Prints in the Sand: My Journey with Nanea

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, in this case, Erin.


Erin is feeling lonely. Six months ago, her family moved to the island of Oahu when her father was stationed at a military base near Honolulu. And now he’s deployed to Iraq. Despite the beauty of the island and the fun things to do there, Erin can’t help but miss her friends back in California—and she guesses that as soon as she makes new friends here, her father will PCS to another duty stationary n far away.

A barking dog distracts her, and Erin gives chase. She loves dogs, but her family can’t  have one right now. She can see that the dog has an owner, but figures she can at least pet it. While following th dog, she happens upon a puka  necklace, and realizes that putting it on transports her to 1942, taking it off returns her to the present, with no time lost. She puts on the necklace. In 1942, Erin sees another dog running into the Royal Hawaiian Hotel (which rally is very close to the swimming area of Waikiki Beach). She learns that the dog, Mele, belongs to a girl her age named Nanea. Nanea invites Erin to watch her and Mele hula, or come a meeting of the Honolulu Helpers Club.

First choice: hula or helpers

Erin isn’t comfortable dancing herself, but she enjoys the performance Nanea and her sister-and dog!- put on. Afterward, Nanea invites Erin over. Erin steps out to pretend to ask permission from her sitter, who she explains is on the beach (true...in the present day). Erin has some trouble wrapping her head around how great a time she has with Nanea while there are so many signs of World War II—not just the Honolulu Helpers, but rationing, blackouts, curfews, and Nanea’s own brother having just joined the Army. After breakfast the next morning, Nanea suggests she could teach Erin to hula, or they could work in the victory garden.

Next choice: hula lessons or gardening

Erin is game for learning new things. Nanea asks whether they should hula about Pele or make up their own story,

Next choice: Pele or a new story

While discussing Pele, Erin mentions she’s never seen a volcano (that she realizes—you can see some extinct ones from Waikiki Beach). So Nanea, Lily, and Lily’s dad take her on a hike up Punchbowl, another extinct volcano. After the hike and learning more about the legend of Pele, Erin receives hula lessons from Nanea’s grandmother. Feeling so welcomed by Nanea and her family and friends opens Erin up to the idea of settling in more in her new home. And hearing how Nanea and Lily miss Donna inspires Erin to write to her friend Kayla.

It’s about this time Erin realizes she has to get back to the present. She says goodbye to her new friends, knowing they’ll assume she was suddenly shipped away like Donna. Back in the present, Erin talks with her Hawaiian sitter, ready to accept her welcoming spirit. They make plans to hike one of the extinction volcanoes soon.


Dedicated to “Tera, Stacey, and Shelley—my own ‘three kittens’ who ha e been with me every step of the way.”

Erin has a watch, which seems unusual for a preteeen these days. But I understand it would be hard for her to explain a cell phone in 1942.

Erin wishes she could adopt a dog. When I lived in Hawaii, I’d visit the Honolulu Humane Society to pet cats and walk dogs. Our apartment didn’t allow pets, so I got my fix that way. Most of the dogs were chihuahua mixes or pit bull mixes, and if I understood correctly, some military housing didn’t allow the latter. But every time I walked a dog, it would be adopted the next time I went in.

Other possible endings: going to the Honolulu Helpers meeting can lead to spending the night with Nanea at Lily’s and then babysitting kids while their moms take a first aid class which is interrupted by an air raid, all of which helps Erin understand why her family couldn’t go with her dad when he went to Iraq; babysitting can also make Erin miss her younger twin brothers and return she home ready to carpe diem; helping with a book drive can lead to finding a picture of a little girl with her dad with Anzu Sato, a Japanese name, in the back, which uncovers the secret that a girl in the Honolulu Helpers calling herself Audrey is actually Japanese and her father is in an internment camp, so Erin, Nanea, and Lily help Audrey/Anzu make him a care package; staying a second night in 1942 and seeing a Sherlock Holmes movie, then finding origami’s cranes with secret messages can end with Erin and Nanea thinking a visiting soldier is a spy (he’s not, just has trouble sleeping; the cranes are from Lily), or learning how to make origami, both options teaching Erin not to make assumptions and not to be scared of people different from her.


Hula for the Home Front

Published 2017, author Kirby Larson, illustrators David Roth and Julie Kolesova

School is finally back in session, almost two full months after the Pearl Harbor attacks. Nanea is looking forward to doing something normal, but class is held in a different room because of fire damage, and Donna isn't there. In her place is Dixie, a new student who just moved from Maui after her father was sent to work at an airfield on Oahu. Although Dixie doesn't mean to, she gets on Nanea's nerves. She's sitting in Donna's chair, being picked for class jobs that would normally be Nanea's, and making posters (to advertise buying war stamps) like she's the new class artist--Lily's unofficial title. Nanea tries to help Dixie feel welcome, but she's too irrationally angry at Dixie, who represents all the change that's happened since the war started. Nanea vents her frustrations to her grandmother while working her Saturday shift at her grandparents' store (one of her Christmas gifts was a store apron, because she was finally old enough to help). Her grandmother reminds Nanea that everyone has a story, and if she learns Dixie's, maybe she can get to know her and get along with her. At school on Monday, Nanea and Lily invite Dixie to sit with them. They learn that she's trying to be grateful to her aunt for letting her and her dad stay with her family despite the cramped quarters with her rambunctious cousins, and that her mother got an acting opportunity when Dixie was five,  moved to Hollywood, and Dixie hasn't seen her since. Nanea and Lily endeavor to help Dixie feel welcome, in school, around the neighborhood, and in their newly-formed Honolulu Helpers club, dedicated to the war effort.
Back home, Papa is around more, mostly working only his usual graveyard shift instead of multiple shifts. Davis continues volunteering, and mentions wanting to enlist when he turns 18 in June (his twenty-first birthday will be the day before D-Day). And when he invites a lieutenant to dinner, the military officer sees how Nanea's trained Mele to dance and brings up the topic of Dogs for Defense, a program through which people more or less enlist their dogs (one of Nanea's classmates recently volunteered his dog for the program). David and Mele, both in the military? The war is getting too close to home...and it was already nearly on her doorstep.

Although Nanea doesn't want her brother or dog in the military, she's happy to help the soldiers and sailors when she can. Her Honolulu Helpers club make sure Valentine cards for the young men so far from home, and puts on a party for St. Patrick's Day. It's there that she sees a solider she's met before at a USO event, nicknamed Tennessee. He mentions how fun it was to see Mele then, when the dog snuck in, and says he wishes Nanea had been able to bring him. That gives Nanea and her grandmother an idea: at the next USO event later that month, Nanea debuts Mele’s hula skills. The service members love it, and line up to pet Mele after the show, most of them missing their own dogs back home. Just after Nanea's birthday (starting with a treasure hunt and ending with a picnic on the beach), she gets a letter from Tennessee, who's shipping out. He thanks her for letting him see Mele, and mentions how much the dog boosted his spirits. Nanea is inspired to find a way to get Mele to see more service members and help them, too. After all, if her class won the war stamp drive, there's got to be a way do it.
Nanea gets her chance at David's birthday luau, which Lt. Gregory attends. He acknowledges that he is a strong supporter of Dogs for Defense, but the decision has to be Nanea's, not his. Plus, Mele has been wonderful entertaining people at USO events. When Nanea brings up her idea--that she could arrange times to bring Mele to the hospital but stay outside with him--Lt. Gregory agrees it sounds brilliant, and promises to ask about it.

The very next day at breakfast, just after news of victory at the Battle of Midway, David announces that he's enlisted and will ship out in three weeks. Mom and Papa are scared for him, but also proud, and Mary Lou tries to be brave. But Nanea is furious that her brother would put himself in harm'sway. A good talk and a good cry with her grandmothers calms her down. Three weeks later, Nanea and her family see David off, sailing to the mainland for boot camp in Mississippi. Nanea makes him  a lei to throw overboard.

Once the ship is out of sight, Nanea, Lily, and Dixie give Mele a good scrub, and then get dressed for a hula performance: Lt. Gregory has secured a spot in the hospital for them to show off the Hula Dog and let the wounded play with Mele. Nanea is grateful for the distraction.

Inside Nanea's World

After the Battle of Midway, the threat of attack was lessened in Hawaii, but martial law remained in effect. Hawaii's record-setting volunteer effort did too: the island terry raised more funds for war bonds (in part through war stamp programs) than any of the states. When the military lifted its ban on people of Japanese descent enlist, it hoped for at least 1,500 recruits. It got almost 10,000.


For "Ryan, the fifth blossom in my grandma lei."

Donna sends (and receives) several letters of the course of the book. One mentions that two friends at her new school age no longer there...because they'd been sent to a Japanese internment camp.

Lily's older brother Gene tries to enlist, but isn't allowed due to his Japanese heritage. He joins the Varsity Victory Volunteers, a real group of young college students who wanted to help any way they could. They built roads, hauled stones, and did other manual labor for the war effort.

Lily's father, a fisherman, has his boat confiscated by the government, effectively putting him out of work. Her mother is able to get a job through a neighbor.

David's birthday luau includes salmon. When I lived in Hawaii, it was just about impossible to find salmon that wasn't farm-raised, and even that was rare. I must have been looking in the wrong stores. Or the wrong decade.

At one point, Honolulu's Roosevelt High School is bombed. I used to live less than a mile from there; my oldest attended the elementary school across the street.

Speaking of Japanese bombs, Papa's family is in Oregon. Japan firebombed parts of the Pacific Northwest during Wold War II. Most of it was too damp for the boys to do much damage, but one landed near a picnicking family, killing them.

By the end of the book, Dixie and her father have been invited to stay with Donna's father in they home. Donna will be able to get more done without her little cousins keeping her up late and getting into her school things, and Donna's dad won't be so lonely (Nanea's family has him come to dinner every Thursday, but he still has to go home to an empty house).


Growing up with Aloha

Published 2017, author Kirby Larson, illustrators David Roth and Julie Kolesova

Nearly-ten-year-old Alice Nanea Mitchell lives in Honolulu with her older siblings, fifteen-year-old Mary Lou and seventeen-year-old David, and their parents Mom and Papa. Like the children, Mom I was born and raised on the island of Oahu. She's Hawaiian. Papa is of European descent and originally from Beaverton, OR. Nanea loves living at such a crossroads of cultures, fully embracing all th influences that have come to the Hawaiian islands.

One day in November, Nanea and her two best friends Lily and Donna notice a contest: complete four tasks by December 15 to be entered to win a new bike. The tasks are turn tragedy into triumph, make a difference in the community, do a good deed for a stranger, and show appreciation for family. Nanea wants to win--not only would she love the bike, winning it by helping people would show her family she's growing up, despite being the youngest. Throughout November, she finishes the third and fourth tasks, but learns she needs to plan a better so she's not going one step forward and two steps back, like when she was working on something to help her dad not miss his family in Oregon...but forgot to feed her dog Mele, and Mele ate the Thanksgiving turkey.

Soon it's December. Of 1941. Sunday, December 7--a day that will live in infamy.

Nanea had gotten up early to make her family a special breakfast, to make up for the turkey. But any reader who knows this part of history knows her family won't be noticing the food. She hears a plane, and is confused to see that it's flying so low she can make out the Japanese flag on the tail. Her family wakes up, and Papa switches on the radio. There's a call for all military personnel to report to their
posts. Papa's not military, but he is a civilian contractor so he rushes to the shipyard. As he leaves, the radio announcer confirms that this is no drill. This is an enemy attack.

David leaves too, for the VFW hall, as his Boy Scout leader had instructed the scouts to do in emergencies. Nanea, Mom, and Mary Lou listen tensely to the radio, until it cuts out. Static on every channel. Gradually, they learn what's happening, as the attack ends and people come out of their homes (although David doesn't come back until the next night, and only to sleep, since the hospital needs help; and Papa hasn't been heard from at all). Japanese war planes bombed Pearl Harbor, a military target due to the battleships docked there, and also attacked some of the surrounding area. Nanea's school is partially destroyed, and neighbors have bullet holes in their homes and cars. (This was something that radially struck me when I visited Pearl Harbor in 2015: of the 2,403 casualties, 49 were civilians. Two were infants.)

As if the terror of the attacks and the dread of future aggression wasn't enough, many Japanese people are suddenly detained on suspicion of helping coordinate the attack, including Lily's father. Martial law is declared, and everyone of Japanese descent gets the short end of the stick: earlier curfew, no radios, arrests of adult men--regardless of whether they're US citizens, like Lily's father. Lily tries to carry on as normal, and helps Nanea look for Mele, who has been missing since the attack. But she's hurting at the injustice.

As the week goes on, Nanea keeps busy making food for the aid workers, worrying about Lily, andlooking for Mele. Finally, after a week, Papa comes home (I was wondering if he'd be a casualty, but I guess that would have been potentially disrespectful to the actual people who died, and too dark--although he does allude to the men trapped on the sunken Arizona who died). He's only home for some sleep though, and soon has to head back out. Mary Lou and Mom are busy volunteering, so it falls to Nanea to help her grandparents inventory their store--a grown up thing to do, but this isn't the way Nanea wanted to show she was mature. It does give her an idea of how to show Lily that she cares, though. She'll make cookies Lily can bring to her father. On the way to Lily's, Nanea is distracted by Mele! He's trapped in a hole, and by the time she gets him out, fed, and clean, she's two hours late to see Lily. Lily is angry, and Nanea leaves without explaining. But a neighbor helps Nanea see that it's best to fix a problem right away, and when Nanea returns to Lily's with Mele, Loy understands. Donna shows up with food too, and Lily says that she appreciates knowing her friends care about her.

On Christmas Day, there are few decorations, due to the blackout rules and the shipment of Christmas trees being sent back to the mainland. Nanea has the bright idea to paint thumbtacks and decorate them with a lei to make a little tree. Her father and brother are able to join the celebration as well. A week later, Nanea and Mary Lou dance in a hula recital for the USO. Mele manages to sneak out and follow Nanea, but her embarrassment quickly fades when she sees how happy the soldiers and sailors are to do something so normal as petting a dog.

A few days later, Donna has bad news: all nonessential civilians are being sent away, back to San Francisco. It will be easier to keep the permanent residents, military personnel, and contractors safe and fed with fewer people on the islands. Nanea tries to think of ways to show that Donna is essential, even giving up the first day Papa has off in three weeks to work with Donna and some other friends to help with childcare during a Frist Aid training. Nanea comes up with other ways to hav Donna help, including a bottle drive (they can be  sterilized to hold donated blood) that gets a newspaper write up. But it's not enough, and Donna and her mother are sent back to San Francisco in late January. As her boat departs, Donna tosses the lei Nanea and Lily made her into the ocean. Legend says that if your lei makes it back to the island's shore, you will too.

Inside Nanea's World

The historical section talks about the restrictive curfew enforced in Hawaii following the Pearl Harbor attacks, and he life changed for the islands' residents. But it didn't charge their willingness to help in whatever way they could.


Dedicated to "Clio, my mo'opuna wahine, with much aloha."

Nanea and Mary Lou practice a song with kala'au and pu'ili sticks--my oldest went to school in Honolulu when we lived there, and she used the same sticks at the end of the school year recital.

Nanea's siblings have Hawaiian middle names like she does (Noelani and Kekoa). Their grandmother tends to use the, especially during hula lessons. Speaking of hula lessons, David works at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which has free hula lessons on a weekly basis. My older two kids took them sometimes (the third wasn't born then).

Matson, the shipping company that was supposed to bring Christmas trees, is still around. We used to get our things to and from Hawaii when we moved there temporarily.

Nanea's mom commments that she's glad David is too young to enlist. However, he's 17, and the war won't be over until 1945. And there's a draft coming.

Possible connections to Molly, the original World War II representative: Donna and Linda share some letters, Lily is what Susan means (it's for the Hebrew name Susana), and Mary Lou and her friends knit socks for the military personnel.


Summer Camp, Friends for Life

Released to Amazon Prime in 2017

Z is attending a summer STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) camp In California with Paz, but they are confused by the head counselor's insistence that they not be allowed the use of any technology until they get in touch with nature and each other. Another girl, Drew, is completely on board with the idea, but Z is more skeptical--and Paz outright hates it.

A younger counselor, Jordan, encourages them to look to nature for inspiration. After all, watching birds inspired people to build planes. Jordan is amazing, but the head counselor denies there's any worker by that name. When Z and Paz look at the picture Jordan took of the three of them together using a camp computer, Jordan's not in the picture...but Drew photobombed them. The person they talked to wasn't there, but someone else was and they never heard or saw her?

When the two friends are trying to find a rational explanation, they're startled by a sound which turns out Jordan's unique charm bracelet hanging on their door and blowing in the wind. They also run in Drew, and realize that she wants to be friends. They put the search for Jordan on hold to start again on the right foot with Drew, and then the trio investigate the mystery.

They find a flip book, presumably from Jordan, filled with cryptic drawings. But because of each girl's talents and interests, they can each interepret parts, and together they can decipher it. They end following glowing footprints into the forest, where the charm bracelet alerts them to a set of keys, which unlocks a gate leading to Jordan, and her cabin full of STEAM wonders. It turns out that Jordan is the goddaughter of the head counselor, whose mother founded the camp and died last year. Jordan didn't think she could take on her godmother's mother's role, so she didn't come back to camp. Except that it called her, and she couldn't resist checking things out. Z and Paz stood out to her as people she should reach out to, so she created a mystery to show them how their talents don't rely on technology. The three girls convince Jordan to come to camp for real, telling her she’ll be able to honor the legacy of the camp founder easily. The movie ends with the campers blending nature and technology to learn more about the world.


One girl smashes a HUGE bug in the opening scene. She pulls away what looks like a wad of chewing gum after she slaps what sounded like a mosquito. Ew.

 Speaking of bugs, how did Z find fireflies in California? They don't live on that side of the Rockies.

There's some really nice animation in parts, like Z's flip book movie.

The captions spell Paz as Paws.

A quote is displayed just before the end credits: "Don't let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It's your place in the world; it's your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live." Dr. Mae Jamison, NASA

Z: Zoe Manarel
Paz: Alison Fernandez
Drew: Lauren Lindsey Donzis
Rae: Camryn Manheim
Jordan: Monique Green
Camper 1: Chloe Beth Jones
Camper 2: Mia Moore


Contemporary Character 2017: Z on Location

Published 2017, author J. J. Howard, book design by Suzanne LaGage, photos by April Messinger Photography and Michael Frost


Z is excited for summer: her favorite vlogger, Winter Costello, has issued a challenge for her followers to to post about their summer adventures. And does Z ever have an adventure! She’s going to VidCon in San Francisco, where she’ll meet some of her far-flung friends, and on the way...Her mom is traveling to some locations in Washington and California to interview different people in the tech business to find out how they’re integrating new technologies into people’s everyday lives (e.g.; an AI robot to help people with autism learn about social interaction, and a company make smart device that connect to each other). She’s letting Z come to help film the interviews!

The first interview is fantastic. Z’s stoked for the next one, but gets distracted by her phone alerts. Her mom tries to get through to her to live in the moment rather than just thinking of what wil make a good post, but it’s hard for Z to not be connected to the internet. As the interviews progress, Z gets more and more distracted until her mom finally calls in one of her students to meet them and take over. Z wants to prove herself, but screws up even worse: she sends a picture from a pen interview with a virtual reality company to her friends back in Seattle...who post the proprietary information on social media. The company finds out and ban them from coming back and revokes permission for the interview to be shown. Z feels awful, and knows she has to regain her mom’s trust. Acting on the student’s advice, she starts small, taking care of tasks she knows she can do, even it’s just something simple like making breakfast. She helps with the interviews rather than trying to make them flashier for posting. She also only uses her phone when strictly necessary, like arranging when to meet her friends (part of this was being grounded from the phone, but Z is prepared to restrict herself on her own). By the time they reach VidCon, Z’s mom is impressed with her efforts and gives her another chance when the student comes down with food poisoning. Specifically, Z gets to film the interview with Winter Costello! Winter offers to grant Z a short interview for her vlog but Z has to decline—just before meeting with her, Z ran into some fans who asked her for an interview, and staying any longer would mean missing that and letting her fans down. Z wants to stay true to her word.

Sticking with the original plan was definitely the right choice. Her fans bring some more fans along, and Z’s friends are there. It’s amazing for Z to see how many people enjoy her work. Even better, Winter shows up and features Z on her vlog! Doing something because it was the right thing rather it being the cool thing led to something even better.


The author dedicates the book to her mother.

I love that Z sends her videos to her parents for approval before posting them online. It’s a good idea for kids the ages of this book’s target audience. (She still uses her full name though, which I wouldn’t be comfortable letting my kids do).

Good research, author! Z’s friends at home send her pictures of a wallaroo at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. It does indeed have wallaroos.


Contemporary Character 2017: The Real Z

Published: 2017. Author: Jen Calonita, book design Susanne Lagasa Photos by April Mersinger Photography, Michael Frost for Scholastic, Eric Isselee/Shutterstock, Inc.


Pacific Northwest resident Suzanne "Z" Yang loves making movies. Her mother teaches film at a nearby university and her dad's a computer expert, so she has great resources to help her with planning, shooting, and editing movies. She does a lot of stop-motion animation with her American Girl dolls and posts the videos online; they're very popular. So while she's excited, it's a not a huge surprise that she's selected to make a documentary about her city for a film festival in Seattle (it's called "CloudSong" but the timing and setup of it...it's SIFF, the Seattle Independent Film Festival). She has six weeks and a nice chunk of change from the festival to film. She shares the news with her friends right away, and they brainstorm ideas about how to make her film stand out.

Z jumps right into shooting different scenes. One of her friends is part of a band, and they agree to cover "Singing in the Rain" for it. Her other friends are on board to help her, too. But Z is so focused on the contest that she lets a few other things slide, like the school project she's working on with her best friend, Lauren (group projects SUCK). Lauren and some of Z's other friends feel pushed to the side, and until Z realizes that she can't just live in one aspect of her life and apologizes, they're annoyed with her. Z finds a way to balance all of her interests with the contest, and is able to put together a rough shoot of what she has. She invites her friends, online and in Seattle, to watch it together.

Z's friends agree that it's very well-shot, but there's something off about most of the footage. It feels more like a commercial for Seattle. It doesn't feel like it has Z's touch on it. Some of the scenes, like of her friend's band performing in the rain, do feel authentic and unique though. Z accepts the constructive criticism well, and thinks about how she can improve her film. She wants to tell not just A story, but HER story. Z re-edits what she's filmed and gets some more footage, changing her focus to being more "a day in the life" from her perspective. When she's satisfied with her film, she submits Zeattle and waits for the results of the contest.

A short time later, Z gets the news that she won second place! (First went to someone who did a documentary focusing on the Seattle Underground.) Her film will be shown at the film festival! It's not first place so it doesn't have the prize money she was hoping to donate to her school's AV club, but she's going to have her work shown in a real film festival! When the big day arrives, Z even gets interviewed on the red carpet. With this under her belt, Z can hardly wait to see what happens next.


Dedicated to Keiran Cook, "a true American Girl and an excellent first reader."

This book is very fast-paced. Z and her friends are all very energetic and seem to be doing everything at top speed. Makes it a very fast and engaging read.

A lot of the mentions of Seattle fit pretty well with the city. The only thing that really stood out to me as not Seattle was how many people were using umbrellas. Most of us in the greater Seattle area have sort of given up on umbrellas and don't bother unless it's really pouring or we're dressed up for something; it's usually people from out-of-town with umbrellas. Since the rain we usually have is fairly light drizzle and it's often breezy, umbrellas aren't as common as you might expect. So while it makes sense for Z to have rain gear for her camera equipment, people carrying them is a bit odder.

Z has a dalmatian named Popcorn.

Z's mom probably teaches at Seattle Pacific University. They live on Queen Anne hill and her university is close to their house--SPU's on Queen Anne.

Z's friends are a fairly diverse group; she's Korean, one friend is Hispanic, one lives in London (online friend), one uses a wheelchair (also an online friend; they all met at a con). But it's not shoved in your face, and just comes up naturally. Plus the characters are all well-rounded. For example, one girl isn't just the girl in the wheelchair; she's the girl who loves to make online videos and plays basketball too.

An Asian character in Seattle makes a lot of sense: being closer to Asia than the East Coast, there are a lot of people here of Asian descent. Just in my family, I have three aunts, an uncle, three first cousins, a brother-in-law, two nieces, a nephew, and four first cousins once removed who are all or part Korean, Vietnamese, or Filipino. Some were actually born in Asia, some have been here their whole lives.

Z's best friend plays soccer and her favorite soccer ball is bright green. It should have been a Sounders ball; Seattle's pro soccer team colors are "rave green" (a sort of kelly green), "Sounder blue" (a sort of slightly greyish royal blue), and "Cascade shale" (dark grey, almost black).

It's so weird to read about American Girl dolls in an American Girl book.

There are a lot of videos in the style of Z's on the American Girl Youtube channel here.


Contemporary Character 2017: A Song for the Season

Published: 2017. Author: Kellen Hertz. Cover design Angela Jun.


Following an exhilarating performance at Belle Starr’s final stop in her world tour, Tenney and Logan find themselves gaining more and more internet fame—enough to justify their own, much smaller tour. They’ll play five locations around Nashville the week before Christmas, returning home Christmas Eve. Tenney is excited, but sad she’ll be missing out on some of her holiday traditions and time with her friends, mom, and siblings (her dad is coming, as is their manager). Logan is more reserved, worried about Jude. But they set out optimistic.

The first performance is a nightmare. The sound system goes haywire, and by the time it’s fixed, half their allotted time is gone and much of the audience has left. Tenneyand Logan power through, bringing back some viewers, but are understandably disappointed with how things went. The next performance has a hitch as well: they’re double-booked with a children’s choir. They work out singing some songs with them, which delights both the younger children and a set of sisters who drove a long way to see them. Zane gives the sisters tickets to their next performance, which will be in a proper concert hall, unlike the two previous bookings. That one goes well, aside from Logan slipping up a few times. Well, and Tenney snapping at him on stage about it (away from the microphone, fortunately).

Logan’s been so tense and withdrawn during the trip, no matter what Tenney does to draw him out of his shell (maybe leave him alone for half a second?). And one evening Tenney overhears her dad and her manager discussing how if Tenney and Logan don’t stop getting on each other’s nerves, maybe they’re not ready to record an album. Tenney tries to find a time to talk to Logan, but it never seems right. Finally, on the way to their last venue Christmas Eve, she gets her chance...when the van gets stranded in a snowstorm (her dad walks to get help while their manager tries to flag down a passing car). Logan reveals that he’s upset not just because of his brother, but because he figured his dad had so much fun touring that he rarely visits, but seeing how much of it is draining and grueling makes him wonder how his dad can choose that over his family.

By the time the group gets towed into town, Tenney and Logan have made up. But while the fix is relatively simple, the shop is backed up and the snow has closed a main road. They’re stranded until at least the morning. The group checks into a hotel, worried about how they’ll spend Christmas. Tenney decides to make the best of things, and with the okay of the hotel owners, her dad, the manager, and Logan, she and Logan put on a performance right in the lobby for other stranded travelers.

The morning greets the group with a working car and clear roads. They’re all able to make it back in time to spend at least most of Christmas with their loved ones.


Dedicated to Mikayla, Kaiya, Owen, and Kieran.

Aubrey wants to learn to play another instrument, because she only knows accordion. I understand wanting to expand her repertoire, but accordion is hard! If she’s good enough to say “only accordion” shoe must be really good.

One concert is in Franklin, TN. I have a fridge magnet from there, with (fake) ladybugs on it.

We stayed in a hotel last Christmas Eve, and in 2014 (planned). Both times the hotels had festive decorations, not dusty relics like in this book, and last year the staff put a stocking on everyone’s room with some treat so inside. We use that stocking for our pets now. That hotel was in Washington, the 2014 one in Texas.


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: Time for Change

Published 2017, author Varian Johnson,  book design by Angela Jun, cover photo by Kenneth P. Vail.


Gabby has got a lot going on. Sharing sixth grade ambassador duties with Aaliyah while navigating a new friendship with her, maintaining her friendship with Teagan despite being in a different school, preparing to start dancing en pointe (gradually and under the watchful eye of her ballet instructor, not dancing leads en pointe, Jesse), and rehearsing for a poetry slam. At first she seems to balancing things okay, but soon she’s stretched too thin. She doesn’t notice at first, and wonders why Teagan seems distant. It takes her a bit to connect the dots there (Teagan is feeling left out of Gabby’s life, especially with Gabby and Aaliyah’s new friendship, plus Teagan later reveals she hasn’t made any friends at her new school).

What Gabby does realize pretty quickly is that she’s not as excited about ballet as she used to be. She wonders if she should continue it when the passion seems to be gone. Although Gabby knows she should talk to her mother about it, she can’t bring herself too, because she knows how much her mom loves that Gabby does ballet. She even told Gabby’s ballet instructor that she’d been looking forward to the day when Gabby would get her first pointe shoes the day she’s found out she was pregnant with a girl. Gabby doesn’t want to disappoint her mom.

But she’s disappointing other people instead. She has trouble with her poetry, and neglects the Halloween costumes she and Teagan had planned (they always make elaborate costumes). She doesn’t focus enough on ballet, either, and is only able to pull off ambassador duties with Aaliyah’s help—and manages to accidentally insult her new friend in the process. She barely has time to study for school. Finally, Gabby talks to her mom. Much to Gabby’s relief, her mom understands, having once dreamed of being a Rockette, and even getting invited to join afternoon auditioning,  it ultimately turning it down to pursue a different dream (managing her theater). Gabby talks with her ballet instructor, who understands.

The harder part is making up with Teagan andAaliyah, but Gabby bites the bullet and works things out. With her mind free from guilt and her focus not spread so thin, Gabby is able to get her act together for the poetry slam. She performs a duet with Teagan and a solo act. Her team dos well enough to win! The book closes with Gabby looking forward to the next round of competition, and to navigating her way through whatever other passion she and dreams she may discover.


For Elizabeth, Adrienne, Savannah, and Sydney. Special thanks also given to Martha Chapman, Leana Barbosa, and Sofia Snow.

I’m old. Red describes The Fresh Prince as an old TV show. I rememer when it as airing. In West Philadelphia born and raised, on a playground was where I spent most of my days...

An early draft of Gabby’s solo poem describes a caterpillar metaphorically as a worm, but her teammates say it’s distracting since caterpillars aren’t worms, and she changes it to work better. I also found distracting that she described a butterfly coming out of a cocoon, but that’s moths. A butterfly would come out of a chrysalis.

Teagan tells Gabby that octopi and octopuses are both acceptable plurals of octopus, as is octopodes. The second two are better, because octopi indicates that octopus is Latin when it’s actually Greek-different plural rules apply (the plural of chrysalis, by the way, is chrysalides).

Red confirms in his solo poem that his mother is a single mom, but no big deal is made of it, which is probably nice for child en of single parents to read. ( He never mentions his father.) his poem is a tribute to his mom. he also says she’s  captain in the Army, so she must have joined recently, as that’s the rank a doctor new to the Army tend to have (a bachelors degree usually enters as a second lieutenant/O-1, advanced degrees as captain/O-3). He scores 9.8out of 10 for his poem,which is the highest score that the poetry slam has ever given.


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 Melody’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).