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Three years ago I devoted an entire summer’s worth of Throwback Thursdays to doing a review a series of historical novels by American Girl (yes, that’s the doll company) devoted to a girl growing up in the 1970’s named Julie Albright. I thought it would be fun to comparing how the 1970’s were portrayed in those books with my own memories of growing up during that same era.

In the midst of doing those reviews, American Girl decided to revamp its historical line by retiring a few dolls and placing the remaining historical dolls under a new product line known as “BeForever.” In the process I found that the original six novels I had reviewed earlier that summer were combined into two large volumes with all of the original illustrations removed. In addition American Girl released another volume that was basically a “Choose Your Adventure” book.

By the time I finished reviewing that Choose Your Adventure book (A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey With Julie), I had not only read and reviewed all of the books in that series, I was starting to burn out from doing this project. I briefly revisited this series last year when I did a review of a movie short that American Girl did based on the books called And the Tiara Goes to…

The last time I went to the American Girl Place in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, I found that a new Julie Mystery was published earlier this year called Message in a Bottle. This is the first new Julie Mystery book since 2013 (when Lost in the City was published) and the first new Julie Book overall since A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey With Julie was released in 2014. (If you’ve missed the reviews I’ve done for other books in this series, there are links at the end of this post where you can read them at your leisure.)

I know that The Police had a hit song called “Message in a Bottle” but that song didn’t come out until 1979—two years after the events in this book. The closest song title that actually came out in Julie’s era (1975-1977) is Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” which came out a few years earlier in 1972.

The book was written by Kathryn Reiss, who wrote the previous Julie Mysteries The Tangled WebThe Puzzle of the Paper Daughter, and The Silver Guitar. The cover image was done by Juliana Kolesova and Joe Hinrichs.

All of the Julie Mystery books follow the events in the original Central Series books (which are now only available in the two-volume BeForever Books (The Big Break: A Julie Classic Volume 1 and Soaring High: A Julie Classic Volume 2) and Good Luck, Ivy.

Since this new book is the latest one published and since the events take place in the summer (while the previous Julie Mystery, Lost in the City, takes place during spring break), I’m going to assume that it follows Tangled Web, The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter, The Silver Guitar, and Lost in the City.

Like all of the other Julie books, this one was written for a target audience of girls between the ages of 8-12 so some of the hot button topics of the 1970’s (such as the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, which legalized abortion) won’t be mentioned at all.

She’s back and all ready to solve another mystery!

Synopsis: Julie Albright is a white girl with long blonde hair and brown eyes growing up in 1977 San Francisco. Her parents are divorced so she spends most of her time living with her mother, who operates her store full of handcrafted items (some of which are made from repurposed and recycled clothes) called Gladrags, and her 17-year-old sister, Tracy, in a small apartment that’s located above her mother’s store. On most weekends she stays with her father, a commercial airline pilot, in the same home that the entire family lived in before the divorce. During her visits with her father, she gets a chance to spend some quality time with her pet brown rabbit, Nutmeg (who has to stay with her father because her mother’s apartment complex doesn’t allow pets), and play with her best friend who lives across the street, Ivy Ling.

It’s the summer and schools are currently closed until September. Julie has been spending most of it alone in her mother’s apartment reading library books. (Apparently Julie’s 11th birthday came and went since it’s on May 1.) Both of her parents are busy with their jobs. Her sister Tracy is currently working not one but two summer jobs so she is rarely home these days. Her two closest friends, Ivy Ling and T.J. (whom the book misidentifies as “CJ” so it’s pretty obvious that some editor screwed up big time), are currently out of town visiting relatives.

But then her mother receives a letter from her younger sister, Nadine, whom she hasn’t seen in 10 years. Nadine writes that she desperately needs her sister’s help on the commune where she lives with her son, Raymond, and she would like for her sister to come soon. She also mentions that she doesn’t have a phone so Mrs. Albright should just drive to the commune as soon as possible.

Apparently Tracy isn’t able to take time off from either of her two jobs so Mrs. Albright has arranged for her to stay at her father’s home and she also got her assistant at Gladrags to mind the store while she’s away. Her and Julie hit the road, driving north of San Francisco.

They eventually reached Sonora, the small town that’s located closest to Nadine’s commune. They decide to eat lunch at the outer space-themed Galaxy Cafe. They are waited on by a teen girl named Dolores who’s having such a hard time with arriving at her job on time from her break and messing up orders that the cafe’s owner, Mr. Coker, really chews Dolores out in front of Julie and her mother. Mr. Coker apologizes for Dolores’ mistakes and says that the meal is on the house. When Mrs. Albright mentions that she’s on her way to the commune to visit her sister, Mr. Coker says that Dolores lives at the commune herself. He also says that he had offered to buy the land from the commune but they keep on turning him down each time.

Julie and her mother arrive at the commune known as Gold Moon Ranch and Julie meets her Aunt Nadine and cousin Raymond (who’s around Julie’s age) for the first time since she was a toddler. As they are given a tour of the facilities, they learn that Gold Moon Ranch is supposed to be a self-sustaining commune where people live off the land and they make extra money on the side selling their homegrown vegetables and jars of honey. The commune includes a small cottage for each family unit along with a large central building, known as the Big House, where all the commune members eat their meals and gather for other events. The commune children are educated in a one-room schoolhouse on the premises and the adult members take turns serving as teachers. There is a large treehouse for the children to play in. There is also a separate bathhouse building with toilets (which are little more than seats on the ground over open pits) and with a water pump where the residents draw water to take a bath. (The commune has no running water or electricity.) They raise chickens, cows, and sheep while also growing their own vegetables. They make everything from scratch, including butter and wool yarn.

The commune got its name from the fact that it is located on the site of a former gold mine where gold miners used to dig during the California Gold Rush that went on from 1848-1855. The former mine has been boarded up in order to deter kids and trespassers from going in.

Nadine and her husband, David, founded Gold Moon Ranch and things were okay until her husband decided to join the military and fight in the Vietnam War. This decision was a shock because both Nadine and David were previously opposed to the war and so were all of their fellow commune members. It turns out that David joined because his twin brother was missing in action and he wanted to find him. He learned that his brother was killed and he was seriously injured not long afterwards. He relearned how to walk in rehab but he was unable to resume his work at Gold Moon Ranch due to his injuries so he has decided to take a part-time job at the library in Sonora. (Nadine mentions that things had become so strained between her and her husband that he decided to live in Sonora instead of the commune.)

David is described in the book as being very industrious and good with his hands before he went off to Vietnam. Ever since David went off to war the various commune members have been gradually moving out and it has gotten to the point where the remaining members can barely keep the place running and they are also having a hard time paying taxes. The reason why Nadine asks her older sister for help is because Mrs. Albright had been writing Nadine letters about how she had founded her Gladrags store and is currently doing well with it.  Nadine hopes that Mrs. Albright can put her knowledge and experience to work in helping the commune start its own store where they can sell their various handmade items.

Meanwhile Raymond has been distraught over his parents’ separation and he frequently talks about how his father had built many things on the commune and he basically misses his father. Julie tries to console her cousin by telling him that her parents are divorced and she once wanted her parents to reconcile but she has gotten used to her parents living apart. It’s obvious that Raymond hasn’t quite fully accepted his parents being separated while Julie has fully adjusted to her parents’ divorce because Raymond frequently talks about how much he misses his Pa.

If all that weren’t enough, there have been some pretty strange things happening at the commune. When Julie and her mother first arrived, they see the commune members trying to capture the chickens that had somehow escaped from the fenced-in area. Raymond tells Julie that the beehives are currently empty because the bees were somehow mysteriously driven away. Periodically Julie finds paper napkins scattered on the property that are the same ones that are used at the Galaxy Cafe. One night after midnight Julie follows her cousin to the entrance of the abandoned gold mine only for the two cousins to discover mysterious lights coming from that gold mine even though it’s supposed to be boarded up. Someone cuts the laundry cord while the commune’s freshly washed clothes were hanging outside to dry. Someone also manages to open one of the gates so the calf can run away while leaving her mother behind as the culprit leaves behind yet another one of those Galaxy Cafe napkins. (Julie finds the missing calf tied to a tree besides the river.)

During one of her walks with her cousin, Julie finds a perfume bottle along the river that runs near the abandoned gold mine. She later inspects it and finds that there is a message inside (hence the name of this book) while the bottle opening itself is sealed with wax. Julie manages to remove the wax, open the bottle, and take out the message. As she reads it she finds that it’s actually a poem about the downside of being a gold miner that has been signed with only the name Jack. Basically Jack wrote his poem to his “darling girl” where he expresses regrets ever becoming a gold miner and he now realizes that his love for her is a better source of being rich than gold.

What Julie saw at the commune raises all kinds of questions with her. Who really wrote that poem and why was it sealed in a bottle and thrown in the river? Who is behind all of those sabotage efforts on the commune and why is the person doing this? Is Mr. Coker doing this in an effort to get the commune to sell him the land? Or is it someone else, such as a disgruntled commune member? And what about those paper napkins from the Galaxy Cafe? Are they being left behind by accident or are they being left behind to send a subtle message to the commune that they should let Mr. Coker buy the property? Does that message in a bottle have anything to do with the sabotage that’s going on in the commune? Julie is determined to get to the bottom of all this.

The book ends with the two-page section titled “Inside Julie’s World,” discusses the rise of communes while mentioning the fact that the fictional Gold Moon Ranch is similar to a real-life Tennessee commune known as The Farm. The section mentions that these 1970s communes would later lead to the creation of co-housing and other forms of intentional communities in recent years (including co-housing for artists and senior citizens).

The section also goes into the plight of the Vietnam vets who returned home only to suffer through disabilities both physical and emotional while briefly mentioning veterans of more recent wars who have gone through something similar.

Music Mentioned in This Book

“Michael Row the Boat Ashore”

“Sweet Betsy From Pike”

“This Land is Your Land”

News and Other Stuff From the Era Mentioned

California Gold Rush
The Farm commune in Tennessee
Vietnam War

My Own Impressions Based on My Own Experiences With the 1970’s

I used to hear about people living on communes when I was growing up but my parents were never into living that lifestyle. I remember when there was a cul-de-sac court of four or five houses located across from the street where I lived and once a year that particular area would organize a block party that was especially for those houses. (I used to go to that block party with a friend who lived next door to me and we used to play with the kids who lived there. The adults never minded us being there at the block party even though our homes weren’t in that cul-de-sac. I remember having fun at those block parties.) My mother used to talk about how she was glad our house wasn’t in a cul-de-sac court so she wouldn’t have to get involved with organizing one of those block parties because she had enough to do with her full-time job (she was an office manager for a life insurance company that has long since been merged with another life insurance company).

If she felt like that about an annual block party, I can only imagine her reluctance to live in a commune where everything was shared and people had to constantly take turns making the communal meals or educating the children. Besides, there weren’t any communes located anywhere near Glen Burnie, Maryland (where I grew up). Heck, I can’t even say if a commune had ever been established anywhere in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

My then-fiancee and I started attending a Unitarian Universalist church just a few months before I was married at 23. It was a usual religious community where people (both with and without families) would attend weekly Sunday service and get involved in extra curricular activities (such as book discussion groups, dinners, and other types of social activities).

My then-husband and I had been members of that UU congregation for a number of years when we got involved in a day-long workshop that was put on by the Unitarian Universalist Association at our church, which had guided activities that encouraged people to come up with ideas as to how to attract more people to our congregation and to UUism in general. This workshop started off with all of the participants being divided into small groups. Then we were given questions about the congregation’s history that we would discuss within the small group.

During the course of doing this exercise, it came out that during the 1970’s that some of the members of our congregation had started to meet in a smaller group where they discussed the issues of the day. In time they started to hold dances and other social events. These members had been dissatisfied with society in general after living through such things as Martin Luther King’s assassination and the Vietnam War. They began talking and this group started to express dissatisfaction with the whole idea of living in nuclear families and they wanted to explore alternative ways of living together in a community.

This group formed the nucleus of a movement where they would live together in a community and jointly share in the household chores and child raising, just like the commune described in the book. However, this group took things a bit further by exploring what was then called open marriage where married couples started having side relationships while staying married to their spouses. (Today it would be called polyamory.) I know that not all communes had explored anything like this and I can understand why American Girl would not even want to even hint about this in that book since their target audience are kids from 8-12 and they just did not want to provoke parental outrage.

There were two communes that they attempted to form. The first one was a group home in the Washington, DC suburbs but that one lasted just a few years. There was another attempt as a group decided to start a farm in Southern Maryland. I know that this farm still existed as late as the 1990’s (that’s because one of our longtime members had moved there because she wanted to live there post-retirement while being reunited with her old friends from the 1970s but she only lasted a few years before she moved back to our area) but I don’t know if it is still around or not.

I was amazed as I was hearing that story for the first time because none of the older members had ever mentioned anything like that to me before. I found out that it was because this group became controversial among other congregation members who weren’t into exploring open marriages or alternative ways of living together. I was told that quite a few members had left over this and it nearly led to a congregational split at one point.

By the time my husband and I started attending that church, this movement had pretty much collapsed and I guess that the other members just didn’t want to talk about a movement that had become very divisive within our congregation so I didn’t learn about this for years until I attended that workshop.

This led to a lay-led summer service just a couple of years later as the people who were active during that group’s heyday spoke about their experiences. I learned quite a lot from that service. For example, in the Message in a Bottle book I read it said in the “Inside Julie’s World” section at the end that it was young adults who had formed communes. This wasn’t the case with the people who formed their own movement within our UU congregation. One of the speakers said that the youngest person involved in the movement was 35 at the time. Another speaker said that her 25-year marriage disintegrated as a result of her and her husband getting involved in all aspects of that movement, including open marriage. Basically the majority of people who were involved were in their 40s, 50s, and even older during the movement’s heyday. Another aspect of that movement is that they had a no-drug policy and one of the speakers said that they had drummed out a few members for violating that policy too many times.

I later read in UU World magazine that this movement exploring alternative lifestyles and relationships was not unique to just our congregation. This article mentions how there was casual sex that took place among members of many congregations during the 1970s, including partner swapping, and how one UU congregation member said that she was frequently propositioned by married men.

The closest I had come to ever living in a commune was the time when I lived in off-campus housing just a half a mile from the University of Maryland campus in College Park. All except one of us were full-time students. (The one non-student was an aspiring DJ who worked as a busboy just so he could make ends meet.) We would socialize and stuff but we rarely ate our meals together because of our different class schedules. We had our own boyfriends/girlfriends and none of us had ever gotten into polyamory or anything like that. (It was hard enough juggling just one relationship with our studies, let alone trying to juggle two or more relationships.) I moved out after I graduated from school and moved back to my parents’ home in Glen Burnie. I moved out again 10 months later when I got married to a townhouse that I still live in because I got it as part of my divorce settlement.

As for the book itself, it’s not the first time Julie had tried roughing it with her relatives (see Julie’s Journey ) but this book had a much better-written plot than Julie’s Journey. The book provided some insight on what it was like to live in a commune. I found it mildly amusing when Julie admired certain aspects of the commune (such as seeing the stars at night with much greater intensity than in the streetlight-soaked city skies) while her cousin Raymond and teen commune member Dolores envied her because she has access to television and all of the amenities of big city life (such as a public library with a lot of books). Julie also took the point of view that it would be very difficult for some people to adjust to a lifestyle like Gold Moon Ranch. At one point in the book Julie admitted that moving to Gold Moon Ranch would mean not seeing her father or friends as much and she would also have to leave her current school.

The book became gripping when a commune member was trapped in the abandoned gold mine in the middle of a heavy storm that had the riverbanks flooding and Julie found herself in a race against time to help free that person before the gold mine became so flooded that the two of them would drown.

I also like the fact that this was a mystery where I wasn’t able to figure out what was really going on until the very end, unlike the earlier Julie Mysteries where I would guess the ending about midway through the book and I would be found correct at the end. I think making the mystery challenging enough makes the book more interesting.

The one thing I miss from this book that the older edition of the Julie Books had were the Looking Back section at the end, which were a multi-page spread that not only featured text but also vintage photographs and other illustrations from the era in which Julie grew up in. This new book, like the newer BeForever books, only have a text-only two-page spread titled  “Inside Julie’s Word.” It would’ve been more interesting to young readers had there been at least one photo of a real-life commune just so the kids could get an idea as to what one really looked like. Granted any kid could just Google “1970s communes” on a computer but I think it’s more convenient to have the visual information at hand while reading the text without having to interrupt reading the book, go to a computer, and do an online search.

I found the book to be a pretty good read but I still think The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter is the best of the Julie Mysteries because it was gripping at times with people following her and Ivy as they went through the streets of Chinatown and it also delved into the uncomfortable history of the racism against Chinese Americans.

That’s it for my book review. I have no idea if American Girl will come out with any more Julie Mysteries but if it does, I’m sure that I’ll probably buy it and read it. I’ll probably write another review for this blog.

I also noticed something about the Julie Mysteries. The events in the first, third, and fifth books (Tangled Web, The Silver Guitar, and Message in a Bottle) predominantly take place while Julie is with her mother. The events in the second and fourth books (The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter and Lost in the City) take place while Julie is with her father. If there is to be another book, it would be the sixth Julie Mystery book, so I predict that—if such a book is written and published—it will take place when Julie is with her father and her pal Ivy Ling will probably be there as well.

That’s the only speculation I’m going to provide about any possible potential future Julie Books because I’m not into spreading rumors.

If you want to buy this book and/or read my other Julie Book reviews that I wrote back in 2014, check out the links at the end of this post.

Where to Buy Message in a Bottle

Amazon
American Girl
Barnes & Noble
Powell’s Books

The American Girl Julie Albright Books List

The Original Central Series

Meet Julie
Julie Tells Her Story
Happy New Year, Julie
Julie and the Eagles
Julie’s Journey
Changes for Julie

The Best Friend Book

Good Luck, Ivy

The Julie Mysteries

The Tangled Web
The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter
The Silver Guitar
Lost in the City
Message in a Bottle

The BeForever Books

The Big Break: A Julie Classic Volume 1—A compilation of the first three Julie Albright Central Series books (Meet Julie, Julie Tells Her Story, and Happy New Year, Julie).

Soaring High: A Julie Classic Volume 2—A compilation of the last three Julie Albright Central Series books (Julie and the Eagles, Julie’s Journey, and Changes for Julie).

A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey with Julie

Other Media Featuring Julie

And the Tiara Goes to…—A film short based on the Julie books.

Ramadan

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Fourteen artists proving that Black Americana is real.

How a British artist visualizes the microbiome through handmade embroidery.

Adorable robot friend Kuri can now find its way home to charge.

Hell on wheels: New York City’s subway system as seen in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Patches available at a jean jacket decorating party hosted by Harper’s Bazaar included ones that were made without permission from the original artists.

What an apple-picking robot means for the future of farm workers.

Meet Valkyrie, NASA’s space robot.

Independent retailers are struggling to survive in Washington, DC.

A look at a 2,000 year old computer called the Antikythera Mechanism.

Five obscure anime you should definitely check out.

San Francisco tries to ban delivery robots before they become a public safety hazard.

49 photography blogs worth following.

Man who struggled with Photoshop decided to spend 10 years mastering Microsoft Paint to illustrate his book.

FilmNation ventures into animation with sci-fi reimagining of Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid.

This open source AI voice assistant is challenging Siri and Alexa for market superiority.

Why open source AI voice assistants pose little threat to Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri.

10 photography tricks you can do at home without having to use expensive camera equipment.

Plush sports-doll maker Bleacher Creatures files for bankruptcy.

The Internet isn’t killing shopping malls—other malls are.

NBCUniversal is buying the DIY craft tutorial site Craftsy.

Phony WordPress domain steals cookies to fool web admins.

Infertile mice with 3D-printed ovaries successfully give birth.

Previous post in this series.

Last week I started a new series of summertime Throwback Thursdays devoted to the original 1970’s Howard the Duck comic books. The first part dealt with Howard the Duck’s first appearances in other Marvel comic books. This week I’m going to delve into the actual comic book series themselves.

htd1

Howard the Duck #1
January, 1976
Howard the Barbarian

Credits: Steve Gerber, creator, writer, co-plotter; Frank Brunner, illustrator, colorer, co-plotter; John Costanza, letterer; Marv Wolfman, editor

Soon after Howard’s battle with the Hellcow was published in Giant-Size Man-Thing #5, Marvel decided to spin the duck into his own comic book series. This is the first issue of the new comic book series and is also the first one to include this slogan, which would be used throughout the entire series: Trapped in a world he never made.

Synopsis: The story starts where the Hellcow story left off. Despite the fact that Howard the Duck has managed to save the city of Cleveland from not one but two major calamities (Garko the Man-Frog and Hellcow), he’s still homeless and penniless and he has to deal with being an anthropomorphic talking duck in a world full of humans (whom he calls “hairless apes” throughout the series). Howard becomes despondent so he decides to try a brief dip in the Cuyahoga River to perk himself up. Except that river, like many major bays and rivers located along the major industrial cities in the 1970’s, is too polluted for anyone to swim in, including a duck like Howard.

In total despair, Howard decides to throw in the towel and kill himself. He sees a tall tower located across the river. Using a log and tree branch as a make-shift raft, Howard floats across the river until he arrives at the tower. His idea is to enter the tower, walk or climb up to the top, then throw himself down below. But that plan falls through when he sees that there is no door. Howard briefly notices that the tower is made up of old plastic credit cards before he decides to climb up to the top from the outside then throw himself to his death.

Once Howard reaches near the top, he sees a window and decides to rest on the ledge before throwing himself to his death. But then he hears a cry for help inside that window. It is the moment of the major turning point in the comic book series: When Howard met Beverly.

howardandbeverly

Beverly Switzler is a redheaded woman who has been held prisoner in the tower for a month. Howard changes his mind about killing himself and decides to rescue Beverly instead. Eventually Howard meets up with the first of a long line of ludicrous villains in his comic book series: Pro-Rata, whose big desire is to become Chief Accountant of the Universe before increasing his power by collecting the Cosmic Dividend. (Accountants will especially get a kick out of this story.)

prorata

At one point Spider-Man makes a guest appearance. That is because of Peter Parker’s day job as The Daily Planet photographer, when his boss makes him go to Cleveland in order to find out if those rumors of a talking duck in Cleveland are really true and, if so, get a photograph of that duck. Peter Parker reluctantly goes on that trip while calling Cleveland the “armpit of the nation”. (This was many years before the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was built in Cleveland and it was during the time when Cleveland, like many other industrial areas, began to experience a decline in manufacturing due both to cheap imports from other nations and U.S. corporations outsourcing jobs to Third World countries so they could pay people less and they wouldn’t have to deal with unions.)

Topical 1970’s References: Environmental pollution (including the Cuyahoga River) and the rise of the environmentalist movement. The decline of Cleveland and other manufacturing industrial cities.

The Bottom Line: This issue not only satirizes the Marvel sword and sorcery epics (such as Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja) but it also pokes fun at the pollution problem in the United States which led to the rise of the environmentalist movement in the 1970’s. I grew up outside of Baltimore during that time and I remember the Chesapeake Bay had the same pollution problems that the Cuyahoga River did. That was the legacy of the intense manufacturing that sprung up during the Industrial Revolution and continued for many decades. I still remember many cars sporting those “Save the Bay” bumper stickers when I was growing up. The polluted Cuyahoga River did come in handy for it was used in such a way that ultimately defeated Pro-Rata. The whole issue was pretty humorous with even Spider-Man showing a lighter comedy touch than in his own comic book series. The idea of an accountant seeking to use his accounting knowledge to control the universe is pretty hilarious since accountants are usually stereotyped as being dull and cautious people. Howard the Duck #1 shows a lot of promise for this series.

htd2

Howard the Duck #2
March, 1976
Cry Turnip!

Credits: Steve Gerber, writer; Frank Brunner, illustrator; Steve Leialoha, inker; Tom Orzechowski, letterer; Michele Wolfman, colorist; Marv Wolfman, editor

Synopsis: The story begins with Howard and Beverly facing off against a group of aliens invading the Earth known as Muurks. Just when Howard is about to be killed, he wakes up and it turns out that the previous scenario had been a dream that was spurred by Howard reading some of the unpublished writings by Beverly’s roommate, a struggling writer known as Arthur Winslow. Since the last issue Howard is staying in that apartment with Beverly and Arthur (whom Beverly made clear to Howard that they are just roommates and he is not her boyfriend). It is also the issue where Beverly mentions her occupation as an artist model and she said that she became a prisoner of Pro-Rata in the last issue when she answered a Help Wanted ad looking for a model.

Since Arthur’s writing career has yet to take off, he has been working nights as a security guard just to pay the bills. His job is boring until one night when he hears a crash in one of the buildings. It turns out to be a giant turnip. When he investigates further, the turnip possesses Arthur with a laser beam pointed at Arthur’s head. The turnip says that he is the last of a race of highly intelligent space vegetables. The turnip is frustrated by the fact that his movements are limited because he is, well, a turnip. Arthur confesses that he has always wanted to be a hero. Arthur accepts the turnip’s proposal that the two of them merge together so Arthur would have access to the turnip’s extensive knowledge of the universe while the turnip would be able to use Arthur’s limbs to move. The turnip also promises to make Arthur into a hero, which results in Arthur becoming known as Turnip-Man.

Meanwhile Howard and Beverly are riding on a bus where the Kidney Lady makes her first appearance. (She would continue to make guest appearances throughout the series while being a constant thorn in Howard’s side.) The Kidney Lady is obsessed with keeping her kidneys healthy to the point of fanaticism that’s not unlike religious fanatics or political fanatics who end up turning to terrorism (such as Al Qaeda or ISIS). The Kidney Lady objects to Howard smoking his trademark cigar on a bus (this was back in the day before smoking bans became commonplace like they are today) because the cigar smoke threatens her kidneys. She swipes Howard’s cigar and squashes it, which prompts a brawl between Howard and the Kidney Lady.

The bus they are on almost gets into an accident due to the brawl between Howard and the Kidney Lady. But Turnip-Man happens to be in the same area so he stops the bus and prevents an accident. When the passengers all get off of the bus, Beverly recognizes Arthur’s voice in the Turnip-Man outfit, who then responds by grabbing Beverly and flying away.

kidnappingbeverly

It turns out that the bargain Arthur made with the turnip is starting to haunt him because the turnip begins to take over more of Arthur’s body to the point where Arthur is losing control over his own body. The turnip wants to have sex with Beverly in order to know what it’s like to experience, in the turnip’s words, “the making of whoopee.” Beverly fights off Turnip-Man’s advances while Arthur and the turnip argue with each other (try to imagine a person arguing with himself). Howard eventually tracks the pair down. He figures out that the turnip’s brains are located in the greens that are part of the Turnip-Man’s helmet so he pulls out the greens and manages to destroy them by flinging them into one of the many smokestacks that dot the Cleveland skyline.

The story ends back in the apartment where Arthur is very remorseful and repentant for willingly giving up control over his own body to someone else whom he had never met before.

Topical 1970’s References: Back in the 1970’s there was a popular game show on television known as The Newlywed Game. Newlywed couples would answer personal questions about their new marriage for the chance to win a special prize (usually a trip to somewhere exotic or a set of ultra-expensive furniture). The host, Bob Eubanks, would frequently term anything to do with sex as “making whoopee.” The censors at that time were way more cautious about depicting any kind of sex on television to the point where some shows refused to even use the word “sex.”

I found it pretty hilarious that the turnip would clinically refer to sex as “the making of whoopee.”

The Kidney Lady’s protest of Howard’s smoking a cigar on a bus is reminiscent of the beginning of an anti-smoking movement that was formed over the health concerns of people who breathe in secondhand smoke from smokers. I can remember when people could smoke anywhere they wanted. But then there were laws passed where public places (such as restaurants) were required to have segregated smoking and non-smoking areas. Over time those laws were amended to the point where most public places no longer allow smoking anywhere.

The Bottom Line: This issue is definitely a hilarious satire of the Marvel superheroes, including the personal angst that many of these superheroes have in their daily lives when they are not fighting the bad guys (such as Arthur’s struggle to become a successful writer). The idea of a superhero based around a turnip from outer space is pretty hysterical to me.

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Howard the Duck #3
May, 1976
Four Feathers of Death or Enter the Duck!

Credits: Steve Gerber, writer; John Buscema, illustrator; Steve Leialoha, inker; Marv Wolfman, editor; Annette Kawecki, Letterer; Michele Wolfman, colorist

Synopsis: Howard and Beverly have just left the movie theater, which was showing the latest kung-fu hit. Howard shows his distaste towards the violence of kung-fu movies in general by complaining about what he has just saw on the silver screen while noting that the filmmakers take an ancient philosophy and martial arts and sell it as a violent entertainment package. An African American youth who attended the same movie blocks Howard’s path by doing the kung fu movies that he has just saw, which leads to Howard making this comment that modern readers may interpret as racist.

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It is true that Howard calls all humans “hairless apes,” regardless of race or ethnicity. But Howard hurls the “hairless apes” epithet at a boy who’s from an ethnic group who, prior to the 1950’s, were routinely depicted in illustrations and cartoons as looking like apes or monkeys. I’m not saying that the people behind the comic book were racists, it’s very likely that they were unaware of why it’s not wise to refer to African Americans as “hairless apes” (even if Howard calls all humans that) because of white privilege. White privilege doesn’t mean that the person is intentionally racist (like joining the Ku Klux Klan). White privilege means that a white person is so insulated from what non-whites go through that he/she may inadvertently say or write something that offends a non-white person because that white person never knew that it was offensive. This especially happens if a white person grew up in an all-white neighborhood without having any non-white playmates and classmates, continues living in majority-white neighborhoods as an adult, and has a job in a workplace with very few non-white colleagues (or the non-white employees may be in lower-ranking jobs like security guard or janitor).

Well, anyway, back to the synopsis. Howard and Beverly decides to go to a local diner where many of the patrons started to talk about kung fu movies, much to Howard’s chagrin. Suddenly the same African American youth who previously blocked Howard’s path doing kung fu moves is hurled through the diner’s front window. It turns out that the youth had also blocked another person’s path while doing kung fu moves and that person turns out to be a gang leader known as Count Macho, who took that youth’s kung fu moves as a threat to his masculinity. Count Macho enters the diner by saying that what the youth did was an affront to a master of the martial arts like himself so the youth must be violently punished by him and his gang.

Soon a brawl breaks out as other patrons try to stop Count Macho and his gang from beating and stabbing the African American youth to no avail since the youth ends up getting stabbed. The gang is driven away while Beverly goes to a pay phone so she can call for help. (You can tell this comic book was printed before cell phones were even invented.) The ambulance and police arrive and Howard recognizes one of the cops from having previous run-ins with him as depicted in Giant-Size Man-Thing #4. Beverly is kneeling over the stabbed African American youth and Howard tells the police that she is a nurse (even though she is really a model) so she can ride with the youth in the ambulance.

As the ambulance drives away, Howard decides to walk around outside in order to calm his nerves from what he has just witnessed. He arrives in a book store that stocks lots of kung-fu magazines. Howard picks up one of the magazines and he sees an ad for a place that offers kung-fu lessons 24 hours a day. Howard meets a teacher who proceeds to teach Howard in all the ways of kung-fu. Howard masters his lessons in three hours, which leads the teacher to declare him as the Master of Quack-Fu.

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Howard returns to his apartment only to see a note from Count Macho saying that he and his gang have kidnapped Beverly and Howard should meet them at a certain location where there is a construction site. Howard does so and he proceeds to use his newly acquired knowledge of quack-fu to defeat Count Macho and his gang. Count Macho lunges at Howard, who ducks, which results in Count Macho falling from the building beam. He grabs Beverly, who’s dangling from that building beam on a crane, but the sweat on his hands makes them so slippery that he loses his grip and falls to his death.

After Howard frees Beverly, she tells Howard that the youth whom Count Macho and his gang stabbed had died at the hospital.

Topical 1970’s References: Kung-fu movies were the big rage in the 1970’s, which included such films as Enter the Dragon. Bruce Lee was a huge kung-fu movie star whose life was cut short while he was still in the prime of his career. In addition, there was a hit TV show called Kung-Fu which starred David Carradine as a half-white, half-Chinese man named Caine who wandered through the American West in the 1800’s dispensing ancient Eastern philosophical wisdom while using his kung-fu skills to kick the asses of various villains in each episode. I remember my mother and grandmother used to watch that show each week. The scenes where Howard trains with that kung-fu teacher is reminiscent of the frequent flashbacks on Kung-Fu where Caine, as a young boy growing up in a Chinese orphanage, frequently interacts with his teacher, who calls him “Grasshopper.” The fact that Howard’s kung-fu teacher calls Howard “Pondhopper” is definitely a parody of the Kung-Fu TV show. There was even the Carl Douglas song “Kung Fu Fighting,” which was a big hit when it was released in 1974.

The Bottom Line: This issue is a humorous parody of the kung-fu craze that swept America at the time despite the unfortunate cartoon panel showing Howard hurling the “hairless apes” term at an African American youth. It is a thought-provoking issue, especially when Howard speaks about the insanity of kung-fu films glamorizing street brawling even though, in real life, people get hurt in such brawls.

These issues were reprinted in Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection, Volume 1, which can be purchased online at AbeBooks, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BookDepository, Google Play, Half.com, IndieBound, Indigo, Powell’s.

Next post in this series.

The Howard the Duck Series

Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection, Volume 1

The Early Stories
Howard the Duck #1-3
Howard the Duck #4-5
Howard the Duck #6
Howard the Duck #7 and Marvel Treasury Edition #12: Howard the Duck
Howard the Duck #8
Howard the Duck #9-11
Howard the Duck #12-14
Howard the Duck King Size Annual #1 and Howard the Duck #15
Howard the Duck #16

Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection, Volume 2

Howard the Duck #17-19
Howard the Duck #20-22
Howard the Duck #23-25
Howard the Duck #26-28
Howard the Duck #29-31
Howard the Duck Magazine #1

I was a Girl Scout when I was a child. The official handbook for Junior Girl Scouts (which is the level I was at when this story began) had a list of badges that each Junior Girl Scout could earn. I saw one badge that intrigued me. It was called “My Camera” and it dealt with photography.

Up to that point I hadn’t taken any photographs but I was the subject of a lot of pictures that were taken by my relatives (mostly by my mother although my father took pictures from time to time as well). I looked at the requirements and they sounded interesting to me.

I convinced my parents that I wanted to pursue this badge so they bought me my first camera, which was a Kodak Pocket Instamatic. This camera used film cartridges that dropped into the back of the camera. If I wanted to take indoor pictures I had to put a little flash cube in the top slot.

Unlike digital photography where I can take a huge amount of photographs as long as I have adequate disk space, film photography was way more limited. The film cartridge for this camera came in either 12 exposure or 24 exposure with the latter being way more expensive. I remember my parents started me off with just 12 exposure, which is why I don’t have super extensive photos of any of the events I covered in order to get my Girl Scout badge.

Basically I took enough photos that I earned this badge, which I still have to this day.

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In order to earn the “My Camera” badge I had to photograph a couple of events and put them in a picture album. My parents bought me my first album that was titled “Brag Book” and had this pretty peacock design on the cover.

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I wrote my name in as neat cursive as I possibly could write along with 1972, the year I took all of these photos in this album.

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Now on to the photos themselves. The first event I shot for this album was for the birthday party of Diane, my youngest cousin on my mother’s side of the family who was celebrating her sixth birthday. The original caption of the next photo reads “First view of the house.” (There’s also a portion of my own thumb covering the camera lens on the right side of the picture, which is a dead giveaway that I was a photography newbie.)

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Caption of the next photograph: “The Birthday Girl Diane Lipp.”

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Caption of next photo: “Birthday Girl with the presents.”

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Original caption: “Opening the presents.” Diane’s older sister, Eileen, looks on while Diane opens her presents.

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Original caption: “Looking at the presents.” The blonde woman holding a book on the left is my mother while my cousin (and Diane’s oldest sister) Bernie looks at the pages. Diane is seated on the right with her back to me. Strangely my mother was the only adult I actually photographed at that birthday party despite the fact that my father, grandmother, and my aunt and uncle (Diane’s parents) were also present. (Of course I was dealing with the fact that, unlike today’s digital cameras, I had a limited amount of exposures I could make with film so I had to be very picky as to what pictures I would take.)

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Original caption: “The guests at the party.” This is a group photo of Diane and her sisters (my cousins). Diane is seated at the head of the table. Standing from left to right are Debbie, Bernie, and Eileen.

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Original caption: “The birthday cake.” My cousin Debbie’s back partially obscures the cake, which was a homemade chocolate frosted cake that had Diane’s name and the number 6 spelled out in M&M’s while a small train held the birthday candles.

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Original caption: “Blowing out the candles.”

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Original caption: “My cousin Debbie at the party.” And she’s sucking on a lemon as well.

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Original caption: “The cat with the party girls Bernie [located on the right], Debbie [holding the cat in her arms], Eileen [holding a doll on the left], and Diane [second from the left].”

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Original caption: “Pussy Cat behind a chair.” (Yes, my cousins actually named the family cat “Pussy Cat.”)

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The next few photos are of another event that also took place in the same home where my cousins grew up. Diane’s birthday is in January so, based on the clothes that the girls wore in the next few photos, I have to guess that these were taken sometime between May and August. The original caption of the next photo reads “Another view of the house.”

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Original caption: “Debbie holding Pussy Cat.”

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Original caption: “Debbie, Diane [holding the cat] and the cat named Pussy Cat.”

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Original caption: “Debbie [seated at the left holding Pussy Cat in her lap], Eileen [lying in the entrance to a tent that was erected in the backyard], and Diane at the tent.”

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I’m going to pause right here and provide one of those “Where are they now?” updates. Pussy Cat has crossed that Rainbow Bridge to wherever pets go in the afterlife a long time ago. My aunt and uncle (my cousins’ parents) are both dead. So are my father and grandmother. My mother is still alive while dealing with multiple sclerosis. As for my cousins, the birthday girl, Diane, now works for the Social Security Administration. She’s married with two sons, the younger of whom have just started his freshman year of college. Eileen is a schoolteacher. She’s married with a teenage stepson. She also has two grown sons from a previous marriage. Debbie works in security at NASA Kennedy Space Flight Center in Florida. She’s divorced and the mother of two grown daughters. Bernie is a physical therapist. She’s married with four children with the younger two still living at home and attending high school. (Her two older children have moved out on their own.)

The next few pictures are of a different event. Sue was a cousin on my father’s side of the family and I remember she was my father’s first cousin (which makes her my first cousin once-removed). We were invited to a party held at her house to celebrate the baptism of her first child, who was less than a month old at the time. (For some reason we were only invited to the party but not to the baptism itself. I suspect it’s because of the fact that my Protestant father was married to my Roman Catholic mother and I was being raised as a Catholic so there was some kind of organized religion bullshit going on. I’ll admit that I’m not much of a fan of organized religion and if it weren’t for the fact that I am currently a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation that has no creed or dogma, I wouldn’t even bother with organized religion at all, but I digress.)

The original caption to the next photograph reads “First view of Sue’s house.”

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Original caption: “The guests at the baptism party.” Unfortunately I took a photo of everyone’s backs while they were getting food so I really can’t tell you who was who. But you can at least get a good look of some of the early 1970’s hairstyles and fashions.

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Original caption: “Grandmom at the table.” My late grandmother was my father’s mother and she’s the only relative whose photo I took whom I could identify. (Unfortunately I have no idea as to the identity of that girl who’s to the left of my grandmother.)

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Original caption: “The guests at the kitchen.” Unfortunately I can’t identify any of the people in that photograph (and the fact that the picture is a bit on the blurry side doesn’t help at all).

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My parents lost contact with my father’s cousin Sue after that baptism party so I have no idea whatever became of her (or if she’s even still alive now). Nor do I know whatever became of that baby whose baptism party we attended. My grandmother has since passed away.

The last pictures in this photo album are of the annual family week-long vacation in Ocean City, Maryland. This was an era when the beach was dotted with small cottage-like apartment buildings that had anywhere from 6-24 rooms in each building. Starting in the late 1970s developers began building these huge condominiums which obliterated the beachfront views of the smaller apartment buildings. In a lot of cases these older buildings were torn down in order to make room for these larger condos. The original caption in the next photo reads “Mom and Dad” and, yes, they are my parents.

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Original caption: “Last year’s apartment.” This shows the place where my family stayed on the previous year’s trip (in 1971).

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Original caption: “This year’s apartment.” You can get a sense as to what the architecture was like in Ocean City before all of these huge condos were built.

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Original caption: “Peir [sic] 78.” I think Pier 78 was the building in the background. I don’t remember why I decided to take that picture since I don’t recall my family ever staying in that building. I also don’t recognize the woman sitting on the blanket in the foreground either. (She was probably a stranger.)

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Original caption: “Cathy and Smiley.” I remember my parents got me a Smiley pillow for either my birthday or Christmas (both are just 10 days apart from each other) the previous year. This was at the height of the Smiley Face craze of the 1970’s when there were all kinds of products featuring the Smiley Face. I remember I brought that pillow with me to Ocean City. That trip to Ocean City was one of those years when we shared an apartment with my aunt, uncle, and four cousins (whose pictures I posted earlier in this post). A friend of my aunt’s (whose name I’ve since forgotten) was also staying in Ocean City with her family at the same time so she dropped by the apartment with her toddler daughter named Cathy. I remember Cathy took a liking to my Smiley pillow so much that she carried it around with her everywhere she walked in that apartment and I decided to take that picture. I think the girl in the background may be my cousin Eileen but I don’t know for sure because this photo is a bit on the blurry side and the colors have become faded with age.

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I never saw Cathy or her mother again after that photo so I don’t know what became of either of them. My father passed away in 2000. Like I wrote earlier, my mother is still alive and well despite having to deal with multiple sclerosis.

Here’s the back of the Brag Book. Note the name “Japan” printed in gold on the lover right hand corner. Japan was the nation that many companies frequently went to when they wanted to manufacture cheap goods at a fraction of the cost of manufacturing these same goods in the United States. Japan has since been overtaken by China, India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and many other Third World countries as the place to go to manufacture goods as cheaply as possible so Japan is no longer synonymous with cheaply made imports.

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So now you know how I began as a photographer. Here’s another look at the “My Camera” badge, which I’m still proud of to this day because it ranks as my earliest accomplishments that I did because I wanted to, not because my parents/teachers/other adults told me that I had to do.

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I looked up the “My Camera” Girl Scout badge for Junior Girl Scouts online and I found that it has sine been replaced with one in Digital Photography including a completely redesigned badge. I suppose it was inevitable given the great strides in photography in the years since I started taking pictures with the Kodak Pocket Instamatic camera on film. At least today’s Girl Scouts still have the opportunity to earn a badge by trying their hand at photography, which is a good thing. I know that if it weren’t for the “My Camera” badge from a long time ago, I don’t know if I would have discovered how much I love photography and my life would’ve been way different (and so would the content of this blog).

Nearly two years ago I did a series of Throwback Thursday posts dedicated to reviewing a series of historical books released by American Girl (yes, that’s the doll company) about a young girl growing up in the 1970’s named Julie Albright. Since I grew up in the 1970’s myself, I thought it would be fun to compare and contrast how the books depicted the era with my own childhood memories of that same era.

I haven’t done any book reviews since that time mainly because no new books have been released in this series since 2014 (when the book A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey With Julie came out).

Back in November American Girl came out with a short movie based on the Julie books called And the Tiara Goes to… I haven’t seen it until late last month mainly because I was diverted by a bunch of other things (mainly Artomatic). It is a second in a series of short movies American Girl have released on YouTube based on the BeForever historical characters, with only two movies having been released as of this writing. (The first one, Maryellen and the Brightest Star, is based on the 1950’s character Maryellen.) Here is the movie for you to view. I’ll write my own thoughts underneath the video.

I’ll try to refrain from posting any spoilers in case you want to read my review before watching the movie. Julie Albright is depicted in the books as being a bit of a tomboy who’s into sports so much that she willingly goes through great lengths (such as launching a petition drive) in order to be allowed to play on the school’s basketball team, even though the coach feels that only boys should be allowed to play basketball. Her favorite books are the Little House series written by Laura Ingalls Wilder based on Wilder’s real-life childhood as the daughter of pioneers in the American West. She is also depicted as being into making crafts, showing great concern about the environment, and being willing to stand up for the underdog (such as her deaf classmate, Joy). She even makes a successful run for school president because she wants to reform the school’s detention system because, based on her own personal experiences, she feels that it’s not an effective way of discipline. She has never indicated that she was into anything even remotely fashionable or girly. (In fact, it’s her older sister, Tracy, who’s portrayed as being a trendy teenager who is concerned about her looks.)

So I found the movie’s premise of Julie being interested in entering a school beauty pageant to be a bit jarring in the least. It sounds more like an activity that her older sister would get involved with, not Julie.

Come to think of it, I found the idea of an elementary school holding a girls-only beauty pageant to be pretty jarring because I don’t recall any of the elementary schools in my area (Anne Arundel County [Maryland] Public Schools) ever holding beauty pageants in the 1970’s. I think there were beauty pageants that used to be held at the Harundale Mall a few times but they were done by outside groups, not the public school system.

There were a few moments in that film. The Water Fountain Girls were initially depicted as being just as nasty and snarky as they were in the books. It was cool seeing the friendship of Julie and Ivy being depicted on screen that was pretty close to the books. It was nice that Julie’s divorced parents were portrayed as being willing to act civil and friendly around each other for their children’s sake, which can show children whose parents are going through a divorce that it’s still possible to maintain a relationship with both parents even if they don’t live together under the same roof. The scene where Julie expresses her wish to Ivy that her parents still lived together is a common wish that many children of divorce have but Julie is also shown as being reconciled to her current family situation, which can show children of divorce as how it’s possible to adjust to growing up in a broken home.

Julie’s friend and basketball teammate, T.J., doesn’t have much of a role in that movie beyond the opening scene, which is too bad since he is such a pivotal and supportive character in the books.

Even though Julie is supposed to grow up in the 1970’s, the only thing that really depicted that era was the scene where Julie is talking to Ivy on a rotary phone and both Tracy and Julie’s mom tell her to hang up the phone because Tracy has to make a phone call. (This harkens back to the days before cell phones were so prevalent when most homes had only one phone line because the cost of having two or more lines installed was very expensive. So everyone living in that household had to share the same line. Even if each room had its own telephone, all the phones shared the same line. This meant that only one person could use the phone at a time.) There were a few scenes where Julie’s mom wore hippy-style dresses that could’ve come from the 1970’s. Otherwise there wasn’t much else that let viewers know that this story was taking place in the 1970’s.

Basically I felt that the story of Julie entering a beauty pageant was a bit off compared to how she was originally depicted in the books. It’s too bad that the film didn’t do a story that’s actually based on the books, such as the big basketball game in the second Central Series book, Julie Tells Her Story (which is now only available as part of The Big Break: A Julie Classic Volume 1 BeForever book), where she frequently encounters sexism from the players on the opposing team and she gets injured enough during the game that she is escorted off the court before the game ends and is sent to the hospital. That scene, complete with Tracy having a difficult time getting a hold of both of her parents (her mother was stuck running her Gladrags store while her father was late due to his plane flight), would’ve made a far more compelling short than the storyline in And the Tiara Goes to…

Having seen And the Tiara Goes to… and the previous one featuring the 1950’s character Maryellen, I have to say that the Maryellen movie was the better of the two mainly because the story was better done. (I’ll admit that I haven’t read any of the Maryellen books so, unlike Julie’s movie, I have nothing to compare it to.) That movie made more of an effort to show that the story took place in the 1950’s than the Julie movie did in depicting the 1970’s.

So that’s it for my review. I have a feeling that American Girl will eventually make at least one movie short based on all of the BeForever characters (except for the ones that have been archived, such as Caroline Abbott from the War of 1812). If a sequel is ever made to And the Tiara Goes to… I really hope the filmmakers will make a better effort to provide more of a 1970’s atmosphere with references to current events, music, TV shows, fashion, and celebrities so today’s children will know what it was really like to live in that era. And, please, no more beauty pageant stories. That one was definitely out of character for Julie and the results seemed totally awkward on screen.

The American Girl Julie Albright Books List

The Original Central Series

Meet Julie
Julie Tells Her Story
Happy New Year, Julie
Julie and the Eagles
Julie’s Journey
Changes for Julie

The Best Friend Book

Good Luck, Ivy

The Julie Mysteries

The Tangled Web
The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter
The Silver Guitar
Lost in the City
Message in a Bottle

The BeForever Books

The Big Break: A Julie Classic Volume 1—A compilation of the first three Julie Albright Central Series books (Meet JulieJulie Tells Her Story, and Happy New Year, Julie).

Soaring High: A Julie Classic Volume 2—A compilation of the last three Julie Albright Central Series books (Julie and the EaglesJulie’s Journey, and Changes for Julie).

A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey with Julie

Other Media Featuring Julie

And the Tiara Goes to…—A film short based on the Julie books.

When I was a kid in the 1970’s, there were plenty of fads like mood rings, polyester clothes, and disco dancing. But the strangest fad of all was the Pet Rock. As its name implies, it was basically a rock that you take home and take care of like a pet.

Today I learned that Gary Dahl, the Pet Rock’s inventor, died recently. He was a struggling freelance copywriter when he visited a local bar with a few friends. As Dahl and his friends continued to drink, the conversation somehow turned to pets when Dahl came up with the idea of the ultimate easy to care for pet: a rock. Dahl thought the idea was hilarious and he decided to try to do something with that crazy idea as a joke. The Pet Rock took off beyond his wildest dreams and he became a millionaire.

The Pet Rock was basically a triumph of marketing in that people were actually convinced to purchase something that anyone (especially those living in the suburbs or rural areas) could easily go outside and pick up off the ground for free. The fact that it was packaged in such a way that moved people to open their wallets only adds to the triumph of style over substance. The Pet Rock came in a cardboard container that resembled ones that pet stores used to temporarily house a recently purchased pet until the customer returned home with the new pet in tow. The Pet Rock was laid on a straw nest at the bottom of the package. There was even a pamphlet that contained instructions on the care and feeding of the Pet Rock.

I remember when people I knew actually purchased one of those things. I think my parents might have even purchased a Pet Rock but I don’t remember. I know I saw it in other people’s houses.

The Pet Rock became such a huge craze that it led to this 1976 novelty record featuring a newscaster known as Walter Rockite.

There was even this song by Al Bolt called “I’m in Love With My Pet Rock” that briefly made it on the country charts in 1976.

The Pet Rock was a short-lived fad. I think it became passè after a year or two when Pet Rock owners came to their senses thinking “What was I thinking when I bought that thing?!?” While mood rings and disco music have made frequent comebacks from time to time, the Pet Rock didn’t make its official comeback until 2012. For those who want a quick trip down memory lane, the Pet Rock is sold on Amazon.com, has its own website, and there’s even a version that has a USB port so you can plug it in your computer. (The USB version doesn’t do anything once it’s plugged in. Although if you try this at a local Starbuck’s, you’ll probably get stares from people wondering why you have a rock attached to your laptop.) The fact that Wikipedia has devoted a page to the Pet Rock indicates that this item is destined to remain as a footnote in history for years to come.

In a way it’s very fitting that Gary Dahl’s death was announced the day before April Fool’s Day. If only I could come up with something equally insipid and relatively easy to create as a Pet Rock that becomes a huge selling fad. (LOL!)

I had a full weekend. Last Saturday I participated in an all-day Women’s Retreat at my church. Yesterday was Sunday where I went to church service in the morning then spent the afternoon as a volunteer English tutor for recent immigrants at this program that my church has recently started. (I’ve been doing this for a couple of months and I enjoy it so far.) In addition I kept on hearing hype about yet another winter storm followed by yet another visit of the Polar Vortex that was going to start late Sunday evening or early Monday morning.

After a full weekend I was in the mood to do something totally frivolous and fun, especially since the weather forecasters kept on saying that there would be so much snow that I would be snowed in yet again. (The forecasters were correct. The snow arrived today and it has totally paralyzed the Baltimore-Washington, DC area to the point where even the Federal Government closed down.)

I decided to check out the American Girl Place in Tysons Corner. I haven’t been there in a couple of years due mainly to the fact that the entire area is currently undergoing this insane construction development and driving there is a total bitch while taking public transportation from my home to Tysons Corner is at least a two-hour commute going one way (with a round trip being four hours). But I wasn’t free from church-related obligations until after 4 p.m. and I learned that the American Girl Place would be opened until 7 p.m. On top of it, since I was driving late on Sunday the day before a major snowstorm, I figured that traffic wouldn’t be quite as bad and many people would be busy crowding the grocery stores while preparing for the snowstorm. I was proven correct because I had a relatively easy time finding parking compared to going to the same mall on a Saturday afternoon.

I’ll admit that I own only one American Girl doll. She’s a 1970’s historical doll named Julie Albright and I bought her the day before I was to undergo major hip surgery in September, 2011 and I was attracted by the fact that she wore a similar outfit to something I once wore when I was a child. I haven’t bought another American Girl doll since because I found that they are basically alike. Here’s a photo I took of a bunch of American Girl dolls during a visit to the American Girl Place on Fifth Avenue in New York City in 2007.

American Girl Dolls

As the above photo shows, despite the variations in hair color, hair style, eye color, and skin tone, they are basically alike. They literally have the same faces. Last night I took another photo of a display of the My American Girl line and all the dolls in the below photo still have basically the same faces.

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There was another reason for my trip to the American Girl Place.  For the last few years, Mattel (which owns the American Girl doll line) have been releasing a special line called Girl of the Year. The concept is this: a new doll character is released along with books explaining her backstory and special clothes, furniture, and accessories. This doll is officially released in January and remains on sale for only one year. At the end of the year the doll and her related items are officially retired and she gets replaced by a new Girl of the Year. This year’s Girl of the Year made her official rollout on ABC’s Good Morning America.

I usually don’t pay much attention to the Girl of the Year. In fact, I hadn’t paid much attention to the American Girl line until they came out with a historical 1970’s doll and it reflected an era that I actually lived in as a child. (I had read various articles about those dolls in the past and I was impressed with the original idea of having a historical doll with a book so girls could learn about what it was like living as a girl during events like the American Revolution while the doll would be dressed in actual period clothes with appropriate accessories so girls could actually have a hands-on lesson about a certain era. While history was always one of my best subjects in school, I wished there had been similar historical play dolls when I was a child because I would’ve loved them.)

But then there was an article in The Washington Post that provided a local angle to the new Girl of the Year doll, Isabelle Palmer. Apparently this character is described as living in Washington, DC and she lives with her family in Georgetown. She is a dance student who attends the fictional Anna Hart School for the Arts (obviously based on the real-life Duke Ellington School of the Arts, which has a dance program). As someone who lives in the Washington, DC area, I was suddenly interested in Isabelle until I saw photos of her. She has straight platinum blonde hair like Julie Albright, the same skin tone as Julie, and the same face (with the slight toothy grin) as Julie. There are some superficial differences: Isabelle’s eyes are grey while Julie’s are brown. Isabelle’s hair has a side part while Julie’s hair is parted in the middle. Julie has a single braid in her hair while Isabelle’s hair have pink tips (which are actually hair extensions that can be easily removed if the owner doesn’t like them). Otherwise, Julie and Isabelle can pass as twins.

Seeing the Isabelle doll in person confirmed the resemblance to the Julie doll in my eyes. Here’s a picture of Julie Albright modeling a new 1970’s inspired outfit that comes with a macrame belt, a disco ball, and a mod poster.

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Here are some photos I took of Isabelle Palmer, where you can see the resemblance to Julie Albright.photo3

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I also have to admit that what I also found underwhelming the outfits available for Isabelle Palmer. Her dance practice clothes are so incredible dull and bland. The only Isabelle outfit I really loved was this totally gorgeous ballet outfit.

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I wouldn’t mind reading Isabelle’s book just so I can check out all the references to various DC area locations. But I’m definitely passing on the doll since she resembles Julie Albright too much for my tastes. (I’ve heard about doll collectors who have purchased two or three of the same doll so they would have twins or triplets. I’ve never been into that. Although other American Girl collectors could get twins by purchasing Julie Albright and Isabelle Palmer and treating them as twin sisters.)

I took photos of other things that are currently on sale at the American Girl Place that I personally found cute. Some of the more elaborate things (like a sailboat with enough room for one doll) are really impressive but I would never buy them because they are very expensive (with prices ranging from $200-300) and they are so big that they would definitely take up a lot of space in my townhouse. Others were very cute minis (such as a mini chocolate Easter bunny set) that I would’ve purchased on impulse if I’m not trying to be conservative with my money these days so I had to settle with taking pictures of them with my smartphone.

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I only bought one item at the American Girl Place: a set of three different colored hair extensions for a doll that cost $15.

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After I got home I clipped them in Julie’s hair and it worked out pretty well, despite the fact that I took the below photo at night under crappy lighting.

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Instead of spending money on a new doll with platinum hair and pink tips, I bought hair extensions for my platinum-haired doll and she now has purple, pink, and blue streaks. Before I start hearing protests of “How could you give a historical 1970’s doll colored streaks in her hair?” I have to say that the idea of doing this is not too far outrageous. Julie’s story starts in late 1974 and ends in 1976 (the year of the American Bicentennial). By 1977 punk rock had exploded in the U.S. followed by new wave music. There were punk and new wave bands who wore clothes that were different from the hippie and disco clothes of the era who sported names like The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Ramones, Generation X, Television, Siouxsie and the Banshees, X-Ray Spex, Blondie, The Cars, Elvis Costello, Flock of Seagulls, and Richard Hell and the Voidoids. And many musicians and their fans wore different hair colors. You can still look up punk hair styles on sites like Pinterest, Tumblr, and Flickr to see all the hair colors that are out there and are still worn by punk fans today.

After I finished with visiting the American Girl Place, I briefly stopped by the Disney Store before buying some candy at a nearby candy shop (I figured that if I was going to be snowed in the next day, I might as well make it a bit more enjoyable with sweet treats). By that point it was around 6:30 p.m. and I knew that most of the stores in the mall would be closed in a half-an-hour so I decided to head home and wait for the snowstorm.

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