Girl of the Year 2018: Luciana

Published: 2018. Author: Erin Teagan. Illustrator: Suzanne LaGasa


Eleven-year-old Luciana "Luci" Vega is a girl with a mission: she wants to be the first girl on Mars ("girl" specifically, not woman or person). She's just won a scholarship to Space Camp, and couldn't be more excited. She's intimidated at first, because several of her camp mates know each other well--they're members of the same extended family. They also did the preparatory reading and some have been to camp before, so they have a better idea of what to expect than Luci does.

But Luci catches on quickly, determined to get the most out of her experience. She settles in nicely, aside from rubbing one girl, Ella, the wrong way. Ella gets called out by her cousins for being too much of a stickler. However, when Luci is made leader of a team and seriously screws up (she suspects another team of sabotage and ends up disqualifying her team), she has to admit Ella may have had a point about thinking things through and not being impulsive. Luci rallies her team, which ends up still creating a submission that would have done well in the competition, and helping the team that she suspected of sabotage. Her team gets recognition for creativity and for accepting responsibility and making amends.

In Luci's defense, she has reason to be distracted. Her parents are working to adopt a toddler from their home country of Chile, Isadora. While Luci's at Space Camp, Izzy goes missing from the orphanage. Luci's grandmother in Chile is able to locate her--in a hospital being evaluated for a heart defect. Things get pretty tense with Luci and her parents not knowing the severity of the defect or the toddler's prognosis. But as Space Camp draws to a close, they learn that Izzy's heart defect is serious, but not so much that they can't continue with the adoption. Luci is a big sister!


Dedicated to Jaeda.

Luci and her family live in Virginia. Space Camp is in Houston, TX.

Luci and her best friend Raelyn were playing with hair dye and put a purple streak in Luci's hair. She says that her parents don't mind her creativity, but prefer "less permanent" changes. Granted, I don't do much with hair dye, but how permanent is purple in  dark brown or black hair? It would be pretty simply to get it dark again, right? The hair itself might be damaged from the bleaching required for the purple to show up, but a streak of purple doesn't seem that big of a deal to me. Then again, her parents don't care that much so I'm probably overthinking this.

Speaking of Raelyn, she's not really present in any of Luci's books, since they all take place away from her home.

Luci gets to sample some dehydrated astronaut food. I remember getting it at the Seattle Science Center. The ice cream was good; the scrambled eggs were awful.

There are a lot of good charities for children with heart conditions. One I especially like is Little Hats Big Hearts, which distributes hats to newborns to help people learn about the signs and impacts of congenital heart defects.


Chances and Changes: My Journey with Molly

Published in 2016; 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, most of the the main characters (a modern-day pre-teen) aren'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 we find out the main character's name is Margaret in the first sentence.


Margaret is excited about the foal her best friend's horse is about to have, and wants to help Bea pick the perfect name. Bea gently points out how difficult it is for Margaret to ever make up her mind, which she has to admit is true. And it's not long before she's faced with another choice: she's offered a scholarship to an eight-week summer music camp. It's an incredible opportunity, but it would mean missing out on time helping raise the foal with Bea (who is homeschooled, unlike Margaret who goes to public school; they don't see each other often). The foal is born the next day. Bea thinks Margaret should stay home, but Margaret's grandmother thinks she should go to camp. Margaret walks into the woods to think. By an abandoned staircase, she spies a pin, a gold bar with three red stones and one white one. She picks it up and rubs some dirt off the white stone, and is suddenly somewhere else.

Margaret is at a summer camp. She finds out because almost immediately upon her arrival in the past, a girl named Molly introduces herself. When Molly dashes off to find her friend Linda (she assumes Margaret is a new camper, and wants to help her feel welcomed), Margaret rubs the white stone again and is back in the present. Realizing how it works, she takes advantage of this opportunity to try something new and returns to the camp. There she meets Linda, and in the course of conversation realizes she's in the past (President Truman, World War II ending, President Roosevelt having died recently). Molly and Linda explain there's an empty bed in their tent which Margaret is welcome to. They assume her trunk is delayed, and plan to raid the lost and found for a swimsuit, pajamas, and other things Margaret will need. On the way to the tent, Molly's dad drives up with something she left in the car. Margaret can tell there's something amiss about the relationship between Molly and her dad, but she's not sure what. Molly and Linda tell Margaret about camp, and how soon they can either go on a two-night hike or stay at the main camp to enjoy activities.

First choice: hike or stay

The girls prepare for the hike, and get to know each other a little bit as they trek through the woods. Molly brings up how her dad has suggested a summer fishing trip, carrying on a tradition he had with his dad. Molly is undecided, in part because of her fear of drowning and also because it would interfere with being in the school band. Margaret sympathizes; she has a similar tough decision between disappointing her grandmother (staying with the foal) or Bea (music camp). Linda brings up last summer's camp and how even though she and Molly were on opposing sides for the Color War and Molly dumped worms on her, she got past it. She's sure that whatever Molly and Margaret decided, the people who love them will understand and not be mad. Margaret decides Linda must be right. Now she has to decide whether return home or stay the night in the woods.

Second choice: home or woods

Margaret makes an excuse to head back to camp and home, thanking Molly and Linda for the friendship they've shown her. She returns to the present, ready to tell Bea that she's going to music camp. She knows Bea will understand, maybe not right away, but in time.

And since that was super short, here's what can happen if Margaret stays to camp overnight in the woods:

The next morning, everyone gets ready to continue the hike. Just before they set out, Margaret drops her pin! She frantically searches while Molly and Linda wait with her. She finds it, but it's taken just long enough that they're not sure whether everyone else took the uphill trail or the downhill trail (why they couldn't yell ahead for them to wait I don't know). Molly thinks they should go up; Linda down. And they have to decide fast: it's just started to pour.

Next choice: up or down

As the girls trudge uphill, Molly talks about how while she's thrilled her father is home safe, it's difficult to adjust to his being home after he was gone for three years. As they talk, Margaret thinks of a way for Molly to still be in the band. Her father suggested the fishing trip so they could spend time together; what if he helps with the band? That way Molly can do what she has her heart set on and she gets time with her dad. Suddenly, they hear something moving through the woods.

Next choice: find out what the noise is, or run

It's a cow! Margaret knows quite a bit about cows; Bea lives on a farm. She deduces that the cow is lost, and they should help guide it home. They get it to a nearby farm, and the farmer is grateful. He gives them directions back to camp, calls to let the people in charge know the girls are safe, and gives them some ice cream made from the cow's milk as thanks. Soon after, Margaret returns to the present, and goes to tell Bea that she's staying for the summer to help raise the foal.


Dedicated to Beverly Dawson and Barbara Peck Rothrock, with gratitude for [their] help.

This book seems to be set the summer after Molly Saves the Day, but Molly had already overcome her fear of drowning then. And it's definitely set after Molly Marches On; that was the first time at summer camp (possibly the same camp as Molly Saves the Day). In that one, they're not too young for the hike, Molly and Susan just get lost because Molly thinks she knows more than she does. And where is Susan, anyway? She's not even mentioned.

Margaret lives with her grandmother at a ranger station. Her parents died when she was young. The cause isn't mentioned, and it seems she was old enough that she remembers them at least a little.

The foal is named Moon Shadow.

Linda mentions V-E Day, Victory in Europe Day, the anniversary of which is tomorrow (May 8).

The first twenty-three pages are without choices, just setting up the story. But with every scene change, it's "Turn to page 4/8/13/etc." which are all just the next pages. I don't get why the editors didn't just save those directions for when the readers makes a decision and has to pick page 43 or 58, for example.

There are so many fish-related puns.

Not only did Europe have to ration more than the US during WWII, the rationing lasted for several years after while the land recovered from the fighting.

Two of the possible endings are online. If I were to buy a copy of this book (I got it from the library; I pretty much only buy the main story books) I'd print out that part in case the website is unavailable in the future or I wanted to read it somewhere without internet access.

Other possible endings: staying at camp and helping Molly practice for the swimming competition can help Molly overcome her fears about drowning and inadvertently spark some jealousy in Linda which can be resolved or run away from using time travel; staying helps Margaret get over her own jealous feelings toward her grandmother's new hired hand; admitting homesickness to Molly and Linda prompts them to show her the horses on the neighboring (no pun intended) farm which reminds her more about the decision she needs to make in the present, she either chooses raising the foal and her grandmother understands not wanting to miss out and her not being ready to be away for so long, or she chooses music camp and Bea understands and promises to send daily updates on Moon Shadow; finding a raspberry bush at camp leads to Margaret learning about rationing; running from what turns out to be a cow results in the girls being on a hilltop that Margaret recognizes, and from there she leads them to the pond the other hikers were heading to; going downhill leads to them finding an injured dog; treating its wounds and getting it unstuck leads to them waiting in one spot to be found, after which Margaret decides to stay home to raise the foal; staying with dog means they discover it belongs to a young German POW; alerting the POW guards to him teaches Margaret about responsibility and forgiveness and she decides to go to music camp, which Bea understands; letting the POW sneak back in unnoticed (in the other choice he just gets extra KP and restrictions, nothing awful) also teaches her about forgiveness and getting to know people before judging them which inspires her to be kinder to the hired hand.


The Legend of the Shark Goddess

Published in 2018; author Erin Falligant; illustrators David Roth and Julie Kolesova


There are so many rules to follow in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attacks. It's hard, but Nanea does her best. She wants the war to be over as soon as possible, so that her Army brother can be safe and life can go back to normal. So it's especially frustrating when a boy named Mano starts hanging around her grandparents' shop bragging about flaunting the rules. Nanea thinks he's stealing things to sell on the black market. But her grandparents keep finding jobs for him! How can the help someone so shady?

The only person who seems to be on Nanea's side about Mano is her friend Lily. Everyone else is bending over backward to accommodate Mano, but Lily shares Nanea's suspicions. When trying to find out more about him after her grandfather's special watch and Lily's father's knife goes missing, the girls discover that Lily's own brother Gene may be hiding something.

Shortly after, Nanea's dog Mele runs off and Mano finds him. Nanea wonders if she might have misjudged him. She doubts it, but thinking back on when little things have gone missing, she also remembers that the soldier staying with her grandparents, nicknamed Jinx, was around too. And her own sister seems to be hiding something. Mary Lou, Gene, Jinx, Mano...are any of them behind the missing watch and knife (and other items)? The plot thickens when she sees Mano and Jinx trade a paper bag for the watch!

Nanea confronts Jinx. He explains that Mano knows someone who could fix the broken watch band, and the watch is being returned. He also mentions taking Gene to some top-secret job at Pearl Harbor. Nanea is relieved someone is being honest, but she has even more questions now, like whether Gene's job is even legal. One is resolved when she finds out that her sister has been writing to a boy she knows who enlisted--her secrecy is due to her long-distance relationship.

 And soon other secrets come out. Gene can't tell anyone the specifics of his job, but it's honest work, and he's being well-compensated. Mano isn't stealing; he's been trading with Nanea's grandparents for food. He's the oldest of several boys living together in a bomb shelter, boys whose parents are dead or being held at internment camps. He catches fresh fish for the market, and his other boasts are exaggerations. Even Lily's father finds his knife: Lily's toddler brother hid it. Nanea learns to have more trust and less suspicion.

Inside Nanea's World

The Red Hill facility still exists today. During World War II, it was critical and top-secret. While still important today, it's staffed by only four people. Hawaii residents know about it, but access is restricted  .


Dedicated to "my brother, born on Pearl Harbor Day, and my grandfather, who bravely fought in the war."

The titular Legend of the Shark Goddess is a reference to a story Nanea's grandmother tells her, which she thinks of when dealing with Mano. It's really not that big a part of the plot, but I guess the title sounded cool?

It's little surprise that Nanea's grandfather thought he heard zebra doves. They're all over Oahu!

Um...oops. Nanea is thinking about banana splits, and that she feels like "a banana, split in two." She's half Hawaiian. "Banana" is sometimes used as a derogatory term for an Asian or Pacific Islander who "acts white" (yellow outside, white inside). Aside from being a clunky metaphor, it's kinda awkward to have her describe herself as a banana.

Why wouldn't Nanea's grandparents ever mention, even in passing, about the fish? "Oh, Mano's here with his catch." "Mano is such a good fisherman; maybe he'd be good at some odd jobs around the neighborhood." Especially when Nanea expresses her concern to her grandparents--they didn't need to be so cagey about it.


Menace at Mammoth Cave

Published in 2018; author Mary Casanova; illustrators David Roth and Julie Kolesova


Kit and her Aunt Millie are visiting Kit's older brother Charlie where he works at Mammoth Springs (he's in the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the programs started to ease the effects of the Depression). Part of Charlie's job includes tearing down houses sold to the government, because they're now part of the Mammoth Caves park property thanks to eminent domain. Some of the former owners were less than pleased. Kit sees a burned building, which Charlie says was the work of an arsonist. Charlie also finds a venomous copperhead snake hidden in his footlocker, clearly on purpose. It's evident someone is angry with the CCC.

One family impacted by Charlie's work is that of Aunt Millie's friend, Pearl Thatcher. She and her family, which includes her frail ninety-three-year-old mother-in-law, have three weeks to leave the farm they've been living on for decades, which is so well-run and and self-sufficient that's it's been Depression-proof. Kit learns more about the soon-to-be-former residents of the land through Benny, who's been giving tours of the caves his whole life but will soon be forced to move. It's especially hard for his family, because they've been renting their land rather than owning so they won't get any money when the leave, and because Benny's great-great-grandfather, a slave, was integral in discovering the cave system. During a (segregated) church service, one member delivers an impassioned speech about resisting the government's mandate to move. It seems there are a lot of angry people who might take their frustrations out on the CCC workers.

Kit gets a chance to visit Charlie one day, and just as she's talking with him about her worries that he might be in danger, a work truck goes up in flames. A few nights later, there's a fire in the woods near the Thatchers' house, threatening to burn it or their neighbors' houses down. Kit splits her time between working the fireman brigade effort and watching over the elderly Mrs. Thatcher (her granddaughter, Dorothy Ann, watches her at other times). While with Mrs. Thatcher, Kit discovers a sack of matches and turpentine-soaked rags hidden behind some curtains--the arsonist's tools. There's no one to inform though; everyone's away fighting the fire. Kit eventually falls asleep. She rouses in the morning, still alone, and finds Mrs. Thatcher has passed away in the night.

A park ranger arrives just as the family finds out about their matriarch's passing, just in time to hear Dorothy Ann confess to start last night's fire: Mrs. Thatcher had made her promise to let her be able to die in the home where she was born. Dorothy started only the one fire to try to delay her family's eviction, not realizing how it would spread and how dangerous it could be. The ranger informs the family that their church (on park grounds) will be staying, so the grandmother can be buried in its cemetery...and that as penance, Dorothy Ann is to knit warm wool socks for every worker. As another person confessed to the first fire, he knows she wasn't responsible. Relieved to not have a prison sentence, she agrees. Her parents also let her know that they've found a farm a few miles away to move to.

As Kit gets ready to leave, she realizes how the snake got into Charlie's footlocker: he left his wet boots outside to dry in the sun, the snake crawled in, and he brought his boots inside. In turn, Charlie tells Kit the incident with the truck was a mechanical failure, not sabotage. With the mystery solved, Kit and Aunt Millie board the train back to Cincinnati--with a kitten each, a gift from their new friends in Kentucky.

Inside Kit's World

The Civilian Conservation Corps was hugely important to the development of our national parks system, building trails and lodges, maintaining the environment, and making sure the lands would be preserved for future generations to enjoy.


Dedicated to Winnie and Vivian, "and all who pursue life with courage and curiosity."

We watched a neighbors' house while they went on a vacation that include a trip to Mammoth Caves. They gave me a piece of iron pyrite (fools' gold) from there.

I like how Kit isn't quite used to the more formal way people in the South speak, reminding herself to say "sir" and "ma'am" and feeling more comfortable asking people to call her by her first name rather than using honorifics. It's an accurate representation of how two people with different versions of "polite" interact.

Venomous animals inject their toxins purposely, typically by biting. Poison is toxin that has to be touched or ingested (e.g.; touching a poison dart frog or eating hemlock). While an animal can be both, like the slow loris which rubs toxins secreted from its elbows on its fur (poisonous) and licks the toxins to deliver a deadly bite (venomous), venomous and poisonous are not synonymous.

Calico cats are almost always female.

Kit keeps excusing Charlie's working for the CCC to the residents as "doing as he's told" or "doing his job." In about ten years, "following orders" isn't going to be a good excuse...

Dorothy Ann is 16 and her grandmother is 93. That's a big age gap, 77 years. Her brother is a little older. My grandmothers were 51 and 65 years older than I, and I wasn't the first grandchild on either side.

While it's true that elderly people can get confusion from dementia, senility, and other age-related memory problems, a sudden onset can also be caused by a urinary tract infection.

There really is a church with a cemetery in Mammoth Caves National Park.

The CCC didn't just work on national parks--there's a bench at St. Edward State Park (in Kirkland, WA) engraved with the CCC's logo.