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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Message in a Bottle

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


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.


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.