteers to sing lead, and while it doesn't go perfectly, once Tenney gains some confidence she has a blast and does a great job. Not only that, but a representative from a record label heard her perform and invites Tenney to sing in a showcase at the Bluebird Cafe--the same place singers like Taylor Swift got started, where Garth Brooks and Faith Hill have played. Tenney's elated at the chance to break into the professional music scene, but her parents are more trepidation. They're not sure she's old enough.

The next time Tenney's class meets with the senior center residents about the Jamboree, Tenney ends up talking about the showcase with her senior partner, Portia. Portia plays guitar too, and encourages Tenney that the most important about music isn't age or this one particular showcase, but finding her voice. Tenney has a melody for a new song, but can't find the right lyrics. Maybe doing so will help her find her voice.

Tenney's mom tells her about the time she had a potential record contract, and how the label wanted to change her (including telling her to lose weight not for health but for show). Her own mother even signed over the rights to the songs she'd written, so even if Tenney's mom had wanted to sing her own songs, she wouldn't be able to. Not being able to be herself turned off of the music business, and is why she's so reluctant to let Tenney get so involved at a young age. But if Tenney agrees to take things one step at a time, listen to her parents' guidance, and remember what's really important in life, she can perform at the Bluebird Cafe. The performance is exhilarating, but has a rough start. The man from the record label says that someday, probably soon, Tenney will be ready to sign, but for now she needs to mature as an artist. Tenney tries to focus on the positive (being able to perform, overcoming the difficult opening) but she'd let herself daydream about signing right then.

She's still down the day of the Jamboree, to the point that she doesn't want to perform. She tells Portia, who expresses surprise and disappointment; she loved Tenney's new song (even helped her fine-tune it). Then Tenney gets a big surprise: Portia will play instead. She's been reluctant to perform since a stroke, but not only is she good with music, she was a star in her day, performing under a stage name. She was famous enough that Tenney's mom recognizes Portia instantly when they meet. In fact, Tenney's favorite song was one of Portia's! And Portia has a request: she wants Tenney to get up on stage with her. Her confidence restored by the knowledge that a music legend thinks she's talented, Tenney agrees. The duo perform Portia's famous song, and Tenney does her own song again.

The next school day, Tenney learns that someone filmed the performance and posted it online. Her song has over ten thousand views, and counting! Other students are asking for her autograph, and when her album will come out. Maybe sooner than Tenney thinks: when she goes to her dad's music shop after school, the man from the record label is there. He saw Tenney's performance (Portia is a friend and he came to support her return to the stage) and figures that while she's not quite ready for the big time, if he doesn't sign her someone else will. After talking with her parents, Tenney agrees to accept his tutelage.


Dedicated to "John, who taught me how to listen, and for Kieran, who dances to his own beat."

Tenney's mom owns and operates a food truck.

There's a strong vibe of snobbery against pop music (for example, immature Aubrey liking a singer who her older siblings think is beneath them). I know it's not the same as classical, but it's popular for a reason--even if some of it (okay, a lot of it) isn't my taste, looking down on a huge subset of people for not liking music the "right" way or not liking "real" music bugs me. Especially since on the cover, Tenney looks like Taylor Swift.

Tenney first sings lead at a concert for a "neighborhood association." Sounds like an HOA thing. Not my cup of tea--when were looking for a house last year, there was one really nice one that we concerned making an offer on. But then we found out that not only was it in an HOA neighborhood, the HOA recently elected new leadership that was about to significantly raise the dues and add a bunch of rules.

There's a little subplot with a Mean Girl, Holliday Hayes, who scoffs at Tenney's attempts to break into the music business because she's "nothing special." Holliday's own mother hears Tenney perform and starts going on about how if Holliday hadn't given up on her music and voice lessons, she could have cultivated her talent too. Tenney doesn't take the opportunity to gloat and instead points out Holliday's own talents, like the way she organized the Jamboree.

Mason is heartwarmingly supportive of his sister when the record agent seeks her out, volunteering information about her song writing and singing talents when Tenney is too stunned to talks herself up. Aubrey is helpful in her own seven-year-old way too; making a hairpiece with guitar picks for Tenney to wear at her debut.

Tenney's best friend Jaya is endlessly supportive and confident in Tenney's ability's as well. She's a gifted artist, and designs a logo for Tenney to use when she makes it big.


Girl of the Year 2017: Gabriela Speaks Out

Published: 2017. Author: Teresa E. Harris


Gabriela's mostly excited for the start of middle school, but nervous too. Teagan is going to a magnate school focusing on STEM (for her coding talents), so the best friends will be separated. Still, the first day goes pretty well. Gabriela's glad that Isaiah is there with her; they've become good friends. But in the last class of the day, Gabriela finds herself assigned to sit next to Aaliyah, a perfectionist who saddled Gabriela with the nickname "Repeat" for her stutter. And as the students are getting ready to head home, they're pelted with water balloons. Isaiah's book of poetry by African-American activists is soaked--and Gabriela recognizes Red and one of his friends in the group throwing the balloons.

Apparently, there's a hazing called Sixth Grade Initiation. Red and his friends insist it's all in good fun, but Gabriela points out how unwelcome and unwanted it makes the younger students feel. Red confides that there's more to come, but seeing how it's clearly not enjoyed "in good fun" says he'll try to back off. The next day, the sixth grader students' lockers are decorate with cutting nicknames, like G-g-g-gabby for Gabriela and Fakespeare for Isaiah. Gabriela notices that Aaliyah claims to have not had one, but she has a crumpled piece of paper reading "Lonely Loser" as the older students seem to have noticed that her know-it-all perfectionist attitude is off-putting to her peers. Gabriela does see that Red added "Twinkle Toes" to the corner of her paper (a nice reference to her love of dance), but also sees the sixth-graders calling each other the names to spite each other.

When a teacher mentions that student body elections are coming up, Gabriela is inspired to run for representative on the platform of eliminating Sixth Grade Initiation. She has a lot of support from her grade, and Red and his friends like her stance as well. But of course Aaliyah is also running, and she's so good at campaigning that Gabriela feels like she doesn't stand a chance. For a bit, she thinks about changing her platform (Red suggests students be allowed more technology and internet access; he'd like to listen to music while doing in-class work and talk with his deployed mother at recess), but comes to the conclusion that she'd rather run on what's important to her. But is there any way she can win?

A talk with an overwhelmed Teagan (the new school is much harder than she anticipated, and is making her question her abilities) gives Gabriela an epiphany: Teagan is a coder and always will be; she doesn't have to prove it anyone else. Just like Gabriela can be a leader whether Aaliyah believes she can or not (Aaliyah's been saying some nasty things to her like, "How can you stand up for our class if you can't even speak up for your friends?"). Gabriela resolves to speak out against the Sixth Grade Initiation during her campaign speech: even if she doesn't win, maybe she can convince people the harmful tradition needs to go. An email from Isaiah about working together to build a better future rather than against people to win solidifies her view. In an effort to not alienate people, Gabriela tries to help Aaliyah with something, and when that backfires, writes her a poem.

To Gabriela's surprise, her overture works--quickly. Aaliyah writes her a letter apologizing for her treatment of her, explaining that she had decided to stop trying to make friends since it never worked at her old school. She mistook Gabriela's stuttering for looking for a reason to get away from Aaliyah, and held a grudge ever since. The girls quickly start to build a friendship. The timing couldn't be better: when the votes are tallied, Gabriela and Aaliyah are tied. Instead of a runoff election, the girls decided to serve together.


Dedicated to Keith.

Teagan lives with her grandfather.

The book makes it seem like there's only one speech therapist for the whole school district. My oldest has speech therapy, and thanks to a couple recent moves, has been in four different school districts in two states. Each had multiple speech therapists.

There are several mentions of Isaiah's parents pushing him to branch out with his interests because he focuses too much on single subjects. The way it's written, I wonder if they're hinting at Isaiah being on the autism spectrum.

The teachers clearly don't like the Sixth Grade Initiation, but don't really do anything to stop it. For example, if they know mean nicknames will be put on the six graders' lockers, why not have a teacher or two stand in that hallway to stop it from happening? (I really hate hazing like this, even having done things like sports and ROTC that stereotypically have hazing. "Let's make the new people miserable so they feel like part of the group!" I find it works better to treat them like you're happy they've joined.)

Gabriela was running for sixth grade ambassador. Why were the other grades voting for the sixth grade seat? I would understand if she were running for student body president or treasurer or something, but when we did elections in my school, the representatives for any given grade were only elected by their own grade.


Girl of the Year 2017: Gabriela

Published: 2017. Author: Teresa E. Harris.


Gabriela McBride has recently joined a spoken word poetry group, started by her slightly-older cousin Red. He's come to live with the McBrides in Philadelphia while his mother, a military doctor, is deployed. Gabriela was unsure at first about the group, given her stutter, but the prose actually helps her speak a little easier. She's still more expressive with dance, her first love. Conveniently, Gabriela's mom has been running Liberty, a performing arts center, for Gabriela's whole life. But now there's trouble: the building is in dire need of repair, and while it's technically owned by the city, the city will only pay for labor. The McBrides needs to come up with the materials, which is a tall order. Especially with the annual performance review on the horizon. And to make matters worse, Gabriela and Red think they may have caused the power overload that prompted the electrical panel inspection when by turning on some extra lights for a rehearsal

Gabriela suggests finding another place to rehearse while the repair situation is sorted out. She, Red, and her best friend Teagan go to talk to the school principal to see if they can use the gym. The gym is booked solid, but the principal suggests asking the students if they know of anywhere. A Shakespeare enthusiast named Isaiah offers to ask if they can use a room at a nearby Baptist church, where is dad is the pastor. While Gabriela is happy they have a stop-gap solution, she's upset that her stutter got in the way of talking to both the principal and the students. Both times Teagan stepped in and gave brief speeches. Gabriela knows Teagan was just trying to help and be supportive, but she's just as sure she could have gotten the words out if she'd had another few minutes to talk.

The church turns out to be a good place for rehearsals (especially at the price: free!) but it's not the same. Gabriela is still hoping to find a way to get Liberty fixed soon. There are fundraisers, community outreaches, and petition signings. At the signing  rally, Gabriela finally tells Teagan to not talk for her, but since she's been simmering with resentment for so long, she blows up at her (they make up soon after). Still, they collect over two hundred signatures! Well, before Gabriela accidentally spills paint on several pages...first she causes the power overload, now she ruins the petition.

But even with the paint stains, Gabriela and her Liberty friends are able to demonstrate the huge positive impact Liberty has on the community. The city agrees to set aside some money in its budget for the repairs (which now go beyond just electrical, as an inspection reveals) if Liberty can raise $20,000. In two weeks.

Everyone gets busy. They solicit donations, sell handmade things...but $20,000 is a lot. Gabriela says that if only more people could see how great Liberty is, they'd want to save it too. That's it: a public performance! Gabriela and her friends enlist the help of one of the adult apprentices at Liberty, but otherwise keep it secret from grown-ups, as they're sure the grown-ups will just take over or not let them do it. They say they want to go to a park on the day of a community picnic while Gabriela's mom and dad get a well-deserved date night. Just before the big day (two days before the budget meeting deadline), Red tells one more adult: someone with the local CBS news affiliate. The TV news reporter shows up in time to record the performance, which the kids put on without any advertisement, and Gabriela is able to push through her stuttering to give a short on-air speech about the importance of Liberty. She stumbles over some words, but she says what she wants to, on her own. And the reporter finishes the spot by directing viewers to the online donation website Gabriela's parents set up.

After their date, Gabriela and Red say vaguely that they weren't just at a picnic and hint not very subtly that Gabriela's parents should check the donations. Gabriela's parents are stunned, and wonder why they were kept in the dark. Gabriela and Red explain that it was their idea to have all the lights on for the rehearsal, so they think they caused the power failure. Since it was their fault, they wanted to fix it themselves. Gabriela's parents explain the extra power draw from the lights was more like the straw that broke the camel's back, and they wish they'd been told about the performance only so they could have helped. But when they all watch the news report, her parents are very impressed with the choreography. And even better, the donations reach--and then surpass by a few thousand dollars--their goal. Then annual end of summer performance review is back on, and it's a huge success.


Dedicated to Linda. Special thanks are also given to Lean Barbosa, MS CCC-SLP for help with the speech therapy parts; to Fatima Grace Groves, Senior Vice President for Program, National Women's Law Center; Sofia Snow, program director at Urban World NYC; and Urban Word NYC First Draft Open Mic for inspiring the "First draft!" tradition for Gabriela's poetry group.

Here's the good news/bad news about Gabriela McBride. Good news: American Girl finally listened to its customers and provided a girl of the year of color, providing more diversity in the line (even if she is another dancer) and dolls that are more easily relate-able to more girls (and the adults to collect them as well), not just with her ethnicity, but with her speech impediment.

Bad news: Gabriela is the first girl in a few years to not get a movie made, which is at best an uncomfortable coincidence. She's also not the only big release; the new Contemporary Characters line has two dolls out, Tenney and Z. Tenney has, at the time of this post, four books to Gabriela's three (Z has two), and in addition to the Tenney doll being released, a boy doll from her line is also out (Logan). So, Gabriela, the first black Girl of the Year and the first non-white Girl of the Year since Marisol, doesn't get a movie and has to share the spotlight. I'll be reviewing the Tenney and Z books as well, because I like complete things, but I'm giving Gabriela the first post (then Tenney then Z, because why not use alphabetical order).

The first scene of this book is set on June 23, 2017, a Sunday.

Since Shawshank Redemption is my favorite movie, you can imagine how I initially pictured an African-American character named Red. But someone in middle school probably doesn't look like Morgan Freeman...

Gabriela and Teagan make bracelets out of embroidery floss to sell for a fundraiser. Red suggests some be in the team colors of Philadelphia's professional sports teams, which is smart (Baseball: Phillies; NFL: Eagles).

I'm surprised that Isaiah's dad, a Baptist pastor, is called Mr. Jordan rather than Pastor Jordan. I'm used to Protestant ministers having a title like that, including my parents' Baptist minister neighbor. But different congregations can have different preferences.

Speaking of dads, Red's isn't mentioned.

Gabriela and Teagan have a good conversation over the phone, but given their ages and the setting (present day) I think it's more likely they would have been texting. Almost no pre-teens and teens I know prefer phone calls to texting.


A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey with Julie

Published in 2014; author Megan McDonald; illustrators Julie Kolesova and Michael Dwornik

"My Journey" books

These are choose-your-own adventure books written from a first person perspective. Just for ease, I'm going to always pick the first option when I come them, but I'll try to mention the other possible endings. Since the reader is meant to insert herself into the story, the main character (a modern-day pre-teen) isn't named. Since it would sound to weird to me to summarize the story as, "and then (Historical Characters) and I saw a..." I've been using the author's first name, in this case, Megan.


Megan is looking around her new room, in a San Francisco apartment. For now, it's just Megan, her younger brother, and their mom. Her dad is staying behind in Cincinnati for some training classes, in hopes that he'll be able to get a job in California like Megan's mom did. But Megan and her younger brother are concerned that their parents' marriage is failing. Megan misses her friends back home, and misses her dad more.

She notices the bench under the window lifts up to reveal a storage compartment. Aside from the cobwebs and dust, there are a few things from someone who lived there before: a rainbow headband, a 1975 half dollar, a peace sign earring, nail clippers, and a mood ring. Idly, Megan slips the mood ring on, and suddenly the whole room changes. Megan is suddenly very aware that this is not her apartment, although she doesn't understand what happened. She just knows she needs to get out before the people who do live there get back.

The bottom level of the building is a thrift shop now. A calendar shows what happened: somehow the mood ring transport Megan back to the apartment building in 1975. A girl Megan's age comes over, Julie Albright, and asks if Megan is looking for anything in particular. Megan buys a small charm with her 1975 coin, and she and Julie quickly bond over the mood ring (after all, Julie has one just like it, somewhere in her room...) and basketball. Julie's mother, who owns the store, tells Julie she needs to get ready to go to her dad's. Embarrassed, Julie whispers that her parents are divorced (it's far more rare in 1975) and that her teenaged sister doesn't always come to see their dad. Megan wants to do something to cheer Julie up.

First choice: suggest a visit to the beach or think of something else

The closest beach is currently dealing with a garbage problem, and the girls figure they can do their part to clean it up. Megan privately wonders if the beach is still there in her time or if it's been built up with construction. Megan and Julie aren't the only ones helping clean up the beach. They're happy to see other volunteers picking up various items, although even when their bags are full to bulging, there's still so much litter. Julie thinks she recognizes a sunbather: it's her sister Tracy, with her friend Mike. But Tracy told Ms. Albright that she was studying at the library. Julie goes to confront her sister, but is blown off. As Tracy and Mike leave, they whisper something to each other and laugh, then offer to carry the trash bags to the parking lot. Megan and Julie hand over their bags but don't feel right about the encounter.

Next choice: keep cleaning up or go after Tracy and Mike

The girls distract themselves by seeing who can find the most interesting thing as they continue to clean the beach. A strong contender emerges: a sea otter pup is tangled in some tough plastic trash. Julie and Megan signal for other volunteers to get the animal rescue group nearby, and rush to make sure the pup won't drown. Thinking quickly, Megan takes the nail clippers from her pocket and snips away the offending litter. The pup doesn't move much, appearing to be weak from its ordeal. Soon an animal rescue is on hand, and wraps the pup carefully in a towel. They carry the pup to a calmer part of the beach, and are elated to hear its mother calling for it. The pup wriggles out of the towel swims to its mother. Megan promises herself that she'll spend more time with her brother and teach him the importance of helping the planet.

About Julie's Time

Although the 1970s was relatively recent, a lot has changed since then. Girls and women were discouraged from participating in sports until legislation required them to be treated the same as boys and men in academic settings (obviously this doesn't always happen, but Title IX has made things easier). Environmentalism was also fairly new; curbside recycling wasn't a thing yet, and the Endangered Species Act was only passed in 1972.


Dedicated to Jordana.

Maybe Megan's best friend doesn't care, but I'd rather not have a nickname that sounds like "cloaca." That's the term for the opening some animals have that serves as the entrance and exit for reproductive purposes as well as elimination of urine and feces (monotremes, for example; the term means "one hole"). Chloe --> Chlo-coa Puff.

Megan's clothes don't magically become era-appropriate, but they're not too far off. She ends up just looking unstylish rather than completely out of place.

This story takes place just before Julie makes the school basketball team.

Some of the endings are online-only. So, these aren't good books to take anywhere without an internet connection.

Some other possible endings: helping Julie and Tracy see that they're both hurting from the divorce but if they help each other they'll heal faster shows Megan that she should be more open to her own younger brother; playing a boys vs girls basketball game with Julie and Tracy can inspire Megan to be more kind to her younger brother; it can also show her the importance of good sportsmanship and trying your best no matter what the odds; or it can inspire Megan to be more confident; the confidence can also translate into Megan being more willing to admit to her brother that she's scared too, rather than trying to put on a brave face for him (he sees right through her anyway, and desperately wants to talk about things); opening up to Julie about having trouble fitting in at school can encourage Megan that she and her best friend in Cincinnati can stay friends, and that not everyone at her new school is a jerk; standing up for Julie against some bullies convinces Megan to try making new friends; helping Julie smooth over an argument she had with her best friend gets Megan thinking she needs to reach out more to her best friend in Cincinnati


Music in My Heart: My Journey with Melody

Published in 2016; author Erin Falligant with Denise Lewis Patrick; illustrators Julie Kolesova and Michael Dwornik; author photos by Reverie Photography and Fran Balter Photography

"My Journey" books

These are choose-your-own adventure books written from a first person perspective. Just for ease, I'm going to always pick the first option when I come them, but I'll try to mention the other possible endings. Since the reader is meant to insert herself into the story, the main character (a modern-day pre-teen) isn't named. Since it would sound to weird to me to summarize the story as, "and then (Historical Characters) and I saw a..." I've been using the author's first name, and since I "borrowed" Erin Falligant's name more recently, I'll use Denise.


Denise is at piano practice, feeling uninspired. But when her teacher has her play "Lift Every Voice and Sing" the song makes her nostalgic for her recently deceased grandmother. As she plays, Denise feels more caught up in the music than she ever has before. When the song is finished, Denise is shocked to see she's in a church building rather than her piano instructor's home. A girl her age is there, awed by Denise's song. She introduces herself as Melody, and says that if Denise doesn't mind, Melody will go upstairs to get her grandmother, who would love to hear the song. Melody also mentions the Civil Rights march advertised on a poster as being last summer, meaning Denise is in 1964. Denise obliges, and performing the song again transports her back to piano lessons. The second Denise gets home, she takes the sheet music to her own piano--she can't wait to get back to Melody's time. Once there, Melody thinks Denise is waiting for the Student March to Freedom Club, which her sister Yvonne leads, while Melody's grandmother assumes Denise is part of the traveling youth choir visiting the church.

First choice: agree with Melody's grandmother or with Melody

Denise follows Melody's grandmother, Mrs. Porter, up the stairs only to find out that the tour bus already left. It will be back in a few days, though. Melody suggests that Denise stay in town, and Mrs. Porter agrees to open her home to her. At Mrs. Porter's, Denise is impressed by a beautiful upright piano, and Mrs. Porter hands her some more inspirational music. Melody sings along while Denise plays. Melody's older brother Dwayne happens by, and joins the concert. Denise is soon awestruck when she learns he's a Motown singer, and that Melody has sung backup vocals for him. Real professional singers! Dwayne invites the girls to a recording session, but they had already made plans to accompany Mrs. Porter to a concert hall for a gospel music performance.

Next choice: stick with the original plan or go to the recording session

While the recording session would be amazing, Denise keeps thinking of her own grandmother and how much Mrs. Porter reminds her of the woman she misses so much. After dinner with Melody's grandparents, who both invite Denise to call them by the names their grandchildren use (Big Momma and Poppa), they head for the performance hall. The concert is every bit as awe-inspiring as the recording session might have been, especially with their seats so close to the stage (Poppa claimed to be "too tired" to attend the concert, letting Denise have his ticket). But when the last notes fade, the owners of the venue mention something about this being their last concert--the building is due to be demolished for urban renewal. The owners live there; they'll have to move in with their daughter for the time being. Denise thinks that her father, a congressman, could surely help...then remembers she's about fifty years in the past. But maybe she can do something. She stays up most of the night thinking about the issue, as does Melody (who also spends the night at her grandparents'). In the morning, Big Momma suggests that the girls could go with Melody's aunt and uncle to Windsor, Ontario for the Emancipation Day celebration.

Next choice: try to help the concert venue's owners or go to Windsor

Reasoning that they won't feel right celebrating when there are immediate problems at home, Denise and Melody decline the trip. They go to Melody's house, where her older sister Yvonne has an idea. She says the protest group she heads can encircle the building, preventing its demolition. Mrs. Ellison is worried that such a spur-of-the-moment protest will be too dangerous, especially when the opposition has bulldozers.

Next choice: do the demonstration or think of another way to be heard

When Yvonne takes the girls to the building the next morning, they join a large crowd of protesters. Several police officers are on hand, warning them that standing in the way of city business could get them arrested (some officers look reluctant to do so, and are clearly hoping for a peaceful resolution). Sure enough, Yvonne and some teenagers are eventually led to a police van. Melody rushes toward her sister, and she and Denise are separated. It's all too much for Denise. She finds someone who can get a message to Melody (she'd already told Melody she was going home after the protest) and slips inside the building to play the song on the piano that remains inside. When she's back in the present, she rushes to her mother, who happens to be her school's principal and had mentioned that the music program would suffer due to budget cuts. Denise tells her that music is worth fighting for, and they can't just give up. They have to take a stand and try.

About Maryellen's Time

Nearly everyone knows about high-profile Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr, but he and others were bolstered by the support of ordinary citizens. Even young children joined the cause: six-year-old Ruby Bridges was the first black student to attend a white school in the South, and despite death threats, didn't miss a single day of first grade. Nine-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks attended a Civil Rights event in Birmingham and consequently spent a week in jail. She was one of several hundred children at the "Children's Crusade" who marched because their parents faced backlash from the racist employers.


Dedicated to "Mark, who understands the power of music."

The keys on the Porters'  piano are more yellow than white. I think the 1964 keys are ivory; a lot of older pianos used ivory.

Assuming Denise goes back in time to the same month and Windsor's Emancipation Day celebration is around the same time now as it was in 1964, this story mostly takes place in early August.

Some of the endings are online-only. So, these aren't good books to take anywhere without an internet connection.

Some other possible endings: Denise can meet Rosa Parks who encourages her to speak out in order to get more books by African-American authors in the library; seeing how Melody's friends and family never give up or give in as they strive for equality inspires Denise to speak out against even small injustices; it can also push Denise to want to improve her city by working with her politician father; making new friends and working together to a greater goal can help Denise feel less shy back in her own time; seeing Melody's brother pulled over for "driving while black" can make Denise think about role models and how it's more important to emulate people's good character rather than their fame; organizing a fundraiser in 1964 gives Denise the idea to do the same to help the struggling music program at school; attending the celebration in Canada can show Denise that she can trust herself; or that even though physical buildings like the concert venue might not last, the intangible things that Civil Rights workers are striving for can last forever if they're cherished; 


The Sky's the Limit: My Journey with Maryellen

Published in 2015; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Julie Kolesova and Michael Dwornik

"My Journey" books

These are choose-your-own adventure books written from a first person perspective. Just for ease, I'm going to always pick the first option when I come them, but I'll try to mention the other possible endings. Since the reader is meant to insert herself into the story, the main character (a modern-day pre-teen) isn't named. Since it would sound to weird to me to summarize the story as, "and then (Historical Characters) and I saw a..." I've been using the author's first name, but in this book  the main character is explicitly named Sophie.


When a stopwatch button sends Sophie back in time to 1955, she couldn't be more relieved. in 2015, Sophie had just won a downhill skiing race only to be accused of cheating by her twin sister Emma. If Sophie did take the wrong route, it was an honest mistake, but the penetrating glares of her teammates were too much for her. She pushes the button again and is instantly back in the exact same second. Reasoning that she can leave for as along as she wants and not miss any time in the present, she escapes the scrutiny for the sunny front lawn she'd been standing by. A girl her age introduces herself as Maryellen Larkin, accompanied by her younger brother and sister. Maryellen assumes Sophie is a new neighbor, but her sister Beverly thinks she's the expected daughter of a family friend.

First choice: agree with Maryellen or agree with Beverly

Sophie says she's just come here from North Carolina, which is true in a way. And still in her snowsuit, at that (another book where the main character's clothes don't automatically change). Maryellen assumes that Sophie's moving in, and the moving van hasn't arrived. Since Sophie is from eastern North Carolina and hasn't seen the ocean yet, Maryellen gets Sophie a clean dress from her older sister (though they're the same age, Maryellen is smaller than Sophie) and suggests they walk the two blocks to the beach. Sophie tries to decline at first because the dress is too nice, and suggests that short and a t-shirt might be better. Beverly says that she can't wear shorts to school the next day (she's assuming that the "moving truck" won't have arrived and Sophie will have to wear her sister's clothes). It's then that Sophie sees a calendar: November 1955. Sophie takes a moment to collect her thoughts and get over the shock. She knows she can return whenever she wants, and right now she wants to see what else is in store. She sees the Atlantic for the first time. As Sophie watches Maryellen interact with her younger siblings, she wonders if trying to do the things Emma's interested in has backfired. Maybe Emma wants some space from her twin sometimes. Maryellen, full of energy and rarely pausing her chatter, mentions having had polio at a younger age, which might explain her smaller size (it weakened one of her legs and her lungs). She also reminisces about an embarrassing time when she froze on stage at a fundraiser she organized. Sophie is impressed at how Maryellen seems to take it all in stride. Back at the Larkins', Sophie is invited to spend the night since the next day is only a half day. She can pretend to call "home" for permission, but should she stay?

Next choice: go home or stay at Maryellen's

(I'm going to rebel against my arbitrary rule and pick the second choice. The first one has Sophie return to the present and speak up for herself, saying that she honestly thought she was following the correct race path. Emma apologizes for assuming the worst and the sisters make up.)

After dinner and dessert, Sophie shows Maryellen some constellations. Astronomy is her biggest passion, and the night sky is much clearer at Daytona Beach in 1955. Sophie also gets an idea to help Maryellen with her stage fright concerns. Maryellen has a presentation at school the next day, on what she's thankful for about Daytona Beach (Thanksgiving is in two days). Instead of presenting on car races, she can cut out the shapes of constellations, turn out the lights in the room, and shine a flashlight through the cut outs to make the constellations appear on the ceiling. It will look very clever, and in the dark Maryellen won't have to worry about people staring at her. The presentation goes very well, and Sophie learns a bit about herself at school too (she's allowed stay for the half day despite not having registered yet as the teacher assumes her family will take care of that after the Thanksgiving break). Since she knows what will happen in the next sixty years, she stands up to classmate of Maryellen's who says no one will ever make it to the moon, and women will never go in space. Sophie doesn't usually speak up, but her new friends at school support her, giving her confidence (making friends is new too; she usually tags along with Emma's friends). Some other students present on famous people from Daytona Beach. This prompts Sophie to wonder what stories her grandmother, a former archaeologist, has. Sophie resolves to ask her at her next opportunity.

Next choice: go home or stay in 1955

(Stop it Maryellen. I have to rebel again! Going home just has Sophie briefly unsure where to start with her grandmother, and deciding to do what Maryellen does: ask a million questions.)

On the way back from school, the girls notice a contest: design a logo for a new plant shop and win $25 (just over $226 today). Maryellen is determined to enter. The girls talk in Maryellen's room while she sketches out designs. Maryellen shares the room with her sisters. Emma recently moved into Sophie's room, when their grandmother came to live with them, and the new rooming arrangement is part of the tension the sisters have. Maryellen is a sympathetic ear to Sophie's concerns, and gives a few pieces of advice. Maryellen's sister Carolyn has forgotten her dance tickets for the school sock hop, so Sophie and Maryellen walk them to the school, stopping by the flower shop along the way to enter the contest. A bit later, the remaining Larkins head for the beach. Sophie swims a little, but spends more of her time keeping the younger Larkins busy (which is fine with her; she's a little scared of the ocean). Maybe she can baby-sit to earn money for that telescope she wants... When they get home, Maryellen gets a call: she won the contest! Seeing Maryellen get what she wants through hard work and determination helps Sophie see she can work to her goals too, and now she's confident enough to follow through with them.

Next choice: stay in the past or go home (thank you, book)

The next morning, the family is busy getting things as ready as they can for the Thanksgiving meal the next day. Mr. Larkin's boss is coming, so he's nervous. Mr. Larkin suggests he take the children to Cypress Gardens so Mrs. Larkin can work unimpeded.

Next choice: stay and finish the chores so Mrs. Larkin can get a break too or see the theme park

When Sophie suggests that Mrs. Larkin should go see the botanical garden and water ski races she mentioned enjoying, Maryellen readily agrees that her mother deserves a vacation too. There's not really that much to do, anyway; just take the turkey out of the oven when the timer goes off and give Maryellen's baby brother some ice for his sore gums (he's teething) if he wakes up. The girls also decide to make some Thanksgiving decorations. While they don't manage to burn the turkey, they aren't quite as careful as they could be, and both Maryellen's dog and the boss's dog eat a turkey leg. Mr. Larkin takes everyone out for dinner at a restaurant, and the boss and his wife end up being surprisingly lively. At first, Maryellen and Sophie assumed they were a bit stuck up, but they were only literally stiff from sunburn. This gets Sophie thinking about her grandmother, and how she may have misjudged her. Sophie says goodbye to Maryellen, explaining that her family isn't moving in after all, and returns to the present. She defends herself to her coach, explaining that she didn't cheat. When Emma apologizes for her accusation, Sophie says she's going to quit the ski team. Emma misunderstands at first, thinking Sophie doesn't want to do anything with her, but Sophie explains that she wants to do things they both enjoy...like maybe decorating the house for Thanksgiving. Sophie also asks her grandmother if she wants to invite her friend over. She wants to get to know more about her grandmother.

About Maryellen's Time

While the 1950s were easier than the 1930s in many ways, they were far from perfect. There were few opportunities for women who wanted to work outside the home, and the start of the civil rights era was still a decade away.


Dedicated to "Jennifer Hirsch, with love and thanks."

Sophie is transported not only in time, but also in place: she starts out on a North Carolina mountaintop.

The page numbers are screwed up for at least one of the choice options.

Since Maryellen says it's two days before Thanksgiving and and it's 1955, we know Sophie arrives on November 22, 1955. Happy birthday to my grandmother!

It's too bad the Gemini wouldn't have been visible when Sophie is showing Maryellen different constellations. Gemini = the twins.

Several storylines show Sophie that she's a natural with kids.

The devices that transport the characters in time must have an effect on the people they meet; the Larkins don't question Sophie not being with her family in Thanksgiving.

The stylized snowflakes that mark scene breaks in the book look a lot like the sculpture outside the Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. I assume that's on purpose; not only does Sophie love astronomy, Maryellen's other books talk a lot about the Space Race (giant picture!):

Interesting and random coincidence: a friend of mine has two daughters (not twins). Sophie and Emma.

Some of the endings are online-only. So, these aren't good books to take anywhere without an internet connection.

Some other possible endings: going to Cypress Gardens can inspire Sophie to connect deeper with her grandmother, and also show her that doing something a friend likes (like skiing) can be worthwhile if both people focus on the friendship; going on a trip with the Larkins (who thinks she needs a ride to Washington, DC) can give Sophie the confidence she needs to speak up for integrity back at the ski race; it can also give her the confidence to tell Emma that she doesn't like skiing and they can find other activities to enjoy together; a visit with Maryellen's grandparents along the way can help Sophie appreciate her grandmother; in one storyline she enlists her grandmother's help to prove her innocence (her grandmother did archaeology, and sees where a fallen branch obscured the race route); Sophie can also prove her innocence on her own and after Emma apologizes and they talk about how spend quality time with each other rather than just quantity time, the two get to know their grandmother better together; taking the Larkins to a great viewing place for the lunar eclipse she knows is coming gets Sophie to talk to with Emma about how the next summer, she's going to astronomy camp--they can have their own interests and not lose any of their closeness.


Full Speed Ahead: My Journey with Kit

Published in 2014; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Julie Kolesova and Michael Dwornik

"My Journey" books

These are choose-your-own adventure books written from a first person perspective. Just for ease, I'm going to always pick the first option when I come them, but I'll try to mention the other possible endings. Since the reader is meant to insert herself into the story, the main character (a modern-day pre-teen) isn't named. Since it would sound to weird to me to summarize the story as, "and then (Historical Characters) and I saw a..." I will use the author's first name, in this case, Valerie.


Valerie's procrastinating her essay, due tomorrow, by looking through her recent thrift store finds. Her mom won't be home until after dinner and the sitter is "busy" texting, so Valerie is pretty much on her own in the spacious and luxurious apartment. One of the cooler items Valerie has is an old film camera. She looks through the viewfinder and pretends to take a picture...only to suddenly find herself outside in a place she's never been, next to a puppy. A girl her age introduces herself as Kit Kittredge, and presumes that Valerie is the dog's owner..and also the cousin her family's been expecting. The puppy seems to like Valerie well enough that she may as well let it tag along for now.

First choice: go into Kit's house with her or admit you're not the cousin

Upon entering Kit's house, Valerie spots a newspaper dated September 1, 1933.

Next choice: stay in 1933 or return to 2014

Kit's parents introduce Valerie to the boarders at the breakfast table, explaining that she's the great-niece of Uncle Hendrik. Valerie's pretty confused and consequently a bit awkward, but goes along with the story. When Kit's mother and a boarder go to fix up the room Valerie will stay in, the puppy follows. Valerie quickly catches the dog, and overhears the boarder expressing concern that Mr. and Mrs. Kittredge are giving up their room for a spoiled little girl! Mrs. Kittredge counters that Valerie is probably just shy and overwhelmed, and furthermore, they need her. Feeling more awkward, Valerie talks to Kit, wondering if she should help with chores or maybe share Kit's room instead of kicking Kit's parents out of theirs. Kits says that Valerie is to be their guest, and if she's not treated as one, Uncle Hendrik might not pay them. Valerie is confused: pay them? Blushing a bit, Kit confides that her father lost his job because of the Great Depression, and even with the boarders, the family is in desperate need of money.

Next choice: agree to be a guest or insist on helping

Valerie doesn't want to make waves. Besides, she doesn't know much about housework anyway. But she can do a few things, like clear the breakfast dishes, and keep Kit company while Kit does her chores. Valerie is able to help a bit with the laundry, rescuing a wool sweater from being washed too roughly, which would have shrunk it. When Mrs. Kittredge sees both girls in dampened clothes (from the laundry), she suggests they catch a trolley to Uncle Hendrik's house, where it's assumed Valerie sent her luggage. Of course, there's no luggage there, and if Uncle Hendrik remembers what his real great-niece looks like, he'll be pretty confused who the impostor is.

Next choice: avoid going to Uncle Hendrik's or see what happens at his house

Thinking quickly, Valerie says there's no need to go to Uncle Hendrik's. Her suitcase won't be arriving yet. Kit offers Valerie her best outfit to wear while her own clothes dry. Valerie knows she won't be careful enough with it, and asks instead to put together something from Kit's more worn clothes. She creates a great outfit, and is eager to look through a box full of other clothes, but just before she can suggest it, Kit says they ought to take that box to the soup kitchen to donate. When they arrive, Valerie is stunned by the long line of people, including children and babies, dressed in literal rags. She knows there are homeless people in modern times, but she's never seen such desperation all in one place. The soup kitchen coordinator directs Kit and Valerie to a group of four girls, sisters who lost all but the clothes on their backs in a fire. Valerie is worried they'll seem stuck up by giving the old clothes to the girls, but Kit shows her that just being straightforward and not condescending or pitying helps smooth over any awkwardness. Plus, Valerie brought the puppy, whose antics delight the sisters. Valerie thinks that the camera must have sent her back to show her that while she is often lonely (in addition to her mother being gone at work a lot, she's an only child and her friends aren't able to visit often), she has a lot to be grateful for. And because of her monetary position, she can do a lot to help people.

Next choice: return to the present or stay with Kit

Valerie says goodbye to Kit, explaining that she needs to go back to her own family. She then finds the soup kitchen coordinator, and asks if the puppy would be welcome there. The coordinator says that her family would be thrilled to have a dog, and the puppy can come with her whenever she has a shift, to give the people there a little bit of distraction and happiness, as it did for the sisters. Stepping out of sight, Valerie clicks the shutter and returns to her room. She looks around at the excess and mess, and starts cleaning right away. She finishes just as her mom arrives home, and surprises her mother by declining an offer for a cup of tea, explaining that she has to finish her schoolwork. Valerie's mother says she can wait a bit for the tea. She'd love to talk--a girl as responsible as Valerie might be ready for a pet soon.

About Kit's Time

During the Great Depression, many people had their standards of life suddenly lowered. With jobs and wages drying up, people had to turn to new ways to make money, like taking in boarders (my great-grandmother did this; her husband died in 1929--when she was pregnant with Baby #11), and stretch their resources further. Sometimes it wasn't enough, and people lost their homes. Many of the newly-homeless people drifted from town to town, looking for work they could do in exchange for food, clothes, a safe place to sleep, or money. About half of them were teenagers or children.


Dedicated to "Annie Heuer, with love."

Some of the endings are online-only. So, these aren't good books to take anywhere without an internet connection.

Ugh. "He only teases you because he has a crush on you!" Well, his parents should teach him better ways to interact with people he likes, then. If I ever have a son, I will encourage him to treat all people respectfully, just as I teach my daughters.

Valerie's hobby is buying vintage clothes at thrift stores, to put together into new outfits. Valerie's a hipster.

Valerie's dad isn't mentioned. I'm surprised he didn't come up more with Stirling's father having gone.

In one storyline, Valerie briefly considers returning to 2014 to get her birthday money and give it to Kit and her family, but quickly realizes that the newer style of money will look incredibly out of place, especially if anyone looks at the mint dates, which are almost guaranteed to be after 1933.

In one ending, Valerie tries the camera shutter again, to see if she'll be sent back to 1933 or another time. It doesn't work at all this time.

Several storylines include Valerie not letting adults steamroll her or other children just because of respecting elders; because not all elder deserve respect. She's learned about bullying in school, and knows when to stand up for herself or others.

Poisonous and venomous aren't synonymous. Poison is passive: the toxin won't get into your system unless you're touching or eating the thing (like a poison-dart frog or a poisonous mushroom). Venom is vicious: the toxin is delivered by bites or stabs (like a venomous snake or a kick from the heel spur of a platypus).

Also not synonymous: impeachment and getting removed from the presidency. Bill Clinton was impeached (that is, officially charged with an offense, and doesn't guarantee a conviction--and a conviction doesn't guarantee removal from office) and still served two full terms as president. Andrew Johnson was also impeached and finished his term.

Funny coincidence: Valerie briefly thinks of a baked potato, which was my dinner tonight.

Hmm. For the storylines in which Valerie said she was the cousin, how confused will the Kittredge family be when the real cousin shows up? Impersonating a laundry maid (like in Samantha's My Journey book) is a lot easier to explain away than impersonating a relative.

Some other possible endings: going back to the Kittredge house after the soup kitchen leads to a conversation with Kit that inspires Valerie to nurture her talent for fashion and become a designer when she grows up; going to Uncle Hendrik's house can give Valerie the idea to try to connect with her sitter; it can also inspire a conversation with her mother that ends in them agreeing Valerie will come her mother's work (in a lab of some sort) every Friday after school so they can bond better; being mistaken for a hobo can inspire Valerie to see if she can help homeless people not be treated as subhuman; or it can make her realize how much she's taken for granted and want to do more to help others; not impersonating Uncle Hendrik's great-niece leads the Kittredge to family to think Valerie ran away from home so that her mother could save money better, in one of those endings Valerie is able to identify a copperhead snake and prevent Kit from bring bitten which makes her appreciate the educational opportunities her mother provides for her; riding the rails and seeing how desperate some people are makes Valerie appreciate what she has; getting to know new people inspires Valerie to get to know her sitter, instead of just ignoring her, and becomes friends with her; a visit to Aunt Millie can also help Valerie not take things for granted and motivate her to take care of her things; it can also inspire her to use some of her less interesting vintage clothing to learn to quilt; and my favorite ending has Valerie stand up to Uncle Hendrik and bet him that if then-first-term-president Franklin Roosevelt is re-elected, Uncle Hendrik will pay for the college education of Kit's older brother, and if FDR is elected to a third and fourth term, he'll pay for Kit's college (if FDR doesn't win, Kit and her brother will do free chores for a year).


The Glow of the Spotlight: My Journey with Rebecca

Published in 2014; author Jacqueline Dembar Greene; illustrators Julie Kolesova and Michael Dwornik; Russian doll charm by Boheme Jewelry

"My Journey" books

These are choose-your-own adventure books written from a first person perspective. Just for ease, I'm going to always pick the first option when I come them, but I'll try to mention the other possible endings. Since the reader is meant to insert herself into the story, the main character (a modern-day pre-teen) isn't named. Since it would sound to weird to me to summarize the story as, "and then (Historical Characters) and I saw a..." I will use the author's first name, in this case, Jacqueline.


Jacqueline is in an antique shop with her mother and twin sister, Megan. Ever-studious and serious Megan is dutifully doing her homework while their mother haggles over a mirror, but Jacqueline, who's more interested in her dance lessons (she wants to be a professional, and has a big part in an upcoming production), is looking around the wares. She sees a pretty Russian nesting doll and takes the dolls out one by one. As she carefully replaces the smaller doll in its larger one and lines it up just so, the room spins and she finds herself on an apartment rooftop. There's a girl her age nearby dressed in old-fashioned clothes, feeding pigeons. Jacqueline lines up the dolls again and is back in the antique store, with no time having passed. Curious and excited and eager to escape her concerns in the present day (aside from homework, Jacqueline had a fight with her friend Liz, and is also nervous that she'll get stage fright like she did in her last performance), Jacqueline does the trick again. If no time passes, she can find out more about where the dolls are transporting her and be back with her mom and sister without them ever knowing she was gone.

Now back on the rooftop, Jacqueline gets to meet the girl, Rebecca Rubin. Seeing Jacqueline's dance costume (she'd just come from rehearsal), Rebecca assumes Jacqueline must be the vaudeville performer her cousin Max had said was visiting. Before Jacqueline can confirm or deny this, the apartment manager, Mr. Rossi, comes up to tell the girls stop bothering his pigeons and get off the roof. Jacqueline mentions she's from New Jersey (which is true; back in modern times she's about to catch a ferry from Manhattan to get home) and Mr. Rossi figures she's a friend's neighbor. He had just written his friend that he couldn't take the neighbor in despite the worries of sickness in New Jersey; there's no room.

First choice: say you need a place to stay or that you're a vaudeville performer

Rebecca immediately offers her family's apartment, provided her parents agree. Mr. Rossi protests that they can't sublet, but Jacqueline assures him she can get back to New Jersey quickly and she will only stay a day or two. But in Rebecca's apartment, her parents insist Jacqueline stay longer--New Jersey has been reporting cases of whooping cough, and Jacqueline should steer clear until the danger is passed. She can even go to school with Rebecca. Jacqueline is worried she won't fit in, given her fancy dance costume, but Rebecca has hand-me-downs from her older twin sisters: two of everything. Everything, even the shoes, fit well enough that Jacqueline can explore the past without sticking out too much. Given the large number of immigrants arriving constantly, hardly anyone bats an eye at Jacqueline's sudden enrollment in the school. Jacqueline wonders if school will be easier a hundred years in the past, but then she's called on to recite the nine times table--and she's been struggling with multiplication in 2014. She gets stuck on nine times four.

Next choice: look to Rebecca for help (she had just breezed through the eight times table) or guess the answer

Rebecca subtly holds out three fingers, then six. 36. But the teacher sees anyway, and has both Rebecca and Jacqueline stay in at recess as punishment for cheating. As they clean the blackboards, Rebecca gives Jacqueline some tips on remembering her multiplication tables. Jacqueline is happy that she can finally remember them, but says she won't need to know much math as a professional dancer. Rebecca disagrees; math is important in all aspects of life. She demonstrates this later at the market, haggling produce prices. Jacqueline is feeling more confident with math, but when she sets her purse down for a moment to count out the money for some onions, it disappears. Rebecca's younger brother thinks a boy running past took it. And the nesting dolls are in the purse.

Next choice: push through the crowd after the boy or wait for Rebecca to come along too

Jacqueline gives chase, but the boy is too fast. Another boy, a bit older, sees what's happening and is able to return the purse. The money inside is missing, but the nesting dolls are still there. Back at Rebecca's apartment, Jacqueline takes in the wonderful sense of family she sees around the dinner table. She's ready to get back to her own family. Before she leaves, she tells Rebecca that she'll think of her whenever she's doing math: Rebecca would be a great teacher. Rebecca says that while she does want to be a performer, helping Jacqueline showed her that teaching is fun in its own. Jacqueline is sure that whatever Rebecca chooses, she'll be great at it.

About Rebecca's Time

Vaudeville was popular entertainment in the 1910s, as was all kinds of live theater, all along the spectrum to Broadway. Movies, a new thing then, were also gaining in popularity. But there were times when even children who could afford movies weren't allowed to go. Although germ theory was understood by Samantha's time, it hadn't progressed much by Rebecca's time. The manner of transmission was generally grasped--being in close contact with sick people could make others sick. But ways to prevent the spread of disease was largely limited to quarantine. During a particularly bad polio epidemic, children (those most susceptible to the disease) were banned from movie theaters and libraries, in an attempt to prevent more from contracting it.


Dedicated to Elly, for "friendship that travels through all times." Another little note gives "much gratitude to Erin Falligant."

Like in Samantha's My Journey book, the protagonist is sent back in time in her original clothes.

Jacqueline gets to share in the Sabbath dinner, which she doesn't quite understand but does appreciate.

One of my nieces caught whooping cough literally days before she was going to be vaccinated (newborns are too young; the vaccine is first given at two months, then four months, six months, between 15 and 18 months, and between 4 and 6 years; plus adults need boosters, especially pregnant women). She ended up hospitalized. She's okay now, but it was scary for a while. If she hadn't been around unvaccinated people she wouldn't have caught it. Unless there's a medical reason to not be vaccinated, like allergies or not being old enough, everyone should be up-to-date to protect people who can't get the shots.

Some of the endings are online-only. So, these aren't good books to take anywhere without an internet connection.

Some other possible endings: if Rebecca's brother finds Jacqueline's purse, she feels compelled to help replace the stolen money and does a street performance (her tap shoes were in her purse), with Rebecca acting as an emcee to call attention to Jacqueline, and before she leaves for modern times Jacqueline encourages Rebecca to think about teaching because she's not only good at it, but the best teachers are sort of putting on performances to get their students involved; delivering some food to a new student's family only to find his baby brother has whooping cough (which is still terrifying today; it can be fatal, and infants are at higher risk) helps Jacqueline gain respect for medical science, because when she gets back to her own time she learns she's been vaccinated against the disease; seeing factory conditions where children work because no one else in their families can get jobs makes Jacqueline grateful for the opportunities she has in the modern day, and she resolves to not take them for granted--starting with her times tables; performing in a vaudeville competition with Rebecca can help Jacqueline gain confidence; seeing the good and bad ways Rebecca interacts with her siblings can give Jacqueline a deeper appreciation for Megan and a desire to learn about her interests to share more with her; it can also give her ideas about how to end her fight with Liz; it can also show Jacqueline that she's truly beaten her stage fright; helping Rebecca make up a play with her twin sisters and younger brother can show Jacqueline the importance of compromise and seeing things from others' points of view; it can also show her that because no one is the same everyone has something different--and useful--to share, even her sister Megan.


The Lilac Tunnel: My Journey with Samantha

Published in 2014; author Erin Falligant; illustrators Julie Kolesova and Michael Dwornik

"My Journey" books

These are choose-your-own adventure books written from a first person perspective. Just for ease, I'm going to always pick the first option when I come them, but I'll try to mention the other possible endings. Since the reader is meant to insert herself into the story, the main character (a modern-day pre-teen) isn't named. Since it would sound to weird to me to summarize the story as, "and then (Historical Characters) and I saw a..." I will use the author's first name, in this case, Erin.


Erin has just arrived at her father's home in suburbs of New York City. He recently remarried, and while Erin's stepmother and five-year-old stepsister Gracie are nice enough, Erin is feeling resentful that she has to give up part of her summer to be at her dad's house. Why did her parents get divorced, anyway? In an effort to catalyze their bonding, Erin's stepmother gives her an heirloom pendant. It belonged to her grandmother, who gave it to her when she was having a rough time. Erin accepts it politely, but declines to offer to leave the bedroom (which she has to share with Gracie) to scrapbook with her stepmother and stepsister. She looks over the pendant, popping it open to see if there are any pictures inside. No pictures, but suddenly Erin's falling and lands, of all places, in some shrubbery. She grabs the pendant again and is back in her room. Fascinated, Erin opens the pendant again.

She's back in the bushes. Upon closer inspection, it's a lilac bush, part of a hedge between two ornate houses. She's able to watch from her hiding place as a boy comes out of one house and a girl from the other, following a woman who carries a heavy rug and hangs it up to beat the dust from it. Suddenly, the boy spots her--and grabs her pendant! Erin tries to get it back, and is glad when the other, who is now also in the lilac bush, backs her up, demanding the boy give back the pendant. He relents, and the two girls are alone in the tunnel in the bushes. The girl is Samantha Parkington. The woman cleaning the rug is not Samantha's mother, as Erin first assumed, but the maid. Samantha's rich! But as Samantha reveals, she's also an only child and an orphan (i.e.; only children aren't "lonely children" but in Samantha's circumstances, she feels especially alone with her parents gone). Just then Elsa, the maid, comes up demanding to know who Erin is. Is she laundry maid that was supposed to come a few weeks from now? Or is she, as Samantha guesses, a girl who was bike riding, judging by her "bloomer" (unlike the other characters, Erin's clothes didn't change into era-appropriate ones and she's in a t-shirt and capris).

First choice: agree that she's the laundry maid to ensure she sees more of Samantha's home, or agree that she was bike riding

Erin says she's the laundry girl, hoping to see inside Samantha's wealthy home. Elsa takes her inside and Erin notes how spacious the kitchen is--in part because there's no microwave, dishwasher, or refrigerator. It's still lovely and fancy. But things get awkward very quickly; the lady of the house (Samantha's grandmother) a very proper lady, and Erin knows her causal clothes don't fit in. But Erin is taken on as the laundry girl. When Samantha's grandmother offers her a dollar a week for wages, Erin is taken aback. It's then she notices a calendar with 1904 printed on it. She's gone back in time more than a century. Samantha has followed Erin and Elsa inside, and senses there's something odd about Erin. She asks Erin if she's "on her own."

Next choice: go along with Samantha's assumption or say something about her family

Elsa is dismayed that the laundry girl is an orphan--she's sure she'll have to take care of a child in addition to her other duties now. But Samantha's grandmother repeats her instructions to show Erin to her room and get her proper clothes. After all, it's not her fault her parents died. Erin is soon in an uncomfortable grey dress with a starched white apron. Elsa asks if she's done much laundry before, and takes her silence as evidence that she won't know what to do (a fair assumption; Erin rarely uses the washer and dryer on her own, much less their 1904 counterparts). Elsa sets out to find another way for Erin to help.

Next choice: set the table or fold napkins

Erin fumbles with how to arrange the array of silverware. There are multiple forks and spoons of varying sizes. Elsa has to help her, and with other tasks. The one tasks Erin feels competent in, picking flowers for a centerpiece, even goes awry when Samantha strikes up a conversation--Erin is there to work, not socialize. She ends up spilling ashes all over a carpet, and of course there's no vacuum cleaner. When the dinner guests are about to arrive, Elsa takes Erin up to her room on the third floor, warning her to stay out of sight. After an hour or two, Erin is growing increasingly hungry. Surely the dinner guests are gone by now.

Next choice: sneak downstairs or stay in her room

Creeping into the kitchen, Erin grabs a slice of bread and is immediately caught by Elsa. After a severe scolding, she's sent back to her room. In the morning, Samantha's grandmother calls Erin into her parlor, and announces she's arranging for Erin to be sent back, to go on the orphan train out west. Samantha is appalled, but her grandmother has made her decision. Samantha is determined to find another option though, and has an idea: if Erin can get a job in a factory, she'll be able to stay in a factory boarding house. Of course, Erin could just return home, and without being noticed if she's on the orphan train. But looking for a factory job would mean spending more time with Samantha.

Next choice: get a factory job or leave for the orphan train

Samantha is able to convince her grandmother to call a factory foreman, who agrees that Erin can start at seven the next morning. This leaves the rest of the day open for fun with Samantha. But all too soon it's the next day, and the factory work conditions are a bit below OSHA standards. Erin is horrified that children her age can't attend school, aren't allowed to talk while they work, can't have breaks until lunch, and are even locked in the workroom. She pens a note to Samantha, explaining that she has a home waiting for her and she must go, but she'll never forget the brief friendship she shared with her. Erin returns to modern times, grateful that she has a loving family.

About Samantha's Time

The early 1900s was known as the Age of Confidence, because so many new inventions and discoveries were making the world seems safer and better. Understanding how disease is transmitted, for example, lead to better health care; and mechanization brought down the cost of goods so more people could afford luxuries (or even necessities). Not everything was so rosy; while women and girls enjoyed more freedom than in the past, women still couldn't vote for another fifteen years. And of course not everyone was upper class, like Samantha. The poor still struggled, often working long hours in the factories for little pay. And while germs were understood, medicine was still catching up: there weren't many vaccines for common and dangerous diseases, and antibiotics wouldn't be invented for a few more decades. There was still lots of progress to be made.


Dedicated to Nicki, Holly, Alex, and Kenley; "whose imaginations take us on great journeys."

This is set before any of Samantha's other books; she hasn't met Nellie yet.

In one storyline, Erin goes to a doctor due to the bump on her head she got when she first arrived in 1904. Another patient there has chicken pox, which Erin hasn't had. She's worried she might catch it, because Samantha and her grandmother tell her it's very contagious but you can only get it once. A girl who's about nine or ten in 2014 would have most likely been vaccinated for chicken pox, but wouldn't remember since that shot is given before the age of two. One ending does reveal that Erin was vaccinated, much to her relief (in another she doesn't think to ask).

Also in this storyline (hmm, I should have gone against my self-imposed "first choice" rule), is prescribed a new drug: aspirin. Samantha's grandmother doesn't really trust the new-fangled thing, instead giving Erin willow bark tea. Since 1986, aspirin has been recommended only for people over 18, as usage younger than that is correlated with Reye's syndrome. However, aspirin was originally derived from willow bark, so...

Some of the endings are online-only. So, these aren't good books to take anywhere without an internet connection.

Some other possible endings: agreeing to be taken to the orphan almost ends in disaster when Erin notices she's left her pendant at Samantha's home, but Samantha is able to retrieve it just in time, allowing Erin get back to her father's house, grateful for the loving family she has and ready to get to know the new members; going to Piney Point for a day when Samantha is on vacation can lead to helping Samantha learn more about her late mother which gives Erin an appreciation for her family; visiting a turn-of-the-century doctor can reveal how far privileges for women have come and hope for more equality (there's a woman doctor, which flabbergasts Samantha's grandmother, it later leads to discussion about "proper" ladies not working); a midnight swim with Samantha and her aunt Cornelia can be similarly inspiring, as Cornelia is very progressive; not failing miserably as a laundry girl (aside from briefly being wrongly accused of stealing jewelry) earns Erin a whole dollar, and a good work ethic; showing Samantha how to ride a bike inspires Erin to teach her stepsister the same, to bond with her; a few other endings also lead to better bonding with Gracie; overhearing a marriage proposal from the Admiral to Samantha's grandmother (which he does every summer) can lead to Erin vaguely reassuring Samantha; it can also lead to Erin talking about her stepfamily to more openly reassure Samantha; and one ending has Erin wondering her stepmother went back in time too--she plans to hint at it, and even if her stepmother isn't forthcoming, Erin is happy she'll have something to start a conversation with her stepmother to get to know her better.


A New Beginning: My Journey with Addy

Published in 2014; author Denise Lewis Patrick; illustrators Julie Kolesova and Michael Dwornik; author photo by Fran Baltzer Photo

"My Journey" books

These are choose-your-own adventure books written from a first person perspective. Just for ease, I'm going to always pick the first option when I come them, but I'll try to mention the other possible endings. Since the reader is meant to insert herself into the story, the main character (a modern-day pre-teen) isn't named. Since it would sound to weird to me to summarize the story as, "and then (Historical Characters) and I saw a..." I will use the author's first name, in this case, Denise.


Denise is frustrated. Her mother is always gone at work or school, and her dad is working in another state so he's only home once in a while. Consequently, her grandparents have moved in to help with Denise and her younger brother. She loves her grandparents, but it's not the same as having her parents. It's so hard for her to focus on things that seem unimportant, like history--evidenced by how she just failed a social studies test. Denise's grandfather tries to help her see that history is about the people who came before her, not just memorizing dates. He shows her a coin from 1864. It's from the first paycheck a distant relative got as a soldier in the Civil War. His mother kept it to remember him and help her look forward to when he could return home and the war would be over. Later in the evening, Denise is studying the coin. She rubs the date imprinted on it and suddenly feels dizzy...

Denise is shocked to find herself standing on a pier on a riverbank. Everything looks old-fashioned. She looks at the coin in her hand and rubs the date again. It works; she's back in her bedroom. But it's not long before curiosity gets the better of her, and she rubs the date to transport herself back to the pier. As she takes in her surroundings, trying to understand what's happening, a girl her age introduces herself as Addy Walker, welcoming Denise to freedom (Denise is explicitly black in this narrative) and inviting her to an event at the church, which hosts a freedmen's society. Denise is confused. Freedom? She's always been free. Denise quickly realizes that the coin must have taken to when and where it was minted: 1864 in Philadelphia (okay, I'm guessing on where it was minted, but it's a fairly safe assumption: the Denver mint didn't start operating until 1906, the Philadelphia mint started in the 1790s, and San Francisco mint was mostly doing gold coins then, plus it was far away). Denise follows Addy, who clearly knows her way around. She's fascinated by all the wares being sold in the shops. Addy points ahead to a group of soldiers preparing to leave for war.

First choice: join the farewell to the soldiers or explore a store window

As Denise watches the men march past, she notices some of the crowd is crying, not cheering. It hits her that these men are people's sons, husbands, brothers, and fathers. Addy mentions that her own brother wanted to be a soldier. She's separated from him, and hopes he's been able to follow his dream. Then Addy shifts tones, and says it's time to head to the church (which is same way the other option ends up). Addy opens up more about her family on the way, about how her father and brother were sold and how she and her mother had to leave her baby sister behind with relatives when they escaped slavery. Denise talks about her own family vaguely enough to fit with Addy's assumption that she's also an escaped slave. Denise is welcomed warmly at the church, where she spies a flyer that confirms it's November 1864. When Addy's mother learns that Denise is alone, she insists that she stay with the Walkers. Outside the church, a gruff white man stops them, demanding to see proof that they're free, rather than escaped slaves.

Next choice: run or let Addy try to explain

The girls bolt, Addy leading Denise through a small hole in a fence. The man can't fit through it. They run back to the church, and Addy's mother takes them home. Denise spends the evening and the next morning silently marveling at how little Addy and her mother have compared to her family in modern times, but how much more it must seem to them as recently-escaped slaves. Soon it's time for school. Addy's actually excited to go, but Denise reminds herself that Addy was only recently got the opportunity to receive an education. She doesn't take it for granted. At the school, Denise quickly notices that there no white or Hispanic or Asian students; it's completely segregated. Soon after the class starts, the students break into reading groups. Since it's illegal to teach slaves to read and write in the South, Addy assumes that reading aloud will be difficult at best for Denise. She asks Denise if she wants to take a turn with the book.

Next choice: read or decline

Careful to not show off, Denise reads slowly but competently. Addy is impressed, and Denise says that she learned to read before reaching Philadelphia. Rather than feeling overshadowed, Addy is thrilled that she can have Denise for a study partner. As the school day progresses, Denise continues to be impressed by Addy's determination to continue learning and her refusal to be discouraged by any difficulty. She wants to do something nice for Addy.

Next choice: find a way to make a book for Addy (Denise can't very well spend her coin; she won't be able to get back to modern times) or help Addy write a letter to a freedmen's camp to ask if there's any word about Addy's father or brother

During recess, the teacher (who's in on the plan) asks Denise to stay in so she can get information to enroll her in school. The teacher supplies Denise with some heavy paper (left over gift wrap) and helps her cut several pages to size. Denise writes a short story about finding friendship and the freedom it gives, ending with a hopeful paragraph about Addy's whole family joining her in freedom and a thank you to Addy for teaching Denise the value of education. The teacher suggests asking Addy's mother for a needle and thread to bind the book. After school, Addy's mother and her employer are happy to give Denise a needle and thread and a bit of ribbon to complete the book (Addy is delivering dresses). As Denise puts the finishing touches on her illustration, she starts to feel homesick. She's suddenly so grateful for her family--even if they're not quite under the same roof, the situation is temporary with a set end date, and she knows her family is safe, and she can talk to them often. Denise gives Addy the book when Addy returns, thanking her for teaching her so much. She explains that her family is nearby and she has to leave to reunite with them. Addy thanks Denise for the book and their time together, and Denise returns to the present.

About Addy's Time

While slavery was outlawed in Pennsylvania and the rest of the North, segregation was still very much legal. Various groups like freedmen societies and the Quaker Aid Society were on hand to help newly freed slaves navigate a world in which they couldn't enjoy full freedom. The Quaker Aid Society even founded the Institute for Colored Youth, the first high school for black students. Started in 1837, its primary goal was to train African American students to be teachers themselves, so more freed slaves could have access to quality education.


Dedicated to Yolande, the author's sister.

Just recently, I've noticed people writing "granduncle" as one word. I'm used to seeing it as two words: "grand uncle." I keep reading it being pronounced gran-dun-cle.

No! Don't polish your coin collection! It can ruin the finish and decrease their value.

Most of these books only transport the protagonist in time, not place (or least not very far in place; just a few miles). This one takes Denise from Tennessee to Pennsylvania.

I purposely planned this review to be on June 19: Emancipation Day.

Some of the endings are online-only. So, these aren't good books to take anywhere without an internet connection.

Some other possible endings: seeing the different ways people react to freedom prompts Denise to wonder about her relative and consequently her immediate family, who she misses and wants to return home to; in one of those endings Denise's mother return home just in time for her father's Skype call; another has her talking with her grandfather about coin's original owner; attending a meeting with the Quaker Aid Society helps Denise feel grateful for what she has and shows her how people can work together to make things better; making a square for a large quilt helps give Denise a sense of community; talking with Addy and other freed slaves about how they don't always know where their biological family is, and how they readily accept people as honorary members of their family gets Denise thinking about important her family is to her; helping make items to auction off for a benefit to help escaped slaves (the quilt was another) gives Denise perspective on her own difficulties and how it's better to work to improve a situation rather just complain about it.


Song of the Mockingbird: My Journey with Josefina

Published in 2015; author Emma Carlson Berne; illustrators Julie Kolesova and Michael Dwornik, one image credited to qingwa/iStock/Thinkstock

"My Journey" books

These are choose-your-own adventure books written from a first person perspective. Just for ease, I'm going to always pick the first option when I come them, but I'll try to mention the other possible endings. Since the reader is meant to insert herself into the story, the main character (a modern-day pre-teen) isn't named. Since it would sound to weird to me to summarize the story as, "and then (Historical Characters) and I saw a..." I've been using the author's first name as the main character's name. However, this book mentions that the main character's nickname is Birdy.


Birdy is Not Happy. Her family just moved from Chicago to Santa Fe, and she desperately misses her old home. Trying to snap Birdy out of her funk, her dad takes her on a walk in the high desert. Birdy finds an ancient bird-shaped flute, which her father suggests she hold onto until they can have a museum examine it. Later in her room, Birdy idly plays a song she heard a mockingbird sing, and suddenly she finds herself outside, but her house is gone. In its place is a house of a much older style. The paved roads are gone, and instead of seeing her neighbors' dogs, she sees a herd of goats. Birdy decides she's dreaming. She's further convinced of this when a girl comes out of the house and speaks to her in Spanish, but Birdy (who took a bit of Spanish lessons a year ago) understands her perfectly--and can respond in Spanish just as easily. The girl introduces herself as Josefina Montoya, and chalks up Birdy's confusion to a blow to the head; she has a bruise and dust there. Josefina takes Birdy inside her home for some chamomile tea, which should help her feel better. Josefina insists that Birdy rest, and unrolls a sheepskin sleeping mat for her. Birdy obediently lays down, but once she's alone, she plays the mockingbird tune on the flute: back to the present, where no time has passed.

First choice: stay in the present or go back to Josefina's time? Well, I'm not falling for that again, not after Caroline's journey. Peaking ahead, staying in the present ends the book with Birdy feeling grateful for her family and realizing that home is where the heart is. So back in time it is, then.

Not long after returning to the past, Birdy is called to lunch with Josefina's family. They inquire about how to reunite Birdy with her family, and her unsure and cryptic responses lead them to conclude she's a cautiva--stolen from her home by an enemy tribe and now escaped. Josefina's father makes plans to inquire about families whose daughters were taken (probably long ago, from how confused Birdy seems about her family) and sends a servant to scout the area for signs of Birdy's captors. When the servant gives the all-clear. Josefina suggests she take Birdy around the property to show her some of their daily life in hopes of jogging her memory (they've concluded Birdy's family is Spanish like theirs, rather than any native tribe).

Next choice: collect squash from the garden or explore the nearby hills

While harvesting the squashes, Josefina tells Birdy about her life on the rancho. It sounds mostly happy, but when Birdy asks about Josefina's mother, Josefina explains that her mother died two years ago, and although she has much to be grateful for, she misses her mother terribly. Josefina remarks that Birdy has lost something dear as well, meaning her whole family, but Birdy thinks of how she misses her friends and home in Chicago. Josefina continues, saying that the two of them have been brought together by destiny: they've both lost things that they can't bring back (Birdy's old home/what Josefina thinks is part of her childhood with her family) but they have found a friend in each other. Back at the rancho, Birdy enjoys watching the Josefina and her sisters banter as they prepare the squash. Soon it's dinnertime, and after they eat, Josefina and her sisters reminisce about their mother. They mention the beautiful altar cloth she embroidered, and the memory book their Tia Dolores is helping them write. Josefina asks Birdy if she'd like to see one of them.

Next choice: see the memory book or the altar cloth

Josefina and her sisters share their precious memories with Birdy, the songs she sang and things she taught them written down so they can't be forgotten. One blank page has an ink stain, and Josefina suggests Birdy draw her home, if she can remember it. Birdy draws her old apartment building, set in the Chicago skyline. But she's not used to using ink and quill, so the drawing isn't as clear as the picture in her mind. It's just as well, because Josefina is able to see it as a rancho rather than a modern city. Josefina's father announces that he'll go to Santa Fe in the morning. Josefina and Birdy can go with him to inquire about lost girls, or they can stay at the rancho to prepare for the harvest festival.

Next choice: stay at the rancho or go to Santa Fe

Josefina wakes Birdy early the next morning for chores. After a while, Tia Dolores mentions she has some things for Tia Magdalena. The girls can go there or to Sr. Sanchez's for another errand.

Next choice: Tia Magdalena or Sr. Sanchez

At Tia Magdalena's home, Birdy is able to let out some of her bottled up emotions, feeling much better after a cathartic cry. She realizes she's been throwing herself a pity party, and resolves to give Santa Fe an actual chance to feel like home. After some time, the girls head back to the rancho for the party.

Next choice: at the party, to get some food or dance

As Birdy takes in the gaiety around her, she realizes she's happy and content. She doesn't need Chicago to be happy; she needs the people she cares about and who care about her. It's time to go home. She tells Josefina that she now knows she can get back to her family. Josefina doesn't really understand, but she trusts her friend. The girls part ways, Birdy feeling ready to embrace her new home.

About Josefina's Time

When this story takes place, New Mexico had only recently opened up a trade route with the United States (it still belonged to Mexico). Santa Fe was a bustling trade city, not only for the descendants of Spanish settlers and the Americans, but native tribes.


Dedicated to "my dad--with whom I've shared many adventures."

Birdy's move from Chicago meant she had to give her part as the lead in Annie. I would feel terrible if I had to do that to one of my kids. There's no mention of why the move was made at the time it was. I assume a job opened up, but I'd be very tempted to try to stay long enough to let my kid be the lead in a play if it were at all possible.

There's a line about Birdy not having known that New Mexico was in the US, and that's a surprisingly common misconception even among adults. Some adults also don't realize that Hawaii and Alaska are part of the US, or the territories like Puerto Rico.

But at the same time, while I know plenty of adults have the same "There's a New Mexico?" reaction, I don't quite get why "chiles" and "tortillas" and "tamales" are italicized as if they're totally alien concepts. Birdy's from Chicago in 2015. Chicago has lots of restaurants with lots of styles of food.

The flute is engraved with a name, Maria. Josefina and her sisters assume that's Birdy's name, and she doesn't correct them.

Although Birdy doesn't seem to be very religious (she's caught off guard by some of Josefina's actions, like saying grace before a meal), she finds some value in spirituality.

Some of the endings are online-only. So, these aren't good books to take anywhere without an internet connection.

Some other possible endings: seeing the altar cloth and how the family worked together to preserve the memory and hard work of their mother makes Josefina realize that her family is loving and supportive whether they're in Chicago or Santa Fe; going to Santa Fe can end in a side trip to Josefina's grandparents' home, which reinforces the value of family and helps Birdy see Santa Fe as her new home, and embrace the opportunities it presents; or it can lead Birdy to a bustling trading center, showing her that Santa Fe is every bit as lively as Chicago and also reminding her of how much she loves her family (when someone wants to trade for her flute); Santa Fe can also be where Josefina sees one of her friends which leads Birdy to embrace the friendship a girl at her school has been offering; seeing how making friends with Josefina didn't lessen the friendships she made in Chicago encourages Birdy to reach out to a girl at her new school; an expedition into the surrounding hills can lead to an encounter with a mountain lion which results in the baby goat Sombrita being injured and healed by Tia Magadalena, which prompts Birdy to trust her parents that Santa Fe will be a good thing for their family, just as Josefina trusts her elders; or the mountain lion encounter can be resolved with a few well-aimed rocks that Josefina throws and the adventure as a whole instills an appreciation for the beauty of the high desert which Birdy carries with her when she returns home; a couple other storylines also help Birdy remember that her family is her priority; or that making new friends and enjoying new experiences doesn't mean the old friends and experiences are worthless.