6/26/17

The Lilac Tunnel: My Journey with Samantha

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


"My Journey" books

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

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next choice: set the table or fold napkins

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

Next choice: sneak downstairs or stay in her room

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

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

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


About Samantha's Time

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


Misc

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

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

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

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

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

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

6/19/17

A New Beginning: My Journey with Addy

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

"My Journey" books

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

Plot

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

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

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

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

Next choice: run or let Addy try to explain

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

Next choice: read or decline

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

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

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


About Addy's Time

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


Misc

Dedicated to Yolande, the author's sister.

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

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

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

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

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

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

6/12/17

Song of the Mockingbird: My Journey with Josefina

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

"My Journey" books

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

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

Next choice: see the memory book or the altar cloth

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

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

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

Next choice: Tia Magdalena or Sr. Sanchez

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

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

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


About Josefina's Time

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


Misc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6/5/17

Catch the Wind: My Journey with Caroline

Published in 2014; author Kathlenn Ernst; 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. It would sound to weird to me to summarize the story as, "and then (Historical Characters) and I saw a..." so I'm going to use the author's first name as the main character's name, in this case, Kathleen.

Plot

Kathleen is feeling overwhelmed. Her mother recently joined the Navy is about to ship out for eight months. Her father has a job too, so her parents keep talking about grown-up Kathleen will have to be. But her five-year-old twin sisters aren't being told to do extra work. Kathleen feels like she's not being allowed to be worried or scared because her parents are "counting on her," as they keep reminding her. After an outburst of emotion from Kathleen, her mother talks with her about sense of duty to her country, and also to her family. She tries to reassure Kathleen that she'll never go a moment without thinking of her family back home. And she has a gift for Kathleen: a compass that has been passed down through the generations since the War of 1812. She got it from her own father the first time he shipped out with the Navy, and now she's giving it to Kathleen. Kathleen doesn't really grasp the full impact of her new heirloom, but she can tell it's important to her mother. Sensing that Kathleen needs some space, her mother leaves. Then the compass arrow points straight toward Kathleen's heart, and she starts to feel dizzy...

And she finds herself in a new place. A voice from nearby asks if she's also looking for warships. Confused, Kathleen asks for clarification. A girl her age is briefly befuddled as to why Kathleen doesn't know what's going on, but introduces herself as Caroline Abbott and fills Kathleen in on the battle that happened the day before, remarking that 1812 will be an interesting year. Presuming Kathleen to be traveling alone, Caroline invites Kathleen to follow her to her home. But Kathleen is understandably worried that she might not be able to get REALLY home. She grabs the compass and points the arrow away from her heart. The dizziness returns, and Kathleen is back in her own time.

First choice: stay in the present or go back to the past

Kathleen's head is swimming. She reflects on how many men must have joined the Navy during the War of 1812, and how hard it must be on Caroline, who mentioned her father was taken captive. Kathleen's mother is very unlikely to be kidnapped from a ship in the ocean. And with today's modern technology, she can talk with family over Skype and send emails. They'll be able to stay connected better than people deployed in the past. And they can plan a vacation for when she gets back at the start of summer break.

And that's the end. So...I'm going back and picking the second option of returning to the past!

Caroline takes Kathleen to her father's shipyard, which her mother is running in his absence. Her mother is understandably cautious, but when Caroline explains her suspicions (while Kathleen is getting some water just outside the office) that Kathleen's father is in the Navy and Kathleen is alone, her mother agrees that Kathleen can stay with them for a few days. A Navy lieutenant arrives, asking directions to a secluded cove Caroline's father spoke of. Caroline's mother is unsure of its exact location and too busy to leave the shipyard. Caroline volunteers to sail with the lieutenant, and once securing a promise that the crew will do all it can to ensure Caroline's safety, her mother acquiesces. Caroline turns to Kathleen: does she want to come?

Next choice: go on the Navy ship or stay in the shipyard

Kathleen is simultaneously overwhelmed and awestruck by the Navy ship. They're sailing on Lake Ontario, heading for the cove. She sees the earnestness with which everyone moves, even a boy about seven years old getting water for the older men (Caroline mentions some of the "ship's boys" are orphans who are glad to not only have a job and place to stay, but an important purpose). She notes the US flag flying on the ship has only a few stars. She alone on the ship knows that the US will survive the War of 1812, and add thirty-five more stars to its flag. She feels a swell of pride that mother and grandfather and others back in her family line have served the country, starting with this conflict. As the ship arrives at the cove, a sailor spots a British warship. The lieutenant orders a sailor to take Kathleen and Caroline ashore, but Caroline counters that doing so will waste precious time--they need to stop the warship.

Next choice: agree with Caroline or agree with the lieutenant

Kathleen agrees, enthusiastically encouraging the sailors to chase the British ship away. The sailors quickly give chase, and Caroline voices her hope that they capture the enemy sailors. Kathleen regrets her decision: she thought they were just going to scare the British off. But it's too late now; the ship is pitching forward and the sailors are gearing up for a battle. Would it be better to stay safe below deck or is watching the action worth it?

Next choice: go below deck or stay above

The girls duck below deck, out of the way of the busy sailors. One runs by them, calling out that they ship's boy is missing. Without him, the sailors will have to fetch their own gunpowder, slowing their progress in the battle. It's then that Caroline hears a whimpering sound: the ship's boy. The girls find him, crying. It's his first battle, and so much more intense than he expected. Caroline and Kathleen help him collect himself, and as he shows them the gunpowder store and explains his duties, his training comes to back him, along with his confidence. He rushes gunpowder up to the waiting sailors, while Kathleen and Caroline wait out of the way, in the ship's kitchen. After a bit, the cannon fire ceases, and the girls can hear the sailors cheering. The lieutenant finds the girls, visibly relieved that they're unharmed. He confirms that they've captured the British ship, and tells the girls to remain in the kitchen while they sail back to the shipyard. When they're alone again, Kathleen remarks that Caroline's dad is going to be very proud of her for helping the ship's boy, and thus all the sailors. She then reflects that she'll be able to help her own father while her mother's away in the Navy. Her parents usually have date nights on Wednesdays; maybe she can suggest that they do something special on Wednesdays until her mother returns. And one of her younger sisters loves to paint; Kathleen could paint with her. Her other sister has nightmares--Kathleen will leave her door open so she can hear if her sister is scared in the middle of the night.

When they return to the shipyard, Kathleen bids Caroline goodbye. She returns to her own time, and finds her mom. She tells her mom that she understands how important her work in the Navy is, and that she knows she'll do a great job on the ship. Kathleen's mom is very touched by this. Kathleen also promises she'll mind the home front--keeping people's spirits up is important whether it's in the midst of battle or at home.


About Caroline's Time

This section puts the story in its historical context, noting how many women had to take over men's traditional roles, such as running businesses or even aiding the war effort, when their husbands were away fighting or captured or killed.


Misc

Dedicated to the readers in Sacketts Harbor for "giving Caroline--and me--such a warm welcome."

One of my friends is in the Navy, and about to leave for a nine-month deployment. But unlike Kathleen's mother, she won't be on a ship; while she's in the medical profession like Kathleen's mom, she'll be in a hospital on dry land.

Something I only recently realized: with the exception of the species called musk ox, and ox isn't a separate kind of cattle from cows. It's a cow used for things like plowing and pulling, often a castrated male. I don't spend much time on farms, and reading books like Farmer Boy I sort of thought of them as separate from dairy and beef cows, but they're the same species, just used as beasts of burden rather than food sources. I feel silly for not realizing it before! I go to the state fair almost every year, and there are never oxen displayed with other livestock--and they even have cavies and rabbits. Surely if an ox were a separate animal there would be some competing for ribbons.

I know part of the convention of these books is that the reader is supposed to be able to insert themselves easily, so the main character isn't named. But it makes them seem a little rude when they never introduce themselves!

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

Some other possible endings: getting off the Navy ship before the battle can lead to Caroline revealing that her mother's in the Navy (which Caroline of course takes to mean that her mother is disguised as man, because it's 1812) and Caroline asking Kathleen to tell her mother that's she's proud and impressed, which Kathleen realize she hasn't told her own mother that she's proud of her, or her father for putting on a brave face when he's worried about his wife; staying on deck during the battle can give Kathleen the chance to use her twenty-first century first aid training to help a wounded soldier, which inspires her to volunteer at a hospital to keep her mind occupied while her mother's away; spotting a British warship from the land and alerting the Navy (rather than chasing themselves) can lead Kathleen to realize that she wants to be more responsible and take on more duties at home; going on a raid of an island held by the British and finding a British girl their age but letting her remain hidden can cause Kathleen to reflect on how her mother might have agonized over her decision to join the Navy, balancing her sense of duty to her family and her sense of duty to her country, leading to a new-found respect for her mother; or reluctantly escorting the girl to the victorious Americans, who refuse to take women or girls captive and send the girl back to her mother, shows Kathleen how brave the girl is and how strongly she wants to support her family, inspiring her to help her family; Kathleen's adventure can show her to think of others and how to help her family rather than getting wrapped up in her sadness; helping an injured man write a letter to his family can remind Kathleen how much she truly loves her own; getting overturned in Lake Ontario and facing her fear of deep water can give Kathleen confidence; briefly getting a job at a boarding house (which Caroline takes over on a part-time basis when Kathleen reveals she must return home) gives Kathleen a good work ethic; helping a young girl whose mother is too ill to work and whose father is an alcoholic gives Kathleen a new perspective on her family, which isn't perfect, but is functional and loving.

5/29/17

Gunpowder and Teacakes: My Journey with Felicity

Published in 2017; author Kathlenn Ernst; 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. It would sound to weird to me to summarize the story as, "and then (Historical Characters) and I saw a..." so I'm going to use the author's first name as the main character's name, in this case, Kathleen.

Plot

School's out for the weekend, and Kathleen is invited to go with her friend Lauren to pick out her new puppy, along with their mutual friend Amara. But Kathleen has to decline: she and her father recently moved in with Kathleen's grandmother following the death of Kathleen's mother, and her father's rules are rigid. Kathleen hates to disappoint her friends, but rules are rules. Her grandmother tries to cheer her up, showing Kathleen an antique locket with a miniature portrait of a woman from 1775. Learning about it could be useful; Kathleen is going to join her dad as a volunteer in colonial Williamsburg; acting out life from more than two hundred years ago.

Kathleen needs some time to herself; the pang of missing her mother is especially strong now. She peers intently at the portrait in the locket. The woman's expression reminds her of her mother. Suddenly, she's in colonial Williamsburg, dressed in costume--and lying on the ground. She doesn't remember coming to the tourist attraction, though. What's going on? Another volunteer about her age helps her up, introducing herself as Felicity Merriman. Kathleen is impressed with how well Felicity is acting in her role, and figures she may as well play along until she figures out her next step. Of course, it doesn't take long to realize that EVERYONE is in costume, there are no tourists, and nothing is modern--no paved road, no signs of electronics. She's actually in 1775. Thinking quickly, Kathleen tests the locket to be sure she can easily return to her own time. She's able to do so with ease, and discovers that although she's spent five or ten minutes talking with Felicity, almost no time has passed in the present. Eager to explore this opportunity, Kathleen returns to 1775 and finds Felicity again. She's soon introduced to Ben, apprentice to Felicity's father, who warns the girls that the militia is coming, spurred by a recent gunpowder theft.

First choice: go to Felicity's house or stay for the militia

Felicity agrees to get Kathleen out of the commotion, and Ben escorts them through the gathering crowd. As they walk through the streets, Kathleen is amazed at what's the same and what's different between the actual place and the tourist attraction. Felicity points out her father's store, and asks if Kathleen is interested in seeing it.

Next choice: see the store or continue to the house

Kathleen's grandmother owns an antique store; she's very interested to see brand-new items that will one day become antiques. Not long after Kathleen is introduced to Mr. Merriman, he goes to attend the rally with the militia, leaving Felicity in charge. Almost immediately after, they're warned that the Committee of Safety is on its way. The Committee is devoted to making sure no shopkeepers buy any more goods from the British. They soon bluster their way in and destroy some merchandise before Kathleen speaks up, appalled at their behavior. She correctly points out that that the merchandise was bought well before the ban. Empowered, Felicity grabs the ledger book which can prove when different items were bought, and inquires who will pay for the destroyed goods. The men are put in their place, and leave chagrined.

Next choice: stay to find out more about the American Revolution, or return to the present

Mr. Merriman and Ben return shortly, and are grateful for Kathleen's quick thinking. Mr. Merriman is also concerned about the best course of action. Kathleen knows that the patriots will win, but of course declaring she knows the future isn't going to help. Mr. Merriman muses that he needs to start selling more locally-made goods right away, and should take out an ad in the local newspaper stating so. Kathleen is surprised by two things: first, that a woman owns and runs the newspaper; second, that Mr. Merriman is confident there will be high demand for pottery made by a local Native American tribe. She hadn't expected those attitudes in colonial times. Mr. Merriman asks Felicity and Kathleen if they can help.

Next choice: visit the Pamunkey tribe to buy pottery, or Miss Reed's newspaper to place the ad

Ben hitches up the cart, and he and the girls set out to a trading post. When they arrive, Kathleen encourages Felicity to come with her to view the pottery--Felicity has never spoken with a Native American before, and is a little nervous. Kathleen is surprised to learn that only do the two men with the pottery understand English, they speak it fluently. A lot of her assumptions are being challenged! There are many beautiful pots, and Felicity, Kathleen, and Ben select some to buy. Feeling embarrassed about her assumptions, Kathleen apologizes to the two men for thinking they wouldn't know English. One says he's glad he learned how to read and write, because it will help his tribe fight oppression by the government. On the way back to the Merrimans' shop, Kathleen asks if white children ever go to schools to learn the ways of the Pamunkey tribe, the way Pamunkey boys must learn about the colonists' ways. Felicity says of course they aren't, but is thoughtful about the matter. The story ends with Kathleen thinking how much she's learned from Felicity...and maybe Felicity learned some things from her.


About Felicity's Time

Indentured servitude was common Felicity's time; working to pay off a debt or as punishment for a crime. Many indentured servants' debt was their passage to the colonies from Europe. It would take several years of work to be free from it. Of course, there were also outright slaves in colonial times. They could never expect to earn freedom.


Misc

Dedicated to the author's family, "with happy memories of our visit to colonial Williamsburg."

Kathleen's mother died after a long illness, and her father put away all the pictures of her, unable to bear to look at his wife when she was happy and whole.

There's a very touching part where Kathleen mentions her mother in past tense, and Felicity astutely realizes that probably means her mother died. Felicity asks about her mother and expresses her sincere condolences. Most of Kathleen's peers in the present day avoid talking about her mother, as if they fear reminding her of the sadness of her mother's death. But Kathleen doesn't ever really forget that her mother is dead, and while remembering her is bittersweet, keeping her memory alive is important to Kathleen.

There's a brief mention of the schools that Native American children were forced to attend to "civilize" them. These reservation schools happened in North America as late as a few decades ago.

One of Kathleen's friends is at least half black (her mother is from Senegal). I was expecting more blunt mention of Felicity's desire for freedom contrasted with the fact that slavery wouldn't be outlawed in the new country for ninety years. There are only two storylines I saw that really drive home the point.

Felicity's coral necklace is a memento of a childhood friend named Charity, who died of a disease. Vaccinations remain one of the best advances in medicine--they save so many lives.

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

Some other possible endings: Kathleen leaves after the altercation with the Committee of Safety, reflecting on how people have to make complicated choices regarding the safety of their families; Kathleen learns that talking can often avoid future conflict and has a conversation with her father that results in her being able to earn more privileges and trust and her father admitting she's not a little anymore (kind of like Mary Anne and her father in the Baby-sitters Club); going to the Merrimans' home has Kathleen returning to modern times struggling with the idea of how someone as nice as Felicity could justify slavery, especially when Felicity is for American independence; or it can help Kathleen heal a bit over the loss of her mother by reminiscing with caring people who offer sympathetic ears; visiting the Coles results in Kathleen declining a visit to the local British seat of government because she's firmly on the side of the patriots, and thinking that even though she's not yet old enough to vote and doesn't want to be a politician when she grows up, she can still make her country a better place; or accepting the invitation the palace can show Kathleen that the Revolution wasn't just patriots and loyalists but also native people, slaves, and settlers whose focus was on their household rather than the bigger picture; it can also humanize the loyalists by having her meet some friendly British sympathizers; she can also visit Felicity's grandfather to learn the same thing about loyalists; visiting Felicity's grandfather also brings up the subject of slavery; visiting the print shop allows Kathleen to meet Thomas Jefferson and reflect on while women had more privileges in 1775 than she expected they were still very much second-class citizens (women didn't get the vote in the US until 1920; Kathleen can realize that while her father's strict things could be far worse; returning to the present time when a raid gets too dangerous (after ensuring that Felicity will be safe) ends with Kathleen calling her friend to ask about her new dog and her friend admitting that the dog was to smooth over her mother's sudden weekend away--her father isn't able to have her over either (the friend's parents are divorced) so her grandfather will stay with her, but he only ever wants to watch TV. Kathleen realizes that while her father is overprotective, going too far the opposite way leaves kids feeling neglected. She invites her friend to come over on the weekend with her dog.

5/22/17

The Roar of the Falls: My Journey with Kaya

Published in 2014; author Emma Carlson Berne; illustrators Julie Kolesova and Michael Dwornik, cover image by Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock.com

"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. It would sound to weird to me to summarize the story as, "and then (Historical Characters) and I saw a..." so I'm going to use the author's first name as the main character's name, in this case, Emma.

Plot

Emma is in charge of a volunteer project, growing food in a garden for a food bank. She was appointed the leader by the adult coordinator, because Emma has a garden at home. But Emma is shy and not assertive, so it's a difficult position for her. She feels like she can't effectively get the other kids to listen to her. While digging in dirt, Emma finds a beautiful and very old bracelet with a shell on it. At home that evening, she puts it on and suddenly finds herself transported back in time, and clothed in Native American dress, lying in the mud near a waterfall. A Native American girl introduces herself as Kaya, and Emma is able to understand and speak the language Kaya speaks. Emma is understandably confused, and asks to be alone for a minute or two. Kaya acquiesces and leaves to get some water for Emma to drink. As she tries to get her bearings, Emma slips off the bracelet, and is suddenly back in her room. It only takes a moment for her to realize that the bracelet is the key to her time travel. She puts it back on, and is sent back to Kaya's time just as Kaya returns.

The first choice: clean up, or explore Kaya's camp.

As Emma rinses off, Kaya notices that Emma's bracelet looks just like her own hair ties. Kaya says the bracelet might good for trading at the upcoming festival. They head for camp, where Emma is confused by many things that Kaya considers common knowledge. Kaya takes this to mean that Emma hit her head hard when she fell, and takes Emma to her tepee. There, Kaya's grandmother has Emma lay down and rest, while Kaya tells Emma more about her life and family. Bear Blanket, a healer, gives Emma some herbs to hold against her scrapes, and tells Kaya's parents and grandparents about a dream she had: that a young visitor came to them only for a short time, one who needed help but didn't know it. The next morning, Emma's cuts feel much better, and she joins Kaya in helping with the daily tasks and meeting more Kaya's family. Emma's an only child, and Kaya's large family is at once both intimidating and comforting. Kaya's father announces there are some new horses to train.

Next choice: stay in the camp with Speaking Rain or go with Kaya's father to train the horses.

Speaking Rain shows Emma her weaving, and how to make some patterns. In turn, Emma makes a beaded necklace using techniques from the twenty-first century, which are new to her eighteenth-century friends. Emma helps Kaya with other tasks throughout the day as well. A while later, Kaya's older sister Brown Deer sets up supplies to paint a bison hide while some other people get ready for a game of shinny.

Next choice: paint the hide or play the game.

As Emma is enjoying painting and learning about the symbolism, she hears a baby cry out in distress. A woman appears with an infant, who is ill with fever. Bear Blanket sends Kaya and Emma to fetch some juniper. They run off immediately, but Kaya stops in her tracks. There's a bear. Every bit of Emma's instinct is telling her to run, but Kaya whispers they must stay still.

Next choice: run or stay.

Of course, the bear chases Emma when she runs. Kaya is able to scare it off, but is now more worried about Emma; reasoning that she must have hit her head very hard to forget so much. They quickly grab the juniper and go back to camp. Emma feels terrible that she put Kaya in so much danger, especially when they were getting medicine for a little baby. But no one is upset with Emma, just worried about her, and the medicine is made in time. The baby's fever breaks, and Emma and Kaya head to the festival, relieved. The festival feels like Thanksgiving to Emma: everyone coming together to share a meal they all helped prepare. After eating, a lot of people start trading. There's also talk of a horse race.

Next choice: stay to watch the trading or go see the horse race.

Kaya happily suggests she and Emma be trading partners. She takes off her quill necklace, having noticed earlier that Emma doesn't have a necklace. Emma hesitates: the only thing she has of similar value is her bracelet.

Next choice: trade the bracelet or keep it

Emma nervously offers Kaya her bracelet, worried that she might not be able to use it to get back home later. She gets even more anxious when a girl with a puppy offers to trade the dog for the bracelet, but Kaya declines, saying the bracelet is too special. Emma is relieved that the bracelet is staying with her new friend, but the stress is still too much for her. Kaya quickly notices that Emma looks ill, and takes her back to camp. Back at camp, Kaya's grandmother is just as astute, and privately asks Emma if she and Kaya had an argument. Emma discloses that she regrets the trade but is worried that Kaya will be furious if she asks to trade the necklace back for the bracelet. Kaya's grandmother reassures Emma that their friendship is strong, and indeed when Emma explains that the bracelet is a connection to her family, Kaya readily agrees to trade back. Emma talks a bit more with Kaya and her grandmother. She gives Kaya's grandmother a pretty pink stone she found, thanking the woman for her guidance and wisdom. She and Kaya both sense that Emma is ready to leave them, and Kaya takes Emma back to where they met by the river. Emma tells Kaya she'll never forget her, steps out of view, and travels back to her own time. Now confident in the help she can get from people with more experience, she goes to the adult coordinator to ask for advice about being a leader.



About Kaya's Time

The spring salmon festival was one of the largest trading gatherings on the continent in Kaya's time. People came from as far away as what is now Alaska and Missouri, ready to enjoy the abundant food and company of many people.


Misc

In memory of Kathy Carlon, "born in 1922, a judo brown belt who could perform a jackknife dive, kill a rattlesnake with a shovel, sew sequined dance costumes, and tame squirrels and crows."

This is mostly just time travel, with a little bit of space travel: the main character lives in Oregon in the present day, only a few miles from the Columbia River.

Seriously, Oregon? You have a Wallowa County? Just miles away from Walla Walla, Washington? Oregon steals place names from other states all the time. Portland, Salem, Springfield, Rainier--as in Mt. Rainier, which is in a different state! Tons of others, too.

"Emma" is an only child, but still needs to lock her bedroom door for privacy. I guess her parents don't knock before going in her room. My parents always did, and I do for my kids. Especially when the kids are older and getting more private about themselves; what if they're changing?

Emma lives in Oregon on the Columbia River and has never tried salmon. Between that and never having privacy, her parents seem really weird to me.

A few of the options lead to Kaya meeting the horse from her other books, Steps High.

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

Some other possible endings: if Emma goes to see the horses, she gets advice from Kaya's father and with her new-found confidence decides she'll accompany her best friend to an overnight camp; participating in some horse races shows Emma her own strength which she draws on to talk to the girls she's leading; the same race can also give Emma the confidence to try new things at home with her adventurous best friend; getting lost with a horse during a raid teaches Emma that she's more capable than she gave herself credit for, capable enough to lead the other volunteers; it can also show her that while there might be some unpredictable or even scary things beyond her own backyard, there are also lots of wonderful things the world has to offer and she doesn't need to limit herself to only "safe" options; the horses can also show Emma the beauty of nature; or the horses can give Emma a deeper connection to nature; or Kaya's life can give Emma a deeper appreciation for her family.

5/8/17

Message in a Bottle

Published in 2017; author Kathryn Reiss; illustrators Julie Kolesova and Michael Dwornik

Plot

Julie's mom and Aunt Nadine haven't seen each other in a decade, since the siblings parted ways when Julie's aunt and her family moved to a remote area to start a commune. But a letter from Aunt Nadine begging for help sparks a reunion. Julie and her mom drive over a hundred miles to the commune. There they learn that Julie's uncle went against his pacifist ways to enlist in the Army and go to Vietnam to search for his twin brother, who was missing in action. Sadly, the brother was dead, and Julie's uncle came back wounded. Since then, the marriage has been strained and Julie's uncle has been living and working in the nearby town of Sonora. Julie ten-year-old cousin Raymond misses his father terribly. The visits a few times a week aren't enough.

Furthermore, the commune is in decline. Some families have moved out, making the farm chores like tending crops harder. One member had the bright idea to sell things like eggs, butter, honey, and handmade items (e.g.; knit sweaters using wool from their sheep) in town, and Aunt Nadine took it a step further: why not set up their own store? Knowing her sister had experience running a store, Aunt Nadine asked for help. But starting the store is going to be difficult with the apparent sabotage going on. Most of the commune is convinced a Sonoran businessman, Eli Coker, is behind it. He wants to buy the commune's land, and maybe he's shady enough to scare them into selling.

As her cousin Raymond shows Julie around the commune, they find an old perfume bottle with a note inside near an abandoned and collapsed mine. The note starts as a poem, clearly left for someone else to finish, and has another note indicating that now isn't the time for poems. Could someone have been looking for gold in the old mine? Or, given that Julie and her cousin find a passage in the tunnels, could someone be using it to sneak into the commune for sabotage? Also of interest is the fact that the perfume appears to the same as what one of the commune's teenager's wears--and she happens to work for Mr. Coker in his restaurant.

But Julie decides to trust the teen, Delores. Delores says the bottle and note aren't hers, and suggests she show it to a couple who own a museum in town. They're able to identify the bottle as handblown, and the writing as antiquated--most likely, Julie's find is over a century old. Delores gives Julie a brownie from her store to take back to Raymond (and one for Julie, too). When she arrives there, a calf is missing and some scraps of napkin from Mr. Coker's restaurant are in the pen. Julie finds the calf quickly, but people are still upset about the incident. The commune says it's more evidence that Mr. Coker is behind the sabotage, but as she holds the brownie wrapped in the restaurant napkin, Julie realizes that Raymond might be the culprit. Is he trying to convince his father to come back and fix everything at at the commune? Julie confronts him, and Raymond vigorously denies the accusation. The next morning, Raymond's nowhere to be found. Julie and Aunt Nadine go into town, assuming Raymond is at father's apartment. Raymond isn't there, and Julie realizes he must have gone into the mine. Sure enough, he's there, but trapped but a fallen beam and behind a partially collapsed wall. Julie's able to fit through the narrow spaces in the rocks and help him out.

That evening, Julie happens to look through a scrapbook and recognize some handwriting. It's revealed that the message she found in the bottle was a last message from Raymond's great-great-great-grandfather, proposing marriage to Raymond's great-great-great-grandmother. The family had thought he left for San Francisco, abandoning the woman he loved and their young child, but it seems he got stuck in the mine on one last attempt to strike it rich, and wrote the note in hopes it would be found.

This gives Julie an idea: she compares some handwriting samples and is able to uncover that a mysterious A. V. King, who offered to buy the commune's land to built an amusement park, is actually Vicky Prince, a new commune member. She's been trying to frame Mr. Coker for the sabotage, while gaining the trust of the commune members so she could buy the land! With her aunt and uncle's help, Julie outs Vicky.

A week later, the commune store is being set up, but Julie's mom doubts it will bring in enough money to sustain the commune. Julie can't help feeling sad; it's such a lovely area and people would be missing out on the peaceful--that's it! Julie suggests the commune operate a summer camp for people to get back to nature. Surely that will be successful enough. And her uncle can run it, a less physical job better suited to a man whose war injuries make walking difficult. He can even move back home with his wife and son.


Inside Julie's World

Communes provided an escape to idealism in troubled times. But they weren't a long-term solution to many of the problems of the 1970s. Although some communes still exist, none have prevented returning military members from facing hardships brought on by injury and mental illness like PTSD. But the idea behind communes--working together to support each other toward common goals--is helpful is a variety of circumstances.


Misc

Dedicated to "the real Raymond and the real Delores, our son and daughter who would like to see their names in print, with love. And to my patient editor extraordinaire, Judith Woodburn, thank you!"

My dad spent some time working on a relative's farm when he was a teen, in the 60s. The main lesson he took from it is that farming hard. A decade later when people wanted to get back to the simple life and live off the land, he thought they were misinformed at best: farming is not simple!

Julie's sister is with her father during the story.

4/24/17

The Lady's Slipper

Published in 2017; author Emma Carlson Berne; illustrators Julie Kolesova and Michael Dwornik

Plot

Melody and her cousin Val meet a teenager named Leah at a meeting of the Fair Housing Committee. Leah isn't black; she's Jewish--Melody is surprised to learn that Jewish families faced the same sort of housing discrimination that her cousin's family did, and a Jewish man helped found the NAACP. Melody and Leah quickly become friends, but Val, who saw the violence black children who befriended white children were subjected to her in her hometown, is more reticent. Melody continues getting to know Leah, and Leah's botanist grandfather as well. He escaped the Nazis in Poland, bringing with him a rare orchid cutting, which survived the trip and is still thriving. But due to the starvation and other hardships in occupied Poland, Leah's grandfather has a weak heart and is rapidly getting sicker. Leah is saving her baby-sitting money to fly him to New York City for treatment, but he's refusing to go.

Meanwhile, Melody's grandfather and other flower shop owners in the area are throwing a soiree at the conservatory. Melody helps her grandfather set up, and he shows her some of the rare orchids in the collection. The next morning, five of those orchids have been stolen, and Melody's grandfather is taken aside by the police for questioning--no one else, just the black man. He does eventually come back to his flower booth, but Melody is upset. After all, her grandfather is still a suspect, and the flowers are each worth hundreds of dollars (easily pushing the crime to felony theft), and her grandfather's flower shop is the main source of income for Melody's extended family. Leah is upset as well. She finds out when she comes with her grandfather, scheduled to give a speech about orchids the next evening. Since the conservatory's most expensive orchids are currently missing, Leah's grandfather offers to bring his own rare one.

The evening of the speech, Leah seems miserable. Melody and Val are concerned that she's sick, and quickly grow more concerned when they see a man arguing with her and grabbing her violently. Shortly after they witness this, Leah falls into the stand holding her grandfather's orchid, and the curator rushes the plant out to repot it. Melody and Val follow, and see the man who was grabbing Leah trying to take the orchid!

Soon the truth comes out: knowing it would take too long to save enough baby-sitting money to cover a trip to New York City and the cost of the treatment, Leah stole the orchids for the man to sell. He was really after her grandfather's rare one, so Leah had been trying to keep its existence secret, claiming the plant had died. When he saw it at the soiree, things escalated. Leah's grandfather reassures her that although no specialist has been able to reverse the damage done decades before, he has had a long and happy life--something many Jews in Nazi-occupied territory could never have. Being a minor, Leah will likely have to serve some community service for her part in the thefts, and the man who orchestrated it all will face stiffer charges. Melody's grandfather, of course, is cleared of any suspicion.


Inside Melody's World

Most of the story takes place on Belle Isle, an island in the Detroit River. It's home to a zoo, an aquarium, a museum, a golf course, monuments, and the conservatory mentioned in the book. It's a popular vacation spot for Detroit residents. The conservatory has an impressive orchid collection, 600 of them donated by Anna Scripps Whitcomb, an heiress who brought them to the United States from Europe during World War II. She not only saved them from destruction during the war (many, many treasures were lost in addition to the terrible loss of human life), but from poachers. Even today, there are orchids that sell for thousands of dollars, and poachers who will try to steal them.


Misc

Dedicated to Henry, "the next reader in our family." Also acknowledged: Tom Mirenda, the Orchid Collection Specialists for Smithsonian Gardens, for his endless patience in answering so very many questions. And sincere thanks to Tim Culbertson, for helping me to understand the intricate and fascinating history of orchids."

Melody's grandfather mentions that a lot of important cultural artifacts were destroyed by bombs during World War II. One such specimen was a fossilized skeleton of Spinosaurus that was said to be bigger than a Tyrannosaurus. But with the bones and measurements destroyed, the claim can't be verified.

There's a subplot of Val being jealous of Melody and Leah's new friendship, in part because of how dangerous it would have been for Val to befriend a white girl back in Alabama.

4/10/17

The Runaway

Published in 2017; author Alison Hart; illustrators Julie Kolesova and Michael Dwornik

Plot

One evening after dinner, Maryellen notices that the family's dachshund, Scooter, is missing. And he's not the only dog; at least three more are missing in the neighborhood. Furthermore, Maryellen spots the ice cream man luring a dog into his truck! Or at least, she thinks she does--she's not sure enough to report the incident to the police or anything like that. She and her friends Karen King and Karen Stohlman start an investigation. They do discover that the ice cream man has dog treats in his truck, but he says they're to entice the dogs in the neighborhood to not follow him when he drives off. But he does mention a strange care he's seen driving around with "Bark Haven" written on the side.

Maryellen makes plans to go to Bark Haven, a pet shelter, with her friend Davy. He brings along his friend, Wayne, and the three ride to the shelter, but they are brusquely turned away by a woman at the front desk. A surreptitious detour to the dogs' kennels reveals no dachshunds or other breeds matching the descriptions of the missing ones. But then they see a car labeled "Barkhaven" (not Bark Haven) along the road--and the driver trying to get a dog into it! They thwart the pet-napping and get the car's license plate, and go back to the pet shelter. Now there's a dalmatian. One of the missing dogs is a dalmatian. Maryellen takes her information to the police, but an officer warns her that even if a pet-napper is caught, there aren't many laws that would do much--pets simply aren't a priority in the 1950s.

Then Maryellen hears about dogs being used as test subjects in space flights. She has a crazy thought--could Scooter be at Cape Canaveral, training to be shot into space? Since she needs a science topic for a school project anyway, she gets her dad to take her to visit Cape Canaveral (she gets permission from a tour from the Air Force). The tour is amazing and informative, but doesn't yield any dogs: the US is focused on unmanned space flight, and no living creatures are being used as test subjects. However, the lieutenant giving the tour mentions that some animals are used to test makeup, medicine, or other such products.

When Maryellen gets home, her mother tells her that the police station called--the Barkhaven car is a stolen vehicle. Her friends Karen, Karen, and Angela arrive soon after, having just formed a detective service for missing animals. Davy and Wayne join, and soon they find themselves at Daytona Pharmaceuticals, where Scooter's collar is in the trash. Another visit to Bark Haven reveals that the owner, Miss Hopkins, suspects someone is using the Bark Haven name to steal animals and sell them for testing. She's fairly certain another clandestine delivery of animals is happening that evening. They all go to the police, who set up a sting. The police tell Maryellen and her friends to stay away, but they can't help themselves. Even Miss Hopkins and Maryellen's mother come along. Sure enough, they find the missing dogs, Scooter included.

A few days later, Maryellen's mother breaks the news that they won a jingle-writing contest, the prize being a year's supply of dog food! Maryellen immediately suggests they donate the food to Bark Haven.


Inside Maryellen's World

Entering jingle-writing contests was a big thing in the 1950s. One woman , Evelyn Ryan, won so many prizes that she was able to support her family of ten and keep them out of poverty (her story was made into the book and movie The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio). Also prevalent at the time was animal testing, including stealing animals for that purpose. While many products are still tested on animals today, laws are in place that require the animals be specifically bred for testing and be treated as humanely as possible. Many industries are shying away from testing--while some medicines need trials on living things, makeup is less likely to need animal testing.


Misc

Special thanks are given to Judy Woodburn.

Maryellen and her mother have been entering seveal jingle-writing contests. Other prizes they win include a year's supply of cereal from one, and five bike bells from another.

About ten pages in, I was reminded of Dawn and the Disappearing Dogs.

There are some grammatical errors that I think an editor should have caught, like missing commas and tense problems.

The first dog in space, Laika, died there. The Soviets didn't have the technology to bring her back at that point. Later animals returned safely, in both the Soviet and US space programs: dogs, primates, and insects.