Mystery of the Secret Message

secretmessageMystery of the Secret Message by Elizabeth Honness, 1961.

Penny lives with her aunt and uncle because her mother is dead and her father travels on business much of the time, dealing in Asian art.  Thanks to his travels, Penny and her aunt and uncle have quite a collection of Asian art themselves.  However, Penny has just been told that her father’s airplane crashed in the Pacific Ocean.  No survivors have been found, although Penny still has hope that perhaps her father survived and might yet be found.

At the same time, Penny and her aunt and uncle are moving into a house from the apartment where they used to live. Penny is happy about the move because she knows that she won’t have to worry as much about being quiet and not disturbing the neighbors, like she had to do in their apartment. This means that Penny can bring her friends over to the house to play and have parties. Also, their new house has a very special feature: its own private elevator.

Penny loves the new house, and soon begins building a tree house with the help of Pete, a boy who lives nearby.  She tells Pete about her father and her hopes that he might still be alive.

However, events take a disturbing turn when Penny receives a package from Japan containing a beautiful wall scroll. The package appears to have been sent by her father, who meant it as a present for her new room in her new house. Was the package sent before his death, or did he somehow survive the crash?

There is also something odd about Penny’s new neighbors.  Penny’s new house is actually half of a duplex, and the new neighbors, the Carruthers, have also recently moved in after renting their half. When Penny accidentally gets stuck in the elevator and hears voices coming through the wall, she starts to suspect that her neighbors might not be what they seem to be.  They show an unusual interest in her family’s collection of Asian art, asking to see pieces and borrow pieces for an exhibition that Mr. Carruthers is holding at his gallery.  One of Penny’s friends even catches Mrs. Carruthers sneaking around, looking at things uninvited.

When Penny and her friends have a sleepover on an evening when her aunt and uncle are out, someone sneaks into the house, leaving muddy footprints on the floor.  Penny isn’t sure that her aunt and uncle will believe her because they seem to like the Carruthers, so at Pete’s suggestion, she continues to spy on them, using the elevator to listen in on their conversations through the walls.

When her uncle catches her one day, using the elevator without permission (something she is not supposed to do), she finally explains her suspicions and what’s she’s heard the Carruthers say.  Together, Penny and her uncle discover a hidden secret about the wall scroll Penny recently received, which points to a number of secrets that Penny’s father kept from her and the rest of his family for years.  A stranger from the government helps Penny to fill in some of the blanks, but he has a favor to ask in return that requires Penny to take a big risk.




FudgeAManiaFudge-A-Mania by Judy Blume, 1990.

Peter is horrified when he finds out that his family is going to spend their vacation in the same place as bossy know-it-all Sheila Tubman and her family.  Even worse, the two families are going to be staying to be staying right next to each other.  Really right next to each other.  They’re staying in the same house, which has been split into two halves.  As far as Peter is concerned, the only thing that might save his summer is that his friend Jimmy will be coming up to stay with them part of the time.

The arrangement turns out to be a little better than Peter thought it would be at first.  Sheila finds a way to make some extra money by baby-sitting Peter’s five-year-old brother Fudge.  Fudge says at first that he wants to marry Sheila, although it turns out to be mostly because he’s afraid of monsters in his room at night, and he thinks that if he gets married and shares a room with Sheila, it will keep the monsters away.  Then, he decides that marriage may be unnecessary when he makes friends with a little girl named Mitzi, who is staying with her grandparents nearby.  Mitzi’s grandmother makes a special monster spray for her to keep monsters away, so Fudge decides that he might not have to marry Sheila after all.

Peter is happy when he discovers that Mitzi’s grandfather is Big Apfel, his baseball hero, and that he holds baseball games that are open to the public, so he and Jimmy can also play with him.  He also gets a crush on Isobel (“Izzy”), a girl who works at the local library, although Isobel is a few years older than he is.  The baseball game goes well enough, but the crush, not so much.

Then, comes the most shocking news of the summer: Peter’s grandmother and Sheila’s grandfather decide to get married!  If that happens, Peter and Sheila realize that they’ll be related by marriage!

Big Apfel and his granddaughter Mitzi are fictional characters, but the book that Mitzi claims is about her, Tell Me a Mitzi, is a real book.

This book is part of the Fudge Series.

Mystery on Taboga Island

TabogaIslandMystery on Taboga Island by Patricia Maloney Markun, 1995.

Amy is excited to be spending the summer with her aunt on Taboga Island, off the coast of Panama, near the Panama Canal.    Aunt Rhoda is a curator for an art museum, and she is writing a series of art lectures.  In particular, she has an interest in Paul Gauguin, who painted in Panama in the late 1800s.  She has invited Amy to join her for the summer not only so that she can visit another country but because of their mutual interest in art.  Amy loves drawing and painting and wants to be an artist someday.

The one drawback of going is that Amy is worried that she will be lonely over the summer.  She doesn’t know whether there will be any kids her age close by or if she would be able to talk to them if there are because she doesn’t speak Spanish.  Fortunately, soon after they arrive on Taboga, Amy meets Zoe.  Zoe is from California but she comes to visit her relatives on Taboga every year.  She introduces Amy to her cousin, Juan, as well.  The three of them become friends, and Zoe and Juan even share their special, secret hiding place with Amy: a old lookout point on an old, abandoned pier left from World War II that can only be reached by walking on a narrow beam over the water.

TabogaIslandPicThey also introduce Amy to Madame Odelle, who people call The Bird Woman because of all the birds she keeps around her house.  She is a widow who lives alone and hardly ever sees people, but she invites the children in and when she learns that Amy is interested in art, she shows them a special painting that her family has had for generations.  Madame says that her grandfather bought the painting years ago from a traveling Frenchman who was in need of money.  Amy thinks that it looks like one of Paul Gauguin’s paintings, and she knows that some of his work is unaccounted for.  However, the initials on the painting are PGO.  What could the ‘O’ stand for?

Then, the painting is suddenly stolen, and there’s no shortage of suspects.  A strange woman named Phoebe Quincy has been lurking around Madame’s house and asking questions about her.  There’s also Donald S. Deffenbach, a birdwatcher who doesn’t seem to know much about birds, and Captain Billy, an Australian who owns a sailboat that he sails himself.  Dr. Denis Dobson, who is also a Gauguin expert, also happens to be staying at the resort on the island.  He is visiting places where Gauguin painted while writing a book about him.  Could he be the thief?

I like this book for the pieces of history about Panama and Paul Gauguin, which are important in solving the mystery and understanding the origin of Madame’s mysterious painting.  One of the things I remembered most about reading this book as a child, though, was when Amy and her aunt were eating at the little restaurant on the island and her aunt urged her to try a Panamanian dish so that she could get used to trying new foods when she travels.  Amy tries a tamale for breakfast and loves it, wishing that she had been brave enough to try it earlier since she and her aunt are now planning to do more of their own cooking.  I was familiar with tamales as a kid, but not for breakfast, although I like the idea.

In the Kaiser’s Clutch

KaisersClutchIn the Kaiser’s Clutch by Kathleen Karr, 1995.

After their father’s death during World War I  (then called The Great War), the Dalton twins’ mother started supporting their family by writing.  It’s the summer of 1918, and Dorothy Dalton is now writing the scripts for a silent movie serial starring the fifteen-year-old twins, Nelly and Fitzhugh.  Times have been tough for them without their father’s support, but the serial means steady work and salaries for all three of them for the entire summer, enough to support them and buy school supplies for the fall, and maybe even enough to buy back some of the things that their mother pawned to keep their family going when they had to move out of New York to a less expensive town in New Jersey.

The movie serial, called In the Kaiser’s Clutch, is about a pair of wealthy American twins (played by Nelly and Fitz) who find themselves battling German spies.  The serial is part adventure story, part American war propaganda.  It’s also a subject that hits close to home.  The Dalton twins’ father wasn’t killed while fighting overseas.  He was in charge of the security force for the piers of Black Tom Island, just off the coast of New York, the port where most of the weaponry destined for the war in Europe were being shipped.  However, a massive explosion destroyed the port at Black Tom and killed Mr. Dalton.  Fitz wishes that he were old enough to fight directly in the war, but failing that, he wants to find the people who killed his father because he is sure that his father’s death was due to deliberate sabotage, not an accident.  However, it’s possible that the saboteur himself is looking for the Dalton family.

Strange things start to happen which the twins realize may have some bearing on their father’s death.  Someone has been spying on the family, listening by the window of their apartment.  Then, the direct hires a new, part-time actor to play one of the villains in the movie serial who is oddly similar to the fleeing figure of the man who was spying on them.  This man is German, and he seems to have some weird grudge against the twins, muttering insults in German and taking advantage of the stunts they have to perform in the movies to hurt and frighten them.  There are plenty of opportunities for the twins to get hurt on the movie set because each episode of the series has to end with a cliff-hanger scene, and there are no stunt doubles.  From fist fights to car chases to quicksand to a cave-in to a giant pendulum with a mysteriously sharpened edge to sudden explosions, the Dalton twins are constantly teetering on the edge of disaster, not all of it planned by their writer mother.

Mrs. Dalton admits to the twins that, shortly before their father died, he told her that he was close to uncovering something that would be a much better story than anything she could make up.  Unfortunately, he never told her what it was.  He did tell her that he was making notes about it, but those notes were never found and may have also been destroyed in the explosion.  The only odd thing that Mrs. Dalton found after her husband’s death seemed like an ordinary shopping list: “cigars, eggs, dumplings, coal, pencils.”  However, Mrs. Dalton realized later that it has to mean something else because her husband didn’t smoke.  Could this somehow be the clue to what her husband was investigating before his death?  Are there real spies operating in the area?  Is there some other clue to their identity that they are now searching for, something that the Daltons still have in their possession?  Will the Dalton twins manage to find the spies before the spies eliminate them?  Will the family finish the serial and collect their salaries?  Find out in this exciting installment!  (Well, this is only a single book, not part of a series, but you get the idea.)

World War I books aren’t quite as common in children’s literature as World War II stories, so I found this interesting, and movie serials are also a thing of the past.  The movies that the kids are acting in are black-and-white silent films, so there are interesting discussions of the techniques they use to make things show up properly on black-and-white film (makeup, dyeing the water black for Nelly near-drowning scene, etc.) and conveying emotion when the actors’ voices will not actually be heard.  It’s a fun and fascinating story with spies, government agents, and the kind of movie stunts that a lot of kids wish they could do for their summer jobs!

The General Store

Historic Communities

GeneralStoreThe General Store by Bobbie Kalman, 1997.

Besides providing 19th century communities with needed goods, general stores were often centers for community life.  Everyone would need to come and purchase or barter for supplies they couldn’t make for themselves, and it was also where mail for the area was delivered and sorted.  People gathered there to pick up what they needed and to exchange news and gossip with other members of the community.  The book explains how general stores functioned, what kinds of goods they carried, and how they helped to build growing communities.

Basically, they were like small department stores, carrying a little of everything that people in the area needed, including food items, dishes and silverware, tools, plant seeds, ready-made clothes and shoes, bolts of cloth, books, newspapers, and medicine.  Store owners had to decide what they would carry in their stores and how much of it to stock.  If they stocked too little of an item everyone wanted, they would run out, and if they had too much of an item hardly anyone wanted, they would either have to sell it at a discount or keep it themselves.  If someone wanted something that the storekeeper didn’t have on hand, they would have to ask the storekeeper to order it for them from a catalog or get it themselves by making a trip to a larger town where they could find what they were looking for.

GeneralStoreDrawersStore owners also had to decide how much they should charge for each item or how much they would be willing to take in trade.  Farmers often bartered for goods with the produce from their farms, and it was common for store owners to use a form of credit to keep track of what their customers owed and what they owed to their customers.  Farmers would typically sell their goods at harvest time, and the store owners would give them a certain amount of credit at their store, based on what they thought the farmers’ produce was worth.  Then, the farmers could use the credit on their account at the store until the next harvest and selling time.  If a farmer ran out of credit before the next harvest, the store owner would usually extend credit at the store to the farmer to allow him and his family to buy some necessities, knowing that the farmer could make up for it when he came to sell his next batch of produce.

To keep their customers from disputing the prices they charged at the store, store owners often used a kind of code to keep track of the amounts they spent to buy each item and the price they wanted the customer to pay in order to make a decent profit.  The codes were usually something like a substitution code, using letters to represent numbers so customers would need the store owner to interpret the price tags and manage their credit account.  This code system became less common after the 1870s because more people were simply using cash instead of bartering for goods, but I thought that it was a fascinating piece of history.

GeneralStoreMailAnother odd kind of code that the book mentions was the kind that people would use on mailed letters.  Instead of the sender paying the postage, as they do now, people receiving letters were supposed to pay for them when they picked them up from the general store.  If a receiver returned a letter unopened, they wouldn’t need to pay anything, so some people would try to cheat the system by writing a message in code on the outside of the envelope so the receiver would know the most important part of what the writer wanted to tell them for free.

People who practiced special trades, such as blacksmiths or printers, would often set up shop near the general store, and that would be the basis for the main street of growing towns.  Later, when railroads connected more towns, more people began ordering what they wanted themselves through catalogs (not unlike the way people have begun ordering more goods through the Internet). Mail started being delivered to individuals’ homes, and general stores were replaced by more modern department stores and specialty shops.

I loved the pictures in the book, a combination of photographs from living history museums and drawings.


Colonial Crafts


Historic Communities

ColonialCraftsColonial Crafts by Bobbie Kalman, 1992.

In Colonial America, everything had to be made by hand.  There were people whose entire profession was to make certain types of things, and this book describes common types of craftspeople, how they learned their skills, the goods they made, and how they practiced their trades.

People who worked with their hands learned their trades directly from others in their profession by serving apprenticeships.  Schools as we know them were less common in Colonial times and were mainly for upper class families, especially the sons of wealthy men.  Girls typically learned domestic crafts such as sewing, weaving, and candle-making.  Girls were mainly expected to marry and be housewives, and boys often learned their father’s trade.  How long an apprenticeship would last depended on the trade, but apprentices usually started performing very basic chores for their masters and gradually worked their way up to more difficult tasks as they learned the trade.  At the end of an apprenticeship, the apprentice would produce a work called the “masterpiece” to show off their new skills.  Then, the apprentice would become a journeyman, traveling around and looking for work in their trade until they earned the money they needed to open a shop of their own.


Some of the trades covered in the book are cabinetmaker, leatherworker (including related trades like shoemaker and harnessmaker), cooper (someone who makes barrels), wheelwright, blacksmith, silversmith, gunsmith, printer, and milliner (someone who could make and alter clothing and sell fashion accessories).  The descriptions for each profession include not only details about the trade and tools of the trade but interesting facts such as the fact that, in Colonial times, shoemakers did not make shoes different shoes for left and right feet.  Both shoes in a pair were shaped exactly the same because it was easier for the shoemaker and because people thought that the tracks of identical shoes looked neat.  Aside from the professional crafts, the book also explains a little about domestic crafts, the kinds of things that people made in their own homes.

The book is full of pictures of historical reenactors demonstrating different crafts and trades.


Going to School in 1776

School1776Going to School in 1776 by John J. Loeper, 1973.

The grass is green,
The rose is red,
Remember me
When I am dead.

Ruth Widmer”

This is a non-fiction book about what it was like for children to go to school around the time of the American Revolution.  The quote that begins the book, a short poem, was written by a real girl from 1776 in her copybook.  The book’s introduction says that it was included to remind readers that, “History is not just facts.  History is people.”  Part of the purpose of the book is to remind people about the lives of ordinary people, of real children, making history come alive in a way that mere recitation of important names and battle dates never can.

The book explains some basic facts about the Americas in 1776 and what led up to the Revolutionary War.  Then, it begins discussing what it was like to be a child at the time in different parts of the American Colonies.  The colonies were largely rural and even major cities were not the size that they are today.  However, there were differences in the ways families lived and the type of education the children received, depending upon where they lived and if they lived in towns or in the countryside.

School1776Pic1These explanations are told in story form, rather than simply explaining listing the ways children could live, learn, and go to school, trying to help readers see their lives through the eyes of the children themselves.  The children’s lives are affected by the war around them.  As the book says, many town schools in New England were closed during the war, so the students would attend “dame schools” instead.  A dame school was a series of lessons taught in private homes by older women in the community.  In other places, such as cities like Philadelphia, official schools were still open.  Discipline was often strict, and school hours could be much longer than those in modern schools.  Sometimes, children would argue with each other over their parents’ positions on the war.

Some schools were similar to modern public schools, open to all children of a certain area and operated by the town fathers.  Others were church schools and included religious lessons.  Families with money were more likely to send their children to school than poorer families, who could not always afford tuition, although public schools would not always charge the students an extra tuition fee because the schools were funded with local taxes.  These systems varied throughout the colonies, and poor children in the South were less likely to be formally educated.  Wealthy plantation owners would open schools for the upper class children, and lower class children might receive lessons in “field schools.”  The field schools were just occasional, informal lessons given to the children in the fields by any adult who happened to be interested in the task.

Teaching in schools was not easy.  Sometimes, teachers were itinerant, moving from one school to another and finding work in agricultural areas between the growing seasons, when children would be free from chores to attend school.  Some teachers were even indentured servants, forced to remain in the employ of a person to whom they were indebted, often because that person paid for their passage from Europe to the Colonies.

School1776Pic2There were different standards for what girls and boys were expected to learn because their learning was guided by what they were each expected to do with their adult lives.  A typical school might teach boys subjects like, “writing, arithmetick [sic], accounting, navigation, algebra, and Latine.”  Generally, “reading, writing, arithmetic, and religion” were common elementary school subjects.  Latin lessons and other advanced subjects were typically for boys who planned to become lawyers or clergymen.  Girls were likely to receive little formal education beyond reading and writing, and black people were less likely to receive even that.

Of course, not every child went to school.  There were other ways for children to learn, depending on what they expected to do with their lives.  Apprenticeships were common.  Boys would go to live in the house of a person with a particular profession and learn that profession from the master.  Aside from basic training for a profession, the master would provide room, board, basic necessities such as clothing, and training in the “three Rs”, which were “reading, ‘riting, and reckoning.”  In return, the apprentice would provide his master with his labor for a period of time.

Girls could also serve apprenticeships, although theirs were more focused on the domestic arts because most of them were expected to marry, and they often married young, about the age of sixteen.  Beyond reading and writing, girls would also learn practical skills such as various kinds of needlework and also music and dancing.  The book describes in some detail the various types of needlework a girl could learn and the materials they used.  Typically, girls would create a “sampler” to show off all the stitches they’d learned, kind of like an apprentice’s master piece or a certificate of completion done in cloth.  Unlike modern “samplers”, these would not be just cross-stitch alone because the idea was for the girl to demonstrate her skill and versatility, and using only one stitch would not impress anyone.  Commonly, the sampler would include the alphabet and the numbers one through ten, which would all be done in cross-stitch (which was the basic embroidery stitch), but there would also be an inspirational quote, message or Bible verse, the girl’s name and the date of the sampler’s completion, and other decorative embellishments, which would be done in other stitches such as tent stitch, eyelet stitch, chain stitch, and French knot.  There could be as many as twenty different types of stitches in a single sampler, depending on the girl’s skill and what she had learned.  Girls hoped to do at least as well as their mothers in terms of the number of stitches they knew and skill in execution.

There are also sections in the book which describe the lessons that children learned, the types of school books they used, discipline in the classroom, ways children liked to have fun, and types of clothing that children wore in 1776.

Trapped in Time

TrappedTimeTrapped in Time by Ruth Chew, 1986.

Audrey (called Andy) and her younger brother Nathan are having a picnic in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York, when Nathan falls and knocks over an old tree stump. They spot something shiny in the deep hole under the old stump, and Nathan climbs down to get it.  It turns out to be an old pocket watch, the kind that needs to be wound with a key.  Nathan has a small key in his pocket, made for a toy, and decides to try it on the watch.  He manages to wind it, but suddenly, the hands of the watch move backwards, the children feel strange, and everything around them seems different.  Although it takes the children a little while to realize it, they’ve traveled back in time about 200 years, back to the Revolutionary War.

They meet a boy named Franz and become friends with him.  Franz is a drummer boy for the Hessian soldiers, Germans hired by the British to help them fight against the rebelling colonists.  Franz’s superior orders his men to commandeer food and supplies from the people living in the area.  Franz is supposed to take a family’s cow, but the family desperately beg him not to because they have nothing left and will need the cow to support themselves.  Andy persuades Franz to leave the family and their cow alone.  However, disobeying the order means that Franz will be in trouble with his superior.  He decides that the only thing to do is to desert the army.

TrappedTimePicFranz had only joined the army in the first place because his parents were dead, and he didn’t know what else to do.  Now, he has to find a new place to live, somewhere where there won’t be other Hessians who would recognize him as a deserter.  Andy and Nathan also have problems because they’ve now realized what time they’re in, and they don’t know how to get home.  The watch no longer seems to work.

The children travel together, meeting others who help them and seeing the effects that all of the armies, British, Hessian, and American, have on the ordinary people as the war continues around them.

When they finally find a place where Franz can stay safely and someone he can call family, who can also use Franz’s help, Andy and Nathan realize who the watch really belongs to and how they can return to their own time.

The watch’s real owner is the person I thought it would be, and it took the kids unexpectedly long to realize it.  There is a hint of what happened to Franz when the kids finally return to their own time, but I kind of wished that they learned more about what Franz’s life turned out to be like.  From what the kids see, it seems that things went well for Franz and that he continued living in the house where they left him.

The Keeping Room

KeepingRoomThe Keeping Room by Anna Myers, 1997.

Joey was named after his father, Colonel Joseph Kershaw, a wealthy businessman in Camden, South Carolina during the Revolutionary War.  Joey is like his father in many ways.  He idolizes him and does everything as his father wishes.  When his father marches off to fight on the side of the revolutionaries, he tells twelve-year-old Joey that he must be the man of the house while he is away and look after his mother and the younger children.  Joey takes pride in his new position as man of the house, but he is soon to undergo hardships that will turn him into an older and wiser person.

Joey’s father and his troops lose their battle and are captured by the British.  Soon, the whole town is taken by the British troops, and they commandeer the Kershaw house, the biggest house in town, as their headquarters, keeping Joey and his family as prisoners.  Joey can only watch in helpless anger as the British set up gallows in his family’s garden and hang rebels, his father’s surviving troops.

Joey’s mother was a Quaker before her marriage, and so is Joey’s tutor, Euvan.  They do not believe in the violence of war or harboring hate.  Although Joey seethes with anger at his father’s imprisonment, his family’s captivity in their own home, and the death and destruction he sees around him, they make efforts to remind him that British soldiers are human too, some good, some bad, and not all monsters.  However, how can Joey see the British as anything but monsters when he has seen their cruelty, when he and his family have suffered at their hands, and when he has watched them put many good men to death?

Before the British captured the house, Joey managed to hide away his father’s pistol.  It isn’t enough to fight an army, but Joey knows that he will use it to fight if he gets the chance.

Throughout the story, Joey undergoes a transformation, not just from a boy to a man, but from his father’s little copy into his own person.  From the beginning, Joey identifies himself mainly as his “father’s son.”  He loves his father and truly idolizes him.  He wants to be just like him, and his father is grooming him to take over his businesses one day, to do everything the way he does.  Joey loves how respectful everyone is toward his father, a wealthy and successful man, and how respectfully they treat him when he is with his father.  He hangs on his father’s words and adopts all of his beliefs.  But when his father is gone, things are different.  People who were respectful of him because of his father now regard him as just a boy, a little spoiled and not really knowing or understanding much.

Joey struggles to grow into his new role as man of the house, to really be a man as his father would have wanted.  But along the way, he comes to realize that there are many things that his father didn’t really understand himself and that he was wrong about many things.

Joey’s father didn’t believe in educating women beyond basic reading and writing.  His sister Mary has defied their father’s wishes before by borrowing Joey’s books, and although he didn’t want to tattle on his sister, Joey could never bring himself to support her studies openly because he didn’t want to go against what his father wanted.  However, during their captivity, Joey comes to appreciate his sister Mary’s courage and intelligence.  She gives him great support through their harrowing circumstances. He is proud of her and realizes that she is worthy of the studies she craves.

Similarly, Joey comes to question his father’s beliefs about slavery. Although his father railed against British tyranny, claiming that he would never be a slave to them, he kept slaves of his own.  When Joey had previously questioned him about that, his father told him not to worry about it because it was part of “the order of things.”  But, Joey’s own experiences in captivity make him think differently.  He also comes to appreciate the two slaves who stood by the family to help them through their captivity, learning more about their lives and history.  Because of his experiences, he decides that he will never be a slave owner himself.

Most of all, Joey finally sees the truth of what his mother, Euvan, and even Biddy and Cato (the two slaves who remained with them) tried to tell him about hate and killing when one of the British soldiers gets killed while saving Joey’s life.

As Joey reacts to the frightening circumstances around him, doing what he can to protect his mother and younger siblings, he realizes that he must rely on himself and his own judgement, not his absent father’s, to handle the situation.  In the end, he decides that, although his still loves his father and eagerly waits his return home, he does not really want to be like his father anymore.  He has truly become his own man and is ready to stand up for the man he has become, even though his father may no longer want him to run his businesses.

Mary Geddy’s Day

MaryGeddyMary Geddy’s Day: A Colonial Girl in Williamsburg by Kate Waters, 1999.

This book is part of a series of historical picture books.

Mary Geddy was a real girl living in Williamsburg in 1776. In this book, she is reenacted by Emily Smith, a young interpreter at the Colonial Williamsburg living history museum. The story follows her through a single day in her life as it would have been typically experienced by girls around the beginning of the American Revolution (lessons, chores, shopping, and visiting with her friend) up until the moment when the vote for independence at the Fifth Virginia Convention was announced.

Mary Geddy’s father was a silversmith, which put them in the middle class for the times.  They had a comfortable house with a shop next door where Mr. Geddy sold his silver work.  The Geddy family also had slaves to take care of household chores.

At the beginning of the story, Mary knows that the Fifth Virginia Convention is voting on the subject of independence from Great Britain.  Mary is concerned about the prospect of war, and she knows that if the vote is for independence, she will probably lose her best friend, Anne.  Anne’s family are loyalists, and her family plans to return to England if the colonies decide to break away.

All through the day, people are speculating and worrying about what is going to happen as they go through the typical routines of their day.  Mary explains the clothing that colonial girls would wear as she gets dressed in the morning.  Then, her mother sends her out to buy eggs at the market.  Although she can see Anne there and hear some of the talk about what’s happening, Mary is kept at home for most of the rest of the day, practicing her sewing, learning to bake a pie with her mother, helping in the garden, and having her music lessons (she is learning to play the spinet).  She envies her brothers, who are allowed to help their father in his shop and therefore able to hear more of the talk than she is.


When they discover that the Convention voted for independence, there is celebrating in the streets, and Mary goes with her parents and brothers to see everything.  Her little sister is afraid and stays at home with the slaves.  Everyone is excited, but Mary is worried because she knows that her friend will leave and nothing will be the same again.


Throughout the book, you can see that the slaves are always a part of the family’s activities.  They do chores together, and when the family is not doing housework, the slaves are still working in the background.  Having slaves didn’t mean that the family never had to do any chores themselves, but they had to do less of them, giving them time for other things, like music lessons and visiting with friends.  When the celebrating starts, the boy slave, Christopher, who is about the age of the Geddy children, wants to go and see what is happening himself, but he has to stay and help look after the younger girl in the family.  Although the slaves live as part of the household and seem to be on friendly terms with the Geddys (Mary speaks of them fondly, wishing that Christopher could join in the celebration and happy that Grace, the slave who mainly works in the kitchen as the cook, seems proud of her for learning to make a pie), they have no say in making decisions and are expected to follow the orders they are given, even when they don’t want to or larger events are taking place.


In the back, there is more historical information about the period and the Geddy family.  There are also instructions for making a lavender sachet like the kind Mary and her friend Anne make, and a recipe for apple pie that was used in Colonial Williamsburg, like the one that Mary learns to make in the story.