The Sky's the Limit: My Journey with Maryellen

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

"My Journey" books

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


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

First choice: agree with Maryellen or agree with Beverly

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

Next choice: go home or stay at Maryellen's

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

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

Next choice: go home or stay in 1955

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Maryellen's Time

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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