Luciana, Girl of the Year 2018

My Recommendations: Luciana cover

Age Appropriateness: All, though ages 8 and older may relate better 

Parent Involvement: Largely unnecessary

Luciana Vega is Girl of the Year 2018

I have known that Luciana was coming and that she was going to be a Space and Science related girl for almost SIX months, and I couldn’t WAIT to see what they did with her. She absolutely does not disappoint!


I think that my favorite part of Luciana’s story is that she absolutely does not easily win at everything. She’s been desperately trying to earn the Essay contest for a scholarship to go to Space Camp for Three Years, and failed twice. This year, however, she won the scholarship and book one is about her week at camp. Her parents are largely absent, although they do appear to drop her off, pick her up and have two phone calls. Luciana’s parents are trying to adopt a baby girl named Isadora from Chile, where they both grew up and most of their extended family still lives.

Luciana shares a bunk room with four other girls, most of them hit it off well immediately, but one girl, Ella, is very hard for Luciana to get along with. Ella is a stickler for rules, and she can quote them verbatim, while Luciana barely even read her welcome packet for camp. At home, Luciana is advanced and comfortable with her vast knowledge of space related information, but she quickly begins to feel self-conscious and like she might not be able to compete when she realizes that she “Didn’t expect all the other kids at camp to be Geniuses.”

She wins her first challenge, a simulated International Space Station repair challenge, and wins the team captain position for a robotics challenge. Her teammates are also her roommates. Luciana is very much less experienced and knowledgeable about robotics than she is about Space, and she knows even less about how the robot challenge is handled at Space Camp, something Ella is more than happy to frequently point out to her.

Because of her lack of experience with Robotics and not understanding the program, she makes a series of mistakes that ultimately lead to substantial consequences for her team. The girls on her team (and herself) wind up unintentionally damaging their rival team’s robot in a catastrophic way. When Luciana’s team is offered a massive “Sponsorship” that would mean they could use any parts they wanted for their own robot, she is faced with the tough decision to keep the currency, or use it to make up for their costly mistake and give their rival team their advantage back. She follows her heart and winds up winning the respect and friendship of both robotics teams and many of the Space Camp staff members for her handling of her serious mistakes.  

Unlike my complaints about Z On Location (click here for that post) and Z’s frequent mistakes and consequences, Luciana’s challenges are both legitimate mistakes and dealt with in constructive ways that Luciana and young readers can actually learn from and apply to their life instead of punitive drama to propel a story.

I will say that after their initial space-related exercise, and one other near the end of the book, the book focused almost entirely on robotics. Yes, they were supposed to be building Mars Rovers, but for being at Space Camp, Luciana’s incredible zeal for all things Space, and the fact that the doll is going to have a literal Space Suit and Space Station Capsule, I was surprised there wasn’t a bit more… Well, Space, at least in the first book.  

The author, Erin Teagan, worked in Biochemistry for 10 years, and brings a refreshingly pro-STEM girl to the American Girl collection. One of the things I loved the most about this book, was that not even once was anything about girls being interested in STEM ever  mentioned, even in passing. It was treated as utterly and completely normal and something no one would ever bat an eye at. Even when it’s framed positively, like “It’s so great to see so many girls interested in space” that treats it like it is an unusual thing for girls to like, which this book absolutely excelled at NOT doing. Even rival team captain James, who was extremely full of himself and his own ideas, and frequently butted heads with Ella — never, ever said anything about her being a girl, he disagreed with the girls on their own merit and opinions, not because of their gender. I feel like this had to be an intentional choice, and I applaud it to no end.


The other thing I want to draw attention to is the Advisory Committee. I sometimes feel that while AG absolutely excels at having impeccably researched and thought out historical characters, I don’t always feel the same level of authenticity and work going into the characters of today. Luciana feels researched to the moon and back again – literally. When I flipped to the Author’s Note page, I was blown away to find that not only had Erin Teagan been to the actual  Space Camp and experienced all the things Luciana would experience there in preparation of writing this book, but the advisory board was comprised of current and former Astronauts, NASA and NASA Cheif Scientists, the actual Space Camp being written about, and the Johnson Space Center… I’d say that’s an amazing team behind this story!


Luciana is done right. She is well thought-out and an interesting, engaging read. She as a character is bright, ambitious, caring and has integrity. She takes responsibility for her mistakes and does what she can to make it right. She frequently talks herself up internally to have compassion and empathy for other kids, even the ones she feels are mean to her, and it ultimately pays off in friendships.

Luciana, book one is a spectacular American Girl book, and I cannot wait to see what comes next in her series.

Order your copy of Luciana today!

Luciana cover

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Gabriela – Time for Change – Book 3

My Recommendations:FNN70_Time_for_Change_Gabriela_Book_3_1

Age: All

Parent Involvement: Unnecessary


Gabriela McBride is the Girl of the Year 2017


Time for Change – Gabriela Book 3


Where the first two books of the Gabriela McBride series felt disjointed and scattered, book 3  Time for Change addresses and explains some of the previous disconnect.

In Book One, Gabriela is all about Dance, Ballet, Tap, Hip Hop. She expresses herself through Dance and she feels the most at home in the dance studio. Some of her best and oldest friends are in her dance classes. She is new to poetry, but her passion is in Dance.

In Book Two, she almost never even mentions dance at all, not even her friends she knows from dance, instead she is learning to overcome, or perhaps better stated, to work with her stutter and claim her own voice. Part of how she is embracing that process is by writing and reciting poetry in a poetry group, the side story is her run for 6th grade student government and tapping into the skills she has learned in poetry to steady and trust her voice.

While both are excellent stand alone books with great messages, they do almost seem like an entirely different story, not truly a sequel.

For book 3, New-to-American Girl Young Adult novel author, Varian Johnson picked up the series from Teresa E Harris, and while I have to admit, I had some reservations about a male author stepping into the already divided series, He absolutely made Gabriela’s Finale shine.

Let’s face it, American Girl characters, whether from the Historical series, the Contemporary Characters and perhaps even more obviously the Girls of the Year, are very much defined by their skill, passion or hobby. The very first paragraphs of her story share what she wants and why, and almost every challenge she faces during her books are guided by or lead her further on the path to becoming that, typically, the last paragraphs of her series reinforce that she is still on the same path, though further along the journey.  Very seldom, if ever, are we introduced to an American Girl Character who doesn’t just add a new hobby, but legitimately looses interest into what she was introduced as being passionate about.

According to book 3, this is what happened to Gabriela. She wants to keep loving dance, she wants to find the same sense of peace it brought her for most of her life, but, she just doesn’t feel it anymore. It has become a chore to begrudgingly check off her to-do list instead of something that brings her joy. She starts thinking about quitting ballet altogether. Then, her ballet teacher says the class is ready to graduate to Pointe shoes, something that Gabriela has dreamed of for as long as she can remember, but she isn’t excited. She might even feel a little guilty.

The day the class is going to get fit for their Pointe shoes arrives, but Gabriela is far more interested in continuing to work on her poems than in trying on shoe after shoe. Gabriela overhears her mother tell her ballet teacher “I’ve been dreaming of and imagining this day since the day I found out we were having a daughter.” Later, the cashier says to Gabby “Just imagine, This’ll be you someday, telling your own kid about the day your biggest dream came true.” Gabriela thinks about the statement on the way home,  ‘When I imagined telling someone about the day my biggest dream came true… I couldn’t picture the day my biggest dream came true, because that day hadn’t happened yet, the poetry competition was still three weeks away.

After shopping for Pointe shoes, she feels like she has to stay in Ballet because it means so much to her mom, and even though she is struggling with disinterest and too many projects activities to keep up with, she can’t imagine disappointing her mom.

After she fails to do her homework or exercises for Ballet several weeks in a row and her teacher tells her that if she can’t keep up, she’ll need to not be in Pointe shoes for her own safety, Gabriela finally tells her mother she would rather not continue. She’s been having trouble with her friends because she doesn’t have time for them, and since she isn’t getting the same joy from Ballet, she thinks it’s time for her to leave it behind. Her mom surprises her by being supportive and not disappointed. Her mom explains that people and interests change and she would never want to hold her back from doing what she loves just because her mom loves something else.

After telling her Ballet teacher she is leaving the class, Gabriela asks for some time alone in the studio to “Say good-bye to her first dream”.  The book does show a bit of a grief process of her letting go of Ballet, although on a whole she is relieved to have more time to focus on her friends and her new passions, there are still pieces of her that are sad at the loss.

All-In-All I thought Gabriela Book 3, Time for Change was one of the better AG books of 2017, She remains sweet and well-meaning, while still standing up for what is right for herself and in the world. I was impressed at the addressing of changing interest as a person grows and changes, which was the real driver of this book.

Gabriela is a fantastic role-model both in relationships and communication. Her stutter and self-consiousness around it still figures into the story, but in a much more secondary fashion, she has grown more comfortable and confident in herself over the course of the last two books.

I give the series in general two thumbs up, and especially the 3rd book!


Discussion Ideas: 

Have you ever felt like you’ve grown out of something that used to make you happy? How did that make you feel?

Do you ever feel overwhelmed balancing friends, family, school and activities? What are some things that might help you feel better about that?

Click here to order your copy of Gabriela Time for Change


Tenney Grant Book 4 – A Song For The Season

My Recommendations:song for the season

Age: 8+

Parent Involvement: Talk about being nice to people
You guys! I’m so sorry for my big delay in reviews! I’ve had some stuff going on, and, if I’m being honest, I knew Tenney 4 was coming and may or may not have gone into Ph.D. in Procrastination mode 😛


I have to do a little bit of a disclaimer here. Tenney Grant is why this blog exists. I was so excited when it was announced that AG was releasing a boy doll, and even though I hadn’t personally been closely following American Girl for a several years, I decided I wanted to read the books. When I did, I was horrified. Tenney is not my generation’s American Girls. For her first three books, she is intolerably bratty. Brattiness isn’t a horrible thing, almost all AG characters (and certainly humans in general) have their moments of brat behavior, those moments are – say it with me – Learning Opportunities. What makes Tenney horrendous is that NOT A SINGLE PERSON IN THE BOOKS REALLY CALLS HER ON HER ATTITUDE. In fact, her parents are more likely to scold the dang dog than they are to EVER say No to or correct Tenney.  Ugh. This child makes my blood boil.

Anyway, when number 3, Tenney Shares the Stage rolled around, it turned out to be arguably the worst American Girl, and children’s book I’ve ever read (ok, so Z On Location really gave it a run for it’s money, but Tenney 3 still wins). I decided that with my lifetime of positive experiences with AG, it may be the only brand on the planet that I would normally not have any hesitation about just letting kids read any book in the line. Tenney showed me that while over 90% of AG books are great and educational, there are apparently some that are really problematic. And I wanted to give parents fair and honest reviews they are able to read more quickly than the entire book. From that point, the idea evolved and turned into this blog.

All that being said, I have not reviewed Tenney 1-3 yet. Mostly because I’m dreading it and would rather get an unmedicated root canal than crack them open again, and also because I really don’t want to come off as an AG hater, because I’m not. I just don’t know what in the world they were thinking publishing Tenney in the state she was.

My review of those three books can be summed up with this: Just don’t. If your kid has not read them yet, just don’t. Pretend she doesn’t exist because there is almost zero redeeming quality until book 4, and then it is just because it’s the best book in the Tenney saga, not because it is A GOOD BOOK.  

So, Tenney, thank you for being such a son-of-a-bacon-bit that the trust in the American Girl brand suffered. Way to be you, girl.

It does require a short synopsis of the events of the previous books to truly review the 4th.

From his introduction, Tenney and Logan have had an extremely contentious relationship. And it has seemed like almost all of that contention has been on Tenney’s part. She’s bratty in every area of her life, but something about Logan brings it out like nothing else. In the first book, Tenney tries out for a record label at the Bluebird Cafe. She doesn’t make the cut. The owner of the label feels that she is just too inexperienced and immature to be signed yet. She essentially throws a hissy fit, and because of that fit, the record label owner gives in to her, agreeing to not sign her, but to be her “manager” while she grows into her full musical ability, on the condition that she work with 14-year-old Logan, who he has been mentoring for a while. Tenney (12) is spitting tacks she’s so angry that she has to be part of a Duo, because she thinks she’s good enough to just be an acoustic act with her guitar. Whatever, girl. So that’s her beef with Logan. It is unrelenting for the first 3 books. And she can be downright nasty to him, and by nasty, I really mean verbally abusive. Then, if he snaps back at her she squeals like a little Chihuahua all the way home to mommy and daddy to explain how horrible Logan is, to which they say “Oh honey, we’re so sorry. Just remember that Zane (Record label owner) wants you guys to work together to prove you are mature enough to sign with him, maybe he’s testing your maturity by making you work with with Logan.”




Basically, Tenney is the emotional twin of Little House on the Prairie’s Nellie Oleson. Except she’s supposed to be the hero, not the villain. It’s not a comfortable experience.


Book 3, Tenney Shares the Stage is when the whole scenario changes from  her being an annoying Nellie Oleson character to something more horrific. Tenney still has a major chip on her shoulder with Logan, who is suddenly acting even stranger than ever. Any adult reading it can call that something horrible is happening at home for Logan by page 2 of the book. All of a sudden, he starts showing up to rehearsals and falling asleep. He is late or sometimes forgets his appointments. His mom (whom no one has ever met) keeps forgetting to pick him up every day. His bike is broken, but he still tries to ride it, turning away offers of help because it’s “no big deal, he can manage.” He’s HUNGRY. When Tenney’s dad offers for him to come over to their house for dinner, Logan CRIES. HE CRIES. He tries to hide it, but his eyes fill with tears, and he says “No, thank you, I should go home.” (this is in Chapter 1, by the way). Tenney’s dad insists (I was thinking Tenney’s Dad was actually getting a brain and figuring out there was something wrong with Logan, #WishfulThinking ) and Tenney does what Tenney does best – throws a fit. She says IN FRONT OF LOGAN “Ugh – Dad… Why does Logan HAVE to come over? He doesn’t want to come and He’s not my friend.” (I paraphrase because – remember? Root canals are preferable to opening this book again)  Anyway, Logan continues to spiral the drain, Tenney continues to hurl insults at him NON-STOP for the entire book, the adults blame Logan for his problems and “irresponsibility” and they also blame him for all Tenney’s problems, too.

About 2/3rd of the way through the book, Logan is arrested. Turns out, his dad is “gone” they make it sound like he might someday be coming back, but basically they haven’t seen the man in over 6 years because he’s been “Touring Asia with his band”. Right. His mom is working 2 jobs, day and night shift, and Logan is 100% responsible for everything at home, food, cleaning, laundry, etc. and caring for his 6-year-old brother Jude who has life-threatening asthma. One day, he is home alone with Jude when a bad asthma attack comes on, and Logan realizes he forgot to go get Jude’s rescue inhaler from the pharmacy on his way home in the last few days, so he takes off running on foot (broken bike) to the pharmacy to get it, when they get the inhaler, he realizes he forgot his wallet, and decides, for the sake of saving his brother’s life (who is hopefully still alive, alone at home) to grab the inhaler and run, and then bring his wallet back to pay for it. Which he does, and is arrested when he approaches the door with his wallet to pay. He offers to pay, but they want him arrested, so he is. (Yep. You read that correctly.)

The adults in the picture seem myopically focused on the fact that Logan technically shoplifted, and got arrested, not the fact that – hey, this kid needs help. So the parents and even Zane, even WITH all the applicable information, seem overly invested in reinforcing that Logan is a “Bad kid” (direct quote from Tenney’s dad), and that they can’t continue exposing poor, innocent Tenney to such a “delinquent” (Zane said). They go so far, that TENNEY feels the need to come to Logan’s defense. Remember, this means, their behavior is so egregious that Nellie Oleson is trying to convince the town they SHOULDN’T PICK ON LAURA. Tenney starts trying to set up scenarios to prove how awesome Logan is and that he was caught in a bad situation and is NOT a hardened criminal.

This personality transplant in Tenney would be almost heartwarming, were it not for the disgraceful behavior of every person over the age of 20 in the entire book. End of story: Zane reluctantly lets Logan back onto the contract with Tenney, but only if he stays on the straight and narrow, Tenney’s parents suggest Logan bring Jude with him to rehearsals and they’ll watch him. Tenney and Logan seem to freaking finally not be ripping each other apart (One directionally, at least) all the time. Yay. Kind of. More like Yay, I finally finished the book, and American Girls have always had 3 books or less, so I’m done with Tenney, the little…. Ahem. Darling.


And then they announced Tenney: A Song for the Season! Book 4!!!!  

Oh, the “excitement” was palpable in my house. There most definitely was screaming.


SO – Song for the Season was Nowhere NEAR as bad as the previous 3. In fact, if this book was book 1, I’d have a much different (more positive) opinion of Tenney.

Tenney and Logan start off clearly better than they were before. They seem to be (almost) friends. Tenney has a generally more sunny attitude and is much more palatable as a person. She has her moments, but no big deal, really. Nothing compared to the previous books.

It lasts until just under half-way through. They are playing a show, the sound system dies and they lose half their performance time while the tech people fix it. Then they aren’t very coordinated in what to play now that they are off the “Set list”. Little Miss Thang is humiliated and lashes out at Logan because he doesn’t agree with her assessment that it was the worst show ever, he urges her to just be happy they could play at all with the sound issues. She verbally takes his head off. He shuts down and is reluctant to talk to her for the rest of the book. Logan’s emotional withdrawal brings out all the worst things about Tenney amazingly rapidly. She really reminded me of a middle school girlfriend constantly pushing her boyfriend for more and more attention, and getting more and more pouty and moody when she doesn’t get it. (yes, this is still only a fraction of her miserable attitude from previous books.)

Basically, there’s a series of challenges that they face without grace, she blames him 150% for things that are somewhere on a spectrum from somewhat related to him to completely beyond his control. She even starts a new habit of snapping at him while they are on stage. Tenney, Bringing Classy Back since 2017.

After 70 pages of Oh-This-Again, she actually has a conversation with the boy and remembers that while not everything is about her, her craptastic attitude doesn’t help. She pulls herself together and starts being nice again. It took being stranded with a broken down van in a blizzard with no cell phone service and the adults walking to the next town and flagging down cars to help for her to figure these things out — but subtlety has never been Tenney’s strong suit.

She writes Logan a song, she does nice Christmas things for people because she realizes that she’s not the only person to be sad they’re stuck in a blizzard on Christmas Eve and she can help cheer people up (Yes, Tenney, that is called Empathy, and it will help you.) They finally get home from their mini tour and she’s grateful for being home, her family and almost sort of maybe happy that she knows Logan. Merry Christmas.

A Song of The Season is the most innocuous of the Tenney books, she is still a total “Mean Girl”, but she’s definitely toned down with her emotional maturing process. Either that, or the author was forced to read her own books by an editor, which I find substantially more likely.

Because of her fairly inexcusable bad attitude, I recommend staying away from Tenney books in general, so that includes this one, even though it’s a solid “fine”. Kids are so influenced by the behavior they are exposed to, especially characters they love or look-up to, and Tenney has an intoxicating story for kids, she’s a musician who plays for audiences, works with important people, etc. But about the last thing that Tenney NEEDED to do with this series is reinforce the Prima Donna stereotype in conjunction with the entertainment industry. But she not only does that, she takes it to her own heights.  It’s just not enjoyable, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t think kids need bad behavior modeled and rewarded.

 If your kids have already read the other books, this one is just fine – in fact even helpful because she Does tone down her rhetoric and anger, and despite a relapse, is nicer to Logan than usual.  


As of this writing, there are no futher Tenney books on the American Girl release schedule that goes to about March of 2018. I guess we’ll see if they leave it here. That would most definitely be my recommendation!



This post contains relectant, but unbiased affiliate links for you to buy your own copy of Tenney, A Song For The Season – if you so choose. 😉

song for the season

Z On Location


My Recommendations:

Age: 10+

Parent Involvement: Be aware of what your kids are thinking and feeling regarding the content of the book.

Z On Location – Book Two of Z Yang in the Contemporary Character Series

I was really surprised with how disappointed I was in this book, and how upset I was by the book.

It is abundantly clear that Z was created as a character with a job to do for American Girl. (Not the least of which is just being Korean-american because their character selection of any asian descent is abysmal) In the first book, The Real Z, her “job” honestly made more sense; Z creates Stop Motion Animation videos with her own American Girl dolls (talk about Meta.) so there’s an obvious message – Buy more dolls! Buy Mini-dolls FOR your dolls! Get creative in what you do with them! Perfect sense from American Girl’s perspective.

But in book 2, Z On Location, it seems like they are trying to get kids off technology, or to make them use it more responsibly? For as much as it’s talked about is really unclear. The message they were trying to deliver, whatever it may be, is so blatantly heavy handed in this book it actually feels like you, as the reader are being beaten over the head with it. It’s not artistic. It’s not even particularly good writing. It’s just There, beating you. Ad nauseum. For 102 of the 130 pages of the book, and in the remaining 28 pages there are numerous scattered references of reflection of the “lessons” taught in the book, but with a positive spin instead of literal punishment. And by Numerous, I mean I counted 10 Separate references on the last FOUR PAGES.

I already was a little unimpressed with Z personally, but in book 1, I felt it was superficial. Book one reads as a thinly veiled American Girl infomercial (Did you know Seattle is one of the cities that has an American Girl store? If you didn’t you’d learn they do in book one.) Z is from Seattle, I am a Seattle native, I’ve lived here for my entire life, with the exception of a few years, and it’s painfully – Painfully obvious Z’s author doesn’t live here, maybe has never even been here? And at least is deeply unaware of the actual culture of the area. The research that is normally truly top notch from American Girl is… somewhere far away from Z and “Z’s Seattle”. One of the most blatant examples of that is in the first chapter of book two, when Z and her family are on Mt Rainier looking down at Seattle at the base of the mountain. Unfortunately, in Real Seattle, Mt Rainier is well over 70 miles from downtown, and Seattle, cannot be seen from the mountain, unless you’re at the peak – which they weren’t. They speak of Tacoma as if it is some far off town they have to be on the road for quite a long time to get to (Z’s mom says after quite an extended period of time “We’ll be in Tacoma in just over an hour!”). From Queen Anne hill, where Z lives, to Tacoma is less than 40 minutes. These aren’t hard things to research. The whole characterization of the area is like a giant stereotype of how the east coast sees the west coast. Interestingly enough, the Author lives in Florida. I was not surprised to discover this.

Take cultural annoyance and put it on top of the Vacation Bible School Gone Wrong haranguing  moral of the story, and you can see where Z On Location became one of my least favorite AG books, ever. (Tenney Shares the Stage will, hopefully, always take that cake. This is not a category that needs more competition!)  


Z can’t do Anything right in this book. Let me explain it this way: There are 12 chapters in the book. And Eight of the chapters are Named for what she gets in trouble for in that chapter. She checks her phone whenever it dings and then gets sucked into her feeds, she gets lost in her own world and doesn’t hear what her parents are saying. She’s too busy thinking about how she can make whatever she’s doing look cooler to post or send it to her friends.  That is a really legitimate issue, one that a Lot of kids and families Really struggle with. I get that, I’ve parented a teenager in this decade. It’s a serious problem.

However, in my opinion, many of the issues Z Actually gets in trouble for are because her mom’s expectations of her are Way beyond Z’s capabilities. And that’s not fair. Z’s mom is a film professor and documentary filmmaker, and she gets a grant to finish her documentary and she asks Z to come along on a road trip to be her production assistant and do these filmings of interviews about people who work in high technology. The first shoot goes pretty good, Despite the fact that Z’s mom assigned her to work sound, something Z has no experience with and her mom has utterly neglected to give Z Any training whatsoever in how to do it, what and how to set it up, etc. She did bring along a binder of instruction manuals, but no direct information. But despite that, it goes ok. Interview two, her mom has her set up some more equipment and Mom is stressed because the interviewee is… high maintenance. So she yells at Z for not getting the extra cameras for wide angles, lights and sound equipment set up fast enough. As someone who literally used to work in video production, let me assure you that one 12 year old girl with no training would have no hope of getting that set up in a reasonable time – and accurately. She then has Z hold a boom mic during the interview (That’s the kind on the large sticks which are held over the person speaking.) Those things are heavy. Z thought she turned her phone off, but it vibrates.  The person being interviewed is not graceful about being interrupted. Which flips her mom out even more. Then, feeling self conscious and guilty for her interruption, Z accidently lets the mic drift into the top of the camera view. Which thoroughly seals the deal in regards to her mom and the interviewee. Z and her mom are thrown out of the office, all their equipment in tow to pack up in the lobby. Mom is Not at all happy, and doesn’t mince any words about letting Z know that. She remarks on how disappointed she is in Z, she thought she could be more professional. You may not have been on your phone, but you weren’t 100% present, which is just as bad. (well no kidding, Mom, you totally threw her to the wolves and treated an untrained 12 year old like she was one of your advanced film students.) For everyone involved, the moral of This chapter is that children don’t master their parent’s professions just by being in their presence, and apparently this is Z’s fault.

As a result of Z’s “incompetence”, her mom flies one of her students down to meet them to be an actual assistant, literally never figuring out that training her daughter to do the job she expects her to do might help this situation.  Z is deeply hurt by the addition of Nora, and immediately doesn’t like her. And from that point on almost every event they film Z screws up somehow that her mom just cannot deal with, and gives her lectures about being too into herself, into her technology and not being present for what she’s doing. (this topic may or may not have any real bearing on the mistakes she’s made, it mostly comes across as just “The thing” her mom sees as “Wrong with” Z, so she keeps harping on it.)

The Only real mistake Z makes in the entire book, is when they are at an experimental virtual reality company and the man says they aren’t allowed to take pictures with any of the prototypes — but she does. And then she sends them to her friends, and her friends post them online, and tag the business and Z, and the company calls and says they’re not welcome to return and demands all footage they took be destroyed. Yeah. That’s a totally big deal, and FINALLY something Z actually had enough information to know she was going against what was desired. And WHY did her mom, Nora or the guy not stop her taking pictures when she very blatantly was? Well. Because plot-line.

Her mom is furious. She takes her phone, takes her computer, takes away basically everything except her clothes and bans her from so much as being on the same block as any future filming for the movie. So for the next couple of days, Z helps them get ready to go and then stays in their RV alone, in June in California, for the hours that her Mom and Nora have gone off to film, walking several blocks away to make sure Z is far enough away from them.

I mean seriously, you guys. This is an American Girl book?

The last stop of their trip was to VidCon in Anaheim, (which seemed to have moved to San Francisco by the end of the book – but we’ve already discussed that this author isn’t particularly spectacular in the entire writing arena). Z’s mom says if Z hadn’t already made plans to meet friends from all over the world there, she would never have let Z go after everything she pulled, but she lets Z go anyway. This is the point where things miraculously turn from other people punitively punishing her to her telling Literally anyone who will listen how much she’s screwed up recently but she’s learned so much about detaching from technology and actually “living IRL”!!  (IRL = In Real Life)

But, just then, Vegan Film Student Nora gets food poisoning from her veggie burger!! And her mom needs Z to come rescue her shoot because she can’t do everything by herself. And so Z drops everything to save her mom and, gosh, it sure is a good thing that they left her alone in that RV for hours and hours, because she practiced setting up and taking down everything she could, for 5 hours a day, so she was really good at it and totally saved the day.

If I wasn’t writing this review I’d have thrown the book against a wall and given up with only 20 pages left to go.

Z then spends the remainder of the book retelling and retelling and retelling how it’s so important to not focus on what you can post from an experience but to actually have the experience and maybe post something if you remember it.

She then says to her mom, “Thanks mom. This has been an amazing trip! I’ve learned so much about making films And about being in the moment!”

“I’m glad to hear you say that.” Mom responds

“I think it’s always going to be hard, though.” Z says, “I’ve been thinking about it a lot and realized that, for me, sharing online is almost like part of the experience. If I don’t get to share it later, it’s almost like it didn’t completely happen.”

Mom says ok well, how about you make a wrap up vlog post about your day?

Which mostly left me feeling like What the heck were the last 126 pages of my life about, then? Since her mom had spent All of them harping on Z to not post on her vlog, get off her phone and not “get sucked in” to technology.

If your kid needs a swift and repeated kick to the proverbial head regarding technology use, perhaps this is an interesting teaching tool. I can’t imagine anyone finding it enjoyable entertainment.

I do still have hope for Z. Tenney is getting a 4th book next week, so it seems like the Contemporary Characters will be getting longer-than-normal series. Z is an interesting character with So Much Potential! But this book is just… Not that. I don’t know if they need an entirely new author, or just a harder editor, but something is going to have to change for Z’s series to continue. I appreciated how Z’s family handled technology in Book One (The Real Z), where Z needs to run all her videos and responses to comments by her parents before posting them – that’s a great precedence to set! Where did THAT family go? Because it wasn’t in this book.

Read Z On Location for yourself and let me know what you think!


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Gabriela – Book 1

My Recommendations:Gabriela 1

Age: All

Parent Involvement: Unnecessary


Gabriela McBride is the Girl of the Year 2017


* This review is a little different than my standard format because there is a lot of things outside the basic story which are worthy of discussing. 


Right off the Bat, I have to note that Gabriela is The First American Girl Character – Ever! – who has a “Disability”. While I would absolutely Love to see a girl with an obvious physical challenge, such as an amputee or who is confined to a wheelchair, or a girl who deals with mental challenges like depression or ADD, for displaying a girl who is relateably average to “most” girls AND has an obstacle that affects her relationship with the outside world, Gabriela is fantastic. Gabriela has a stutter, a quite serious one, actually. Her stutter is better or even not present when she is relaxed, but add any stress, nervousness, frustration or anger into the mix and she trips over her words so much that it often prompts others around her to jump in and interrupt her to speak for her or explain her situation to others. The interruptions make Gabriela mad, which in turn, often makes her stutter worse. It’s a vicious cycle. Gabriela’s books are about her learning to manage her stutter and find a new level of confidence in herself and her ability to communicate with everyone around her.

Because this is such a potentially delicate topic, I have to share that I personally am very sensitive to people who face challenges that are culturally referred to as “Disabilities”. When I was growing up my mom was in a wheelchair, my grandmother had debilitating asthma and was frequently hospitalized for life-threatening attacks and my best friend was deaf. So, when I say I’m aware of these things, I really am. I don’t personally believe in “Disabilities”. I much prefer Differently Abled, or just people. Disability is a way our culture refers to what is different from us about “them”, but there is no “Them,” the millions of people who deal with and overcome their “Disabilities” every day are normal, average people who have challenges that others don’t have. That being said, it is also something that deserves more attention than it gets. I’m glad to see American Girl approaching the topic, and I hope they plunge in further, educating kids about how other kids who have challenges that make them look like they are “different” or “weird” would be an amazing gift in society.

It is worthy of note that Gabriela is ALSO the first black character in the Girl of The Year series.  These topics will be important later, but don’t worry – I promise, no pop quiz! 😉



Gabriela McBride loves dance, art and poetry. Her mom runs the Liberty Arts community center in Philadelphia. While there, preparing for the Annual Rhythm and Views talent show, Gabriela and her friend Teagan plug in some electronic equipment to test a slide show, and the electrical system in the historic building fails. An Electrician says the entire system (and some other things) need to be replaced to bring it up to code, and subsequently the city says the building must be closed until the repairs can be carried out.

Gabriela and her family and friends have only a couple of months to raise $20,000 for the repairs, or they’ll lose Liberty Arts forever. In this process, Gabriela must learn to trust and be proud of her own voice, to save the things that are most important in her life.

At first Gabriela’s parents try to keep the kids out of the planning and dealing with fundraising efforts, telling them they “Don’t want them to worry about adult issues.” But Gabriela is struggling with guilt because she believes her actions testing the slideshow is what truly caused the problem, and she had been too afraid and upset to tell her parents “About her mistake”. When she finally does tell them about her concerns, they reassure her that she didn’t do anything wrong, the building and wiring are very old and needed to be replaced, anyway, it could have happened at any time, and they agree to let Gabriela and her friends join in the fundraising to help them feel involved with the solution.

They try many different fundraising ideas, but are still unable to get the required funds. Throughout these events, time after time Gabriela will start to explain the situation and why they are asking for donations to passersby, and best friend Teagan will interrupt her with “What Gabriela means to say is _____” immediately upon her starting to stutter. Gabriela grows increasingly frustrated with Teagan and other interruptions, but keeps it to herself and struggles with growing insecurity about her ability to talk to people. Eventually, Teagan starts just answering FOR Gabriela instead of even letting her speak, and Gabriela finally snaps at her and tells Teagan to let her speak for herself. (Teagan is offended and they don’t speak for a while).

With the deadline closing in, and more upset and insecure than ever, Gabriela has an idea to make a viral internet campaign by organizing a flash mob. Little does she know that her biggest challenge in the book will finding the courage and confidence to actually speak to a news crew filming the event to explain her heart-felt plea for donations to save her beloved community center.  


The Controversy:

There is some controversy surrounding Gabriela. As she is both the first black Girl of the Year – and to be honest, she is the first Girl of the Year who is a person of color who does NOT have at least one WHITE parent – AND the first AG character with any type of “Disability” , many people feel Gabriela was particularly slighted by American Girl. Gabriela, like all Girls of the Year was released on January 1st 2017. Normally, the Girl of the year (GOTY) receives most of the emphasis of both marketing and product development for the entire year, Her colors will be woven into marketing material and also influence store design and events during her year and for the last six years the GOTY has also been featured in an annual movie.

However, in 2017, American Girl launched their Contemporary Character Series — which honestly feels extremely similar to the GOTY premise, the only perceptible difference being that the Contemporary Characters will be available for longer than the calendar year of their release. The first installment in the Contemporary Character series was Tenney Grant, and of course Logan – the first Male AG doll, who were both released only a few weeks after Gabriela, on February 14 2017.

In retail stores, the footprint dedicated to Gabriela was remarkably smaller than previous GOTY’s received, and instead Tenney and Logan had (in most locations) a much larger space with more displays. Many felt that Tenney and Logan had a more thought-out and higher quality product line, and in fact there was a rumor that Tenney was intended to be GOTY 2017, before they decided to create the Contemporary series, thus perhaps rushing a future project to completion in time for the January release. I’m not sure I agree with that rumor, because I do feel that the books are very well done and don’t feel under edited, rushed or thrown together in any way (Note, however, that I Do Not feel the same way about Tenney’s first three books – yes, she’s getting at least one more, Which is quite unfortunate in my opinion, I am not a fan of Tenney.) However, what I’ve heard about Gabriela’s doll products, accessories and items are that they are not up to typical AG quality – so maybe there is something to it. I’ve never had personal experience with the doll products for Gabriela, and this blog is only about the books, but it bares mentioning.

The other “Slight” dealt to Gabriela, was that the annual movie went to Z Yang, the second girl in the Contemporary Character series, who is of Korean descent and asian heritages are woefully underrepresented in American Girl products.

No matter where you come down on this issue, I hope that you enjoy Gabriela for the really sweet, inspirational story she is. I have to say, I wish there was more of her stories or a movie about her, she really would lend herself to a great film, but I doubt that is to be.  

I discuss this topic in depth because it is a fairly hot-button topic in American Girl circles, and I don’t know what may be said between friends discussing the topic, so I wanted to inform parents of the facts behind the controversy.
Conversation Topics:  This section are just my ideas for discussions you can have with your kids or family based on the topics of each book. Start a conversation and see where it leads!

How does self-consciousness and insecurity affect you? Everyone is a little bit self-conscious, you aren’t the only one.

What do you think about people with disabilities or those who are different than you? What can you do to make them feel appreciated and good around you? (Like Teagan having to learn not to interrupt Gabriela.)

What hobby do you have that makes the rest of your life better? (Like Gabriela’s dancing and poetry) Is there any hobby you’d like to try?


Get your copy of Gabriela Today!

Gabriela 1


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Caroline Classics Volume 2: Facing The Enemy

My Recommendations:facing the enemy Caroline v2

Age Appropriateness: 6-7+

Parental Involvement: Probably not required, especially with older age groups.


Caroline Book 2: Facing the Enemy

Caroline’s maturity level skyrockets in her second book. She seemed rather mature in the first book until the end when she makes some incredibly immature decisions and mistakes, but she recovers from them and continues growing throughout the second book.

The first major sacrifice Caroline has to make is when a british ship is chasing and attempting to raid the ship bringing supplies to Sacket’s Harbor – desperately needed supplies, I might add. The supply ship races up a narrow kind of wetland area to try to avoid capture, thinking the british ship can’t follow them, but the british ship is flat-bottomed, and doesn’t have a keel, so they seem to be going to attempt to follow. Well. It just so happened that Caroline and her friends were fishing at the mouth of the little sandbar area, and Caroline makes a hard decision to sink her father’s Skiff at the mouth of the canal to prevent the british from following. Her friend hacks a hole in the hull with an axe, the british seeing they can no longer pass, retreat and the city of Sacket’s Harbor gets all their supplies.

A bit later on, Caroline is filling in for her friend the mail carrier and has to walk all over the outskirts of town delivering mail. When she is done with her work for the day, she realizes she is very close to her father’s favorite fishing spot, and thinks hard about whether to go there or not, but she deeply wants to go, so she does “just for a few minutes”. When she arrives, she finds her father who is severely injured and deathly ill. She makes food and finds medicine (willow bark) to calm his fever and cares for him. She is keenly aware of how upset and worried her mother and grandmother are and wishes there were some way she could get a message back to them, but she is too far away and her father needs too much care. Late the next day, his fever decreased enough that they try to make their way home, but it is slow going with his badly almost-healed broken leg. They reach home late at night and Caroline apologizes for worrying her family, even though what she did was so important.

Soon thereafter the Battle of Sacket’s Harbor takes place, and Papa goes off to fight (yes, still wounded, but better) the men employed by the shipyard soon leave to fight as well, which left Caroline and her mom to guard the shipyard, where they are building a gun boat for the US Navy, and thus one of the most interesting targets in town. A Navy officer tells them to set fire to the shipyard if they see the navy storage sheds on fire to keep everything out of british hands. Caroline struggles with that thought, but formulates a plan of how she will do it before the event occurs to mentally prepare herself. When they see the fires light at the Navy yard, Caroline hates to do it, but she begins lighting the yard on fire. They learn that the Navy yard fires were started by accident, and they are able to douse the flames with only some damage to Abbott’s shipyard.

Caroline’s aunt and uncle moved from Canada to New York in book one, and then they resurface at the end of book two as having moved inland, but not too far away. Aunt Martha’s sister is gravely ill and Martha left the fledgling farm to care for her, left behind is Uncle Aaron and Lydia. (No mention of her older brother Oliver is ever made, presumably he has left to join the army/navy as he said he might previously) Uncle Aaron writes a letter not really asking, more like demanding, her parents send Caroline to him “right away” to help with all the farm chores because Lydia can’t handle the cooking, cleaning and tending all the animals and the vegetables by herself. They are told in his letter that the neighbors he sent the letter with will return in One Hour to collect Caroline. I can’t honestly say I’d behave as generously under the same circumstances as Caroline’s parents do, but whatever.

Caroline doesn’t want to go – even slightly – Her father just returned from a year-long captivity, summer is coming and she’s looking forward to summer on the lake and helping at the shipyard, not doing farm chores. But she doesn’t ever voice any of her disappointment, she sighs and says “I’ll start packing.” An hour later she’s being whisked off by Uncle Aaron’s neighbors they’ve never met to the inland farm. From there, things are much less tumultuous, and mostly pertain to Caroline learning about farm chores and the care of livestock and being homesick. There is a thief in the area stealing food and vegetables out of the neighboring farmer’s gardens. Much of the rest of the book is spent trying to figure out that mystery.

Eventually, Caroline finds the thief, listens to his story and learns that he’s not stealing just because he can, he is truly desperate, as is the family he is trying to care for. She helps get the entire family some food and then suggests to Uncle Aaron that they work out an arrangement for the four extra people to move in and help on the farm and earn their food instead of stealing it. With the extra hands on deck, Caroline can return home “for a few days” for July 4th, which she was most upset about missing. She and her friends and family have a wonderful day and she is grateful for her friends, family and that she is “Still an American” despite the war raging on.


Main Topics:
Sacrifices for the war
Hard Decisions
Helping your friends and family however you can
Being Generous and Forgiving


Get your Copy of Caroline book 2: Facing the Enemy today!

facing the enemy Caroline v2

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Grace Stirs Up Success Movie Review

Grace Stirs Up Success

My Recommendations: 

Age Appropriateness: All

Parental Involvement: Not required, but you might find yourself enjoying it too!


Grace Thomas was Girl of the Year 2015

I have not yet read Grace’s books, I will soon and will update this review when I do. So I cannot speak to any similarities and differences between the books and movie.


Grace Stirs up Success is an adorable feel-good movie, and while it is directed at children, I believe it can be very enjoyable for all ages.

Grace starts out by asking her parents to buy her a new bike so she has a better chance of winning a bike race. She is quite dismayed when they tell her they don’t mind her getting a new bike – but she has to buy it herself. She thinks about how to earn the money for her new bike and decides to start a business selling baked goods, which is in alignment with the “Family” business. Grace’s grandparents own a bakery, which Grace frequently helps them at. Grace enlists her two friends to help her sell her cupcakes, and has some great marketing strategies in place.

Immediately after her first day of sale, Grace’s mom informs her that the two of them are going to Paris for the rest of the summer to help her mom’s sister who is 8+ months pregnant and now on bed-rest. It turns out that Grace’s Aunt and Uncle Also own a bakery, but in Paris.

When they arrive in Paris, Grace meets her step-cousin Sylvie, who is largely unimpressed with Grace as a person and her presence to help her family. Throughout the rest of the movie, Grace works hard to be more conscientious of Sylvie’s pet peeves with her as well as trying to be nice, even when Sylvie is not.

At home, Grace is used to near constant praise for her baking, and on many levels feels like she knows everything when it comes to baking, however, when she begins working at her aunt and uncle’s bakery in Paris, she soon learns through a series of both inexperienced and comical mistakes that she still has a lot to learn and that using the same techniques for every kind of product is never going to turn out well. Grace is deeply wounded when her uncle tasks her with refilling the napkin holders instead of baking. She talks to her mom about her disappointment and her mom advises her to make herself useful in any way she can, but to step back and watch the people around her and see what she could learn from them. Grace starts to notice things about other people and how they bake, run the business, handle marketing and other things, which she then starts trying to practice and incorporating into her own behavior. In the end, she learns a lot and is aware that she still has a lot to learn.

When she and her mom return home, Grace learns that her grandparent’s are going to have to close their bakery. She begs them to give her a chance to help them save it, and applies the lessons she learned in Paris to come up with an aggressive re-branding strategy to drum up business, which is extremely effective, until the oven at the bakery dies and they don’t have any extra money to replace it.

One evening, Grace receives an email that she has been accepted as a competitor on Master Chef Junior, a baking competition with a $100,000 prize. She discovers that her grandmother had sent in an application without her knowledge before she left for Paris.

The Master Chef segment is a bit long, and shot with different quality of video so you feel like you’re no longer watching the movie, but instead watching a TV Cooking show. Which is honestly, a little bit trippy! You watch as Grace tries to remain collected against the competition and find the Je ne sais quoi her uncle taught her to look for in every dish.

I won’t give any details on the ending, but I will say that Grace handles every challenge thrown at her throughout the movie with a great deal of dignity and openness to learning. She is a pretty ingenious business person, and seems to never run out of passion and perseverance, and from the movie, I would call her an excellent role-model and inspiration for kids of all ages.

Younger kids with shorter attention spans may struggle with this movie. It has a 102 minute runtime, and it drags just a little bit even for adults at the end of the 2nd act and beginning of the 3rd. It feels more like you are watching 2 different movies instead of one continuous one. But the “Drag” part is pretty brief. I believe early elementary school age kids will have an easier time becoming wrapped up in the story and maintaining interest.

I couldn’t find any negative or problematic content at all, no coarse language, sexually charged content, anger, bratty behavior, or upsetting real-life topics.  It just isn’t anywhere to be found – which is amazing in a landscape of “kids” films that have a tendency to think at least some of the above content is necessary to tell a story and deliver a powerful message. It’s not. And this movie tells a great story spectacularly well, and gives great messages without any troubling content at all.  


You can buy this movie on DVD, or you can rent or buy it digitally from Amazon Video!

Grab your copy of Grace Stirs Up Success, today!

Grace Stirs Up Success



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Caroline – Captain Of The Ship – Book 1

Caroline Abbott

Captain of the Ship Caroline V1

Captain of the Ship – Classics Volume 1

My Recommendations:

Age: Despite the capture of her father, I think that Caroline is appropriate for kids as young as 6, and of course as old as there is interest.

Parent Involvement: In book 1, I don’t see any major issues that would require parent involvement. I’d be comfortable letting my kid read Caroline alone.


Caroline is a 9-year-old girl living in Sackets Harbor, NY in 1812. The book opens to her, her father and cousins Lydia (12) and Oliver (19) sailing on Lake Ontario. When they reach Canadian waters, they are approached and boarded by the British Navy, who informed them that war had been declared and they were now prisoners. The British delivered Caroline and Lydia back to their homes, but kept the men hostage.

Caroline has the distressing job of telling her mother and grandmother what happened. Mama takes control of the management of her husband’s ship building business, revealing that before Caroline came along, she not only helped start the business and sail the ships, but she managed the financial side of the business, and is more than capable of picking up the slack in his absence. (Way to go, Mama!) Later, Mama decides she’s going to sail to Canada to try to get the British to free her husband. For some not entirely logical reason, she takes Caroline with her to the enemy fort, where Caroline tries to sneak in a secret message to help her father escape.

Caroline has to make some tough decisions and sacrifices to help the American soldiers defend Sackets Harbor, and even though it makes her sad, she is happy to help defend her home and country.

Caroline’s mother takes on a family of boarders, the wife and two daughters of an army officer, who travel with him from Albany to Sackets Harbor. The eldest daughter is 12-year-old Rhonda, who becomes both a friend and a bit of an antagonist to Caroline. Caroline struggles with deep jealousy when Rhonda’s father comes to visit her, while Caroline’s own father is still missing. Later, Caroline feels left out when her cousin Lydia and Rhonda become friends and Caroline feels she isn’t always included or listened to.

Caroline typically wants to do what she wants to do, and when her friends and family don’t agree with her, she has a tendency to either go do it anyway, or to force the issue. This especially comes out in regards to Rhonda and Lydia. Caroline wants to go ice skating, and wants all three of them to go ice skating, but Rhonda doesn’t enjoy ice skating and doesn’t want to go. Frustrated by her friend’s reluctance, Caroline gets Rhonda a pair of ice skates for Christmas so she’ll have no excuse to gracefully say no. There are several other examples of this behavior toward the end of the book. Eventually, all of her poor decisions and manipulative behavior culminates in getting herself into an extremely dangerous situation when thin ice she is standing on breaks away from the shelf and she is in danger of being washed away. Her friends had warned her, fought her and even attempted to physically prevent her from going onto the ice in that area, but Caroline thought she knew better, and in the end puts herself and her friends in a life-threatening situation for no real good reason.

After she’s back to safety, Caroline’s friends and family bring up all her unbecoming behavior (like the Ice Skates) and she admits that she was being selfish and immature instead of being a good friend / daughter. I do believe the message of Caroline seeing and admitting her fault and that she should take the warnings and ideas of other people more seriously (Because they might know more than her) was a good message, and well displayed between conversation and Caroline’s inner thoughts.

Overall, Captain of the Ship would be an enjoyable book for young readers, most of the potential trauma from the war and the view inside the british prison is very much glossed over, so I wouldn’t be concerned about very young kids enjoying and not having many questions or concerns about Caroline’s experiences in her first book.


Main themes:

Political/ Social influences behind the war of 1812

Caroline’s dad taken as Prisoner of War

Helping Mom manage home and business in Dad’s absence

Learning to be a good friend and take responsibility for mistakes (Later)



Grab your copy of Caroline Abbott – Captain of The Ship now!

Captain of the Ship Caroline V1

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Nanea Mitchell – Hula for the Homefront


My  Recommendations:

Age Appropriateness: There are some tough topics in Nanea, some of which are reflected in current events. I would definitely err on the side of maturity and recommend age 9 and older.

*Every child is different, which is why the ages I use are about Emotional Maturity, not Chronological Age, your 7-year-old may love this book, and it may hit too-close-to-home for another person’s 12-year-old.

Parent Involvement: I would strongly recommend a Parent read-along with the Nanea books to be available for questions and discussions.



BOOK TWO – Hula for the Home Front

Nanea’s second book, Hula for the Home Front is a great follow-up to the incredible first book. I found the second book to be much less intense, and likely more appropriate for younger readers.

Hula for the Home Front focuses on the continued aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attacks, aiding the war effort and the implications of Martial Law on the Hawaiian community.

After a lot of extremely serious topics covered in the first book, Hula on the Homefront returns to more normal activities for a 9-year-old, especially the return to school. On the first day back to school after the attack, there is a new girl in class, Dixie Moreno who just moved from Maui when her dad was relocated to Wheeler Airfield. Nanea does not like Dixie. She feels like teacher Mrs Smith favors Dixie over her, and also is angry because she thinks Dixie is taking the place of Nanea’s close friend Donna. Mrs Smith asks Nanea to make Dixie feel welcomed and to be a friend to her, which likely made the situation worse. Nanea’s jealousy escalates to an in-classroom tantrum, when Nanea rips a drawing Donna was working on. Mrs Smith immediately orders Dixie and Nanea into the hall and gives Nanea a warning about her behavior. It takes Nanea several days of guilt and feeling upset about the situation at school to finally tell her grandparents what happened. In her retelling, she says “If Mrs Smith hadn’t…” and “If Dixie would have just asked me to help her, it never would have happened!” Her grandfather gently calls her on this each time, saying “So you ripping your classmate’s drawing was your teacher’s fault?” or “It was Dixie’s fault?” until Nanea finally says, “No, it was my fault.” Her grandparents then help her come up with ways to pay kokua (good deed) to Dixie to make it up to her. Her grandfather advises her that Dixie has a story just like Nanea has a story, and if she takes the time to learn what Dixie’s story is, she’ll probably understand her more.

As it turns out, Dixie does have a story. Dixie moved to Oahu with her dad when he relocated, and they moved into her Aunt’s house. Dixie shares a bedroom with 3 young cousins, whom keep Dixie up all night, every night. She is too tired to perform well at school and often sleeps through lunch. She also reveals that her mom moved to Los Angeles when Dixie was 5 to be in movies. Her mom writes her a letter once a month, but she hasn’t seen in in years. Nanea is horrified at the thought of Dixie being so separated from her mom and reflects on that topic throughout the rest of the book, which further builds her appreciation for her family. Dixie quickly becomes a new friend to Lily and Nanea.

Racially charged insults and threatening behavior continues towards Lily’s Japanese-American family, sometimes when Nanea is present. The Army won’t let Lily’s brother Gene join because he is of Japanese heritage. The biggest racial information in this book, however, is the letter that comes from the mainland US regarding the formation of the internment camps. Nanea’s family and friends are not directly affected by internment camps, it is just an Oh-by-the-way from the mainland. According to additional research, very few people were put into internment camps from Hawaii, (in fact only 1,200-1,800 out of the 157,000 people with Japanese heritage living in the islands were ever relocated to internment camps.) which explains why it is a rather glazed-over issue from Nanea’s perspective.

There is a second attack on Ohahu in Hula For the Homefront. The Japanese drop three bombs on the island in the middle of the night, waking Nanea’s family with the loud booming. However, it is very cloudy and they miss their intended targets, dropping them instead in largely uninhabited areas of the wilderness, and it becomes a bit of a non-event.

There are a couple of discussions in the book regarding the people who died at Pearl Harbor, including a neighbor who is now a pregnant widow.

Nanea and her friends are very creative and passionate about coming up with new and additional ways that they can support the war effort. Nanea founds the “Honolulu Helpers” club which plans events and supply drives to support the local soldiers.

Older brother David continues to be an amazing person and supportive big brother. He enlists in the Army after he turns 18, and ships out near the end of the book. The change is a massive one for the entire family, but the real ramifications of it are largely unseen as the book ends later the same day as he leaves.

The emotions and motivations of the characters throughout the books are truly beautifully done, I have to say the Nanea books may be some of my favorite AG books out there. I really appreciated Nanea in her more childish moments with Dixie and then getting both immediate repercussions from her teacher as well as a very well thought-out discussion around her responsibility and how to fix it with her grandparents. These are issues every child has at some point or another, and I thought it was really well handled in an educational way.

The historical aspects continue to be well researched and educational throughout the book, especially since Hawaii experienced not only the beginning of the US involvement of the war much more personally than the rest of the country, but also dealt with many more restrictions and rules and Martial Law than their mainland counterparts. It is a very interesting and educational perspective to read about World War II from, and presents many topics that can be jumping-off points for further learning and research if there is interest.

Again, Nanea’s second book is much lighter than the first one, while still tackling several tough topics, making it appropriate for a wider age group. However, without the first book, the second book wouldn’t make nearly as much sense, so I’m still going to recommend a more mature audience because of the intensity of the topics at hand.


Main topics:
Aftermath of Pearl Harbor Attack
Stress and Worry about issues regarding the changes because of the war
Racism against Japanese-Americans (Fairly mild)
Giving back to your community
Taking Responsibility for your actions


Order your copy of Hula for the Homefront now!



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Nanea Mitchell – Growing Up With Aloha

Growing Up with Aloha
My  Recommendations:

Age Appropriateness: There are some tough topics in Nanea, some of which are reflected in current events. I would definitely err on the side of maturity and recommend age 9 and older.
*Every child is different, which is why the ages I use are about Emotional Maturity, not Chronological Age, your 7-year-old may love this book, and it may hit too-close-to-home for another person’s 12-year-old. 

Parent Involvement: I would strongly recommend a Parent read-along with the Nanea books to be available for questions and discussions.

BOOK ONE – Growing Up With Aloha

Nanea book one, Growing up with Aloha is, quite honestly, wonderful. It is deeply emotional and successfully captures the wide range of human experience from horror to love.

Nine-year-old Nanea Mitchell lives with her family on Oahu, HI, very close to the Pearl Harbor army base in 1941. The story opens in November, and each chapter artfully counts down the calendar towards December 7th. The author builds a beautiful picture of life on the island for Nanea, encompassing school, family, friends, hobbies and festivals, things that Nanea will have to emotionally navigate either disappearing entirely or radically and instantaneously changing in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, no area of her life, or the lives of those surrounding her, remains the same. After the attack, Nanea is unable to get excited about what she previously wanted for herself, but she finds great comfort in making her friends, family and community happy. She uses her creativity and imagination to cheer up her family, to help her friends and to address the needs of her shaken community. When she hears of a shortage of bottles for blood donations, Nanea organizes her friends who go door-to-door collecting old bottles, and drum up hundreds of extra bottles for The Red Cross.

The retelling of the morning of the attack on Pearl Harbor is very well done, and heartbreaking in many ways. It’s an honest look, with the reader learning the reality of what happened from the radio with Nanea and her family. Even though Nanea witnesses the Japanese aircraft first hand, they disappear from her view behind bushes and she hears booming, but does not know what happened. When her older brother David carries her back in the house from where she was transfixed in the yard, information starts to unfold with the radio announcer relaying information as it comes in. Each neighbor that comes to the door brings another tidbit of information. It tells a scary story of a horrific event without ever letting Nanea – or child readers – close to the actual horror, while still thoroughly describing and making real the panic and fear Nanea and her family felt. It’s very heavy, and very young readers may not understand it. I cried, actually quite a bit, author Kirby Larson does an unbelievably good job of putting the emotional impact on paper.

After the attack, change happens faster than Nanea can keep up. Her dad and brother both have responsibilities helping with the needs of the base, they leave and aren’t heard from again for over a week. Nanea’s dog went missing after being frightened by the loud booming, but Nanea isn’t allowed to leave the house to go look for her until several days later, and then not alone. Her life-long best friend Lily is Japanese-american, and her father is arrested by the FBI the afternoon of December 7th. This will eventually add tension in Nanea and Lily’s relationship when Nanea says she knows how Lily feels because Nanea’s dad is working on base for weeks at a time, Lily (obviously) doesn’t agree with the comparison, since her father is in FBI custody, not working on repairing ships.

As the shock wears off on the island,  many characters discuss their grief for their old way of life and wonder if it will ever be the same.

Nanea’s father is a civilian welder on staff at the Pearl Harbor base, and he shares that he had to cut open ships to “Retrieve trapped soldiers”. He goes quiet for a moment and then says “The Navy doesn’t want me talking about it.” He never mentions if the soldiers in question were dead or alive.

Characters engage in several discussions of Racism (though not using the word) and Nanea’s grandfather tells her that it isn’t right, but people can do some very wrong things, thinking they are right, when they are afraid. There are several situations in which Lily or members of her family endure racist remarks, or racially charged vandalism to their property.

Nanea is incredibly good-at-heart and giving of herself. She is creative and imaginative, loyal and strong.

For me though, the shining star of this story has to be older brother David. 17-year-old David and Nanea’s relationship is close, and they adore each other. David is sweet, he’s gentle but funny. He never dismisses Nanea’s ideas or concerns, instead he encourages her and lets her know he is proud of her. In many other American Girl stories, if the main girl has a brother, he is either a bit of an antagonistic relationship (Molly), or he is absent either in reality  (Addy) or by being largely Ignored throughout the story (Rebecca). David is both a positive and important force in Nanea’s life AND Very present in the story. This was so amazing to see. There is foreshadowing of his intention to enlist when he turns 18, though, so I suspect his absence and being in danger will be one of Nanea’s future challenges.  In short, if there was a David doll, I would personally have ordered him before I finished the book!

Hawaiian culture and language are woven in beautifully and accurately, many of the concepts of the culture that are not typically understood by people outside the culture are addressed and explained very well.

I might steer very young readers (such as ages 5 or 6) to lighter stories, such as Felicity, Kirsten, Julie, Rebecca, and even Molly as a different WWII perspective. However, I will say this is not only a great and highly educational read, but also an important and extremely well-done one to understand a pivotal period in American history from an often overlooked perspective of a Hawaiian islander.

Main topics:

Pearl Harbor Attack
Life changes
Fear and grief after Traumatic Event
Racism against Japanese-Americans (Fairly mild)
Giving back to your community

Close Family relationships

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