Miss Bianca

Miss Bianca by Margery Sharp, 1962.

Miss Bianca is still a hero to the Mouse Prisoners’ Aid Society after the rescue of the Norwegian poet in the last book.  Bernard is a lesser hero, even though he was part of the mission, but such is the lot the organization’s Secretary.  Since the success of the rescue mission, the society is keen to perform another rescue, a deviation from the society’s usual role of merely providing comfort to prisoners.  The rescue mission that they have in mind this time is that of a little girl.  (The first Disney The Rescuers movie also featured the rescue of a little girl, but the circumstances in the book are very different.)

Patience is an eight-year-old orphan who has been abducted and enslaved by the Grand Duchess and is being held in her Diamond Palace.  The Grand Duchess is cruel, and some people think that she’s a witch.  Miss Bianca appeals to the Ladies’ Guild of the society to help free Patience.  The Ladies’ Guild doesn’t usually take part in the more exciting missions of the society.  The mice are somewhat concerned about what they will do with the child once they have rescued her because other prisoners they’ve helped have had homes to return to, but Miss Bianca assures them that they have a home in mind for the girl, a farm family in Happy Valley who have lost a daughter and would be likely to take in another girl.  The Ladies’ Guild agrees to undertake the mission.  Bernard wanted to come, too, but Miss Bianca insisted that they didn’t need his help.

The Diamond Palace is a strange place, in many different ways.  People often come to see it because it looks like it’s made out of diamonds, although it’s actually rock crystal.  It’s cold all the time, but even weirder than that, there seem to be less servants in the Palace than Miss Bianca would expect, given that the Duchess is always surrounded by ladies-in-waiting, who would be expected to have maids of their own.  It turns out that the “ladies-in-waiting” aren’t real people – they’re clockwork automatons! 

Rather than being a witch, the Duchess is simply an odious person who has so much money that she can give full reign to a nasty personality without anyone stopping her.  She’s so nasty and spoiled and used to forcing people to do what she wants that all of her previous, human ladies-in-waiting found that they just couldn’t handle her increasingly unreasonable demands, like insisting that they all stand perfectly still all day long while she sits on her throne, not even the slightest movement allowed.  No human being could possibly manage that.  When the human ladies-in-waiting all fainted after trying to keep perfectly still for forty-eight hours straight, the Duchess screamed that they all must have done it on purpose and dismissed them, replacing them with automatons.  The mechanical people are almost perfect because they always stand perfectly still until they’re needed and never complain or have human needs, but the Duchess discovers that they’re not quite perfect because there are some chores that they can’t do and she also misses seeing people react fearfully or start crying when she bullies them.  Keeping Patience as her slave gives the Duchess someone to do those chores and also someone to abuse.  The Duchess has had other child slaves before, but the others have died from the abuse, ill-nourishment, and general bad treatment.  (This is a darker story in a lot of ways from the Disney one.)

When Miss Bianca and the other mice meet Patience, she is also under-nourished and desperately lonely.  Miss Bianca sends the others back to the society to report about the automatons and stays with Patience to keep her company, trying to decide how to deal with the strange, mechanical people.  Bernard worries anxiously about Miss Bianca when the others come back without her and decides to go after her.

The Duchess’s other human servant, Mandrake, her Major-domo, is also little more than a slave.  The Duchess has evidence of a crime that he once committed and uses it to keep his loyalty.  Usually, he’s the only one who gets to go out the back door because he doesn’t trust Patience to take out the garbage without running away.  However, Patience tells Miss Bianca that the clockmaker sometimes comes in that way when he comes to wind up the mechanical ladies-in-waiting.  Miss Bianca hatches a plan that involves making the ladies-in-waiting break down.

However, to Miss Bianca’s surprise, the Duchess commands Mandrake and Patience to come with her to her hunting lodge when the ladies-in-waiting break down.  There is no opportunity for escape.  However, it turns out that the hunting lodge is actually above Happy Valley, and Bernard knows where it is.

Of course, they do get Patience safely to her new foster family.  Miss Bianca actually talks to the girl’s foster mother and tells her that Patience will probably forget about her eventually, when she grows up, but the foster mother likes the lullaby that Miss Bianca sings for Patience and promises to keep it as a family tradition.

The darker aspects of the story really bothered me, and I have to admit that I didn’t like it as well as the Disney version.  Mandrake actually reappears in another book in the series.

The book is currently available online through Internet Archive.

I Like Things

I Like Things by Margaret Hillert, illustrated by Lois Axeman, 1982.

This is a cute little picture book about the fun of collecting things.  A young girl talks about the things that she collects and why she likes them.

She enjoys collecting all kinds of things with different shapes, sizes, and colors.  Sometimes, she likes to sort the things in her collections, like buttons, by color or size.

Sometimes, her father helps her with her stamp collection.  She also likes to find seashells and rocks at the beach.  Sometimes, she and her friend trade sports cards from their collections.

At the end of the story, the girl asks readers what kinds of things they like, so adults can use the story to get kids to talk about what they like to collect.

I thought it was interesting how the girl put one of the bigger rocks in her collection into a jar that was partly full of water so that the water would act as a magnifier, making the rock look bigger.

One thing I noticed is that the girl never refers to the objects in her collections by name.  Mostly, she just talks about what she does with them using very simple words.  I think that’s to make the book easier for younger children.  There is a word list in the back of the book of all of the words used in the story, and there are only 64 different words.

The Gullywasher

The Gullywasher written and illustrated by Joyce Rossi, 1995.

This is a tall-tale story, told by a grandfather to his young granddaughter about how he came to be an old man.  The grandfather was a vaquero (Spanish for cowboy, the origin of the work “buckaroo”) in his younger days.  The book is written in both English and Spanish.

When the story begins, Leticia and her grandfather are watching a passing storm.  The grandfather calls it a “gullywasher” and says that they should wait before going on a walk.

Leticia asks her grandfather to tell her about when he used to be a vaquero.  After some coaxing, he begins to tell her about a big gullywasher that he was caught in when he was younger.

By the time the storm was over, the water had wrinkled his skin.  Then, when he was napping under a palo verde tree, a hummingbird took some of the hairs on his head to make a nest.  It took all of the dark ones, leaving only the white ones.

After that, he came to a village, where he looked for food.  An old woman gave him some corn kernels, but he made the mistake of eating some chili peppers immediately afterward, so the corn popped in his stomach, giving him the pot belly he has today.  Also, his horse was so tired that he had to carry the horse all the way home on his back, making him bent over.  That is how he got to be the old man that he is.

When the tall tale is over, Leticia asks her grandfather if it makes him sad to be bent over.  Her grandfather tells her that it doesn’t because he’s closer to her this way.

The note from the author in the beginning explains a little about the tall tales that cowboys liked to tell.  One of the keys to telling a story like this is to try to keep a straight face during the telling.  Keeping a straight face can make the outrageous story seem more convincing, but it can also make it seem funnier.  There is also a glossary in the back of the book with the definitions of some of the key Spanish words.  It also reminds readers that Leticia’s name is pronounced differently by Spanish speakers than English speakers (“leh-TEE-seeya”).

The White Marble

WhiteMarble

The White Marble by Charlotte Zolotow, 1963.

WhiteMarbleGoingToPark

It’s a hot night in the city, and John Henry’s parents decide that they should go to the park to cool off.  John Henry is a little thrilled to be out with his parents at night, stopping to pick up a beautiful white marble he finds as they enter the park, but disappointed when he realizes that he is the only child there.

Then, a little girl he knows from school, Pamela, comes to the park with her mother.  John Henry is pleased to see her because only another child could understand how magical this night in the park really is.  He calls to her to come run with him, and the two children run off to play in the park together.

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The children kick off their shoes and run barefoot in the cool grass.  They lie in the grass for awhile, drink water from a fountain, and have ice sticks (we always called them popsicles when we were kids) from the ice cream man.

John Henry shows Pamela the little white marble he found.  Pamela thinks it’s as beautiful as he does, and John Henry realizes that no adult could understand how beautiful a small, simple thing like that could be, only another child.  That’s what binds John Henry and Pamela together.  As children, they can still appreciate the simple pleasures of life and the beauty and magic of small, ordinary things that adults take for granted, like a small white marble someone forgot in a park or how nice an evening can feel as rain moves in after a hot day.

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When it’s time to go home, John Henry gives Pamela the white marble, a memento of this special night.

The pictures in this edition of the book are different from the ones that I remembered from the first time that I read it.  This edition of the book, available through Internet Archive, shows the pictures that I remember.  The pictures in the later edition of the book are black and white, but the ones in the original edition are done in three colors: black, white, and blue.  Of the two, I really prefer the original drawings.  They capture the magic of a lovely night shared with a friend.

The Princess in the Pigpen

The Princess in the Pigpen by Jane Resh Thomas, 1989.

Elizabeth is the nine-year-old daughter of a nobleman in London in the year 1600, and she’s very sick.  However, while she’s lying in her bed with a terrible fever, she suddenly finds herself in a pigpen in 20th century Iowa with no idea how she got there. At first, she doesn’t even know where she is, and when she is found by the McCormick family, the family who owns the farm, they have no idea who she is or where she came from.  That she is very ill is obvious, so they take Elizabeth to the local doctor, who says that she has scarlet fever (what strep throat turns into when it’s neglected, it’s serious and life-threatening) and gives her penicillin, which helps her to recover.

However, there is still the question of how Elizabeth ended up on the McCormick farm in Iowa in the first place.  Elizabeth tells them that she is from London and insists that the year is 1600.  Ann, the McCormicks’ daughter, who is about the same age as Elizabeth, doesn’t believe that Elizabeth is really from the past.  The current year is 1988, and Ann thinks that Elizabeth is probably crazy, but obviously in need of some help.  The McCormicks tell the local sheriff about Elizabeth, and he begins looking through reports of missing persons to find one that fits her.

Still, it’s hard to explain Elizabeth’s strange clothing (Ann is sure that Elizabeth must be rich because her dress is obviously very fancy) or the antique toys that were found with her (a doll and a music box).  When Ann goes to school, Elizabeth stays at home with her mother, Kathy, and asks her about all the strange things that she’s been seeing around her, like cars and electric lights.  Kathy assumes that Elizabeth is merely confused and that her memory has been affected by her illness.

By coincidence, Kathy is a historian, teaching at a nearby university, and has studied English history.  She is aware of Elizabeth’s family, including her father, Michael the Duke of Umberland.  When Elizabeth asks her if she knows what happened to her mother, who was also ill when she last saw her, Kathy says that she was still alive in 1605, which means that she must have survived her illness.  Kathy quizzes Elizabeth in English history, and Elizabeth knows the correct answers because they are all current events to her.  Kathy thinks that someone must have taught Elizabeth history but notices that Elizabeth really seems to believe everything she says and knows a surprising amount of detail.

Further research into history and Elizabeth’s family tells Elizabeth the years when her parents and other people she cares about will die, which is distressing to her.  Ann begins to believe Elizabeth about her life when Elizabeth describes her home to her, and the description matches one in a book.  In the same book,there is also a portrait of Elizabeth’s family from 1605.  In the portrait, Elizabeth is a little older than she is now, and her mother has had another baby.  Elizabeth’s doll and music box are also in the painting.  The book also contains an account of the fire that later destroyed the manor house.  According to the book, Elizabeth managed to save the lives of her family by alerting them to the fire and also managed to salvage a couple of valuable books.

Now that Ann is convinced that Elizabeth is really from the past, they must find a way to help Elizabeth to return home to that she can save the lives of her family!

At one point in the book, Ann makes a reference to the book A Wrinkle in Time, about other children who get “lost in space and time.”

The book is currently available online through Internet Archive.

The Court of the Stone Children

The Court of the Stone Children by Eleanor Cameron, 1973.

Nina and her parents have recently moved to San Francisco from Nevada.  Nina doesn’t like living in the city, but the move was necessary because her father has been ill and in need of a job.  Still, Nina misses her friends, and her parents don’t understand how difficult Nina has found it to make friends in their new home.

One of the most popular girls, Marion Charles, nicknamed Marnychuck, and her friends like to tease Nina at every opportunity. Nina doesn’t think that she even wants to try to be friends with them because hanging out at Marnychuck’s house would mean always having to be on her guard about every little thing she says, knowing that they would twist every innocent comment she makes into some sort of joke so they could laugh at her.  They could never be friends because there would be no way that Nina could ever open up to them about anything.  (Sadly, I know the type all too well.)  For example, one day, while the girls are walking home from school, they start talking about things they want to be when they grow up.  Nina says that she wants to be “something in a museum,” momentarily forgetting the word “curator”, until a boy nearby helpfully supplies the word. Of course, Marnychuck and her friends ignore the helpful word and just laugh about “something in a museum” as they walk away.

However, the boy who was listening turns out to be genuinely curious about why Nina wants to work in a museum, saying that it sounds like an unusual ambition.  Nina tells him that, until she had come to San Francisco, she’d never been in a big museum before, and she describes how the one in the park impressed her.  She used to work in a small one in her home town. The boy understands the way she feels and shares her love of the past.  He tells her about Mam’zelle Henry, a local woman who owns a private museum called the French Museum.

Nina visits the French Museum and loves the rooms with old-fashioned furniture.  They give her a strange feeling of timelessness, and before she knows it, she finds herself in a room with another young girl who says, “I knew you’d come.”  Nina isn’t sure who this mysterious girl is, but she asks her to come back another time.

When Nina returns to the museum the next day to return an umbrella that she borrowed from Mrs. Staynes, the registrar at the museum, she speaks to the girl again in the museum courtyard.  The courtyard is full of stone statues of children, and the girl tells Nina that when she was young, she used to wish that they would come to life.  The girl’s name is Dominique, although she says that people usually call her Domi. The two girls begin talking about their lives, although Domi oddly talks about her past in the present tense. Domi tells Nina about her emotionally-distant grandmother and her loving father, who was imprisoned and shot.  The news of Domi’s father being shot comes as a shock to Nina.  Domi tells Nina that, after her father was (“is”) imprisoned and shot, she had a dream about Nina in which her father said that Nina would help them.  Domi also says that the rooms at the museum are from her home in France, which was taken apart to be “modernized”and some of the pieces were sent to the museum. Nina finds Domi’s story confusing, but Domi says that they will talk more later.

Nina meets up with the boy who introduced her to the museum, whose name is Gil, at the cottage of Auguste, who lives on the museum property.  As she talks with the two of them and Mrs. Staynes, Mrs. Staynes brings up the subject of the ring that Nina saw Domi wearing and which also appears in a painting in the museum.  Earlier, Mrs. Staynes had told Nina that she couldn’t possibly have seen anyone wearing that ring, and Mrs. Staynes now explains that the reason why is that she owns the ring herself.  At first, Nina thinks that she must own a ring which is similar to Domi’s, since the two of them couldn’t have the same ring,but then, it turns out that the cat that Domi said was hers also belongs to Auguste.

The answer, as Nina discovers the next time she meets Dominique, is that Domi is a ghost.  Mrs. Staynes does own Domi’s ring now because Domi died a long time ago. Nina faints when Domi’s hand goes right through hers.  When Nina recovers, Domi is gone, and Mam’zelle Henry gives her a ride home.  The two of them bond as they discuss Nina’s ambition to become a curator.

Mam’zellelets Nina borrow a journal that she found in the garden that belonged to Odile Chrysostome in 1802.  Odile was one of the names of the stone statues in the courtyard, according to Dominique, and Nina learns that the others are also named after members of the Chrysostome family.  The people at the museum say that they don’t know which of the statues is supposed to have which name, but thanks to Dominique, Nina does.

Gil becomes Nina’s first friend her own age, and he’s been working on a project involving time.  Someday, he wants to write a book about the concept of time. Time is important because Domi needs Nina’s help to resolve problems that occurred in the past.

Domi was young during the time of Napoleon.  Her mother had died in childbirth along with Domi’s younger sibling.  After her mother died, her grandmother moved into the house to oversee things and help care for Domi.  However, Domi’s father had protested some of Napoleon’s policies of conquest, and it led to his downfall.  One day, Domi discovered her father’s valet,Maurice, murdered in her father’s bedroom. She had thought that her father was there the night before, having returned from being away for a time, but he was nowhere to be found.  A short time later, her father was charged with conspiring against Napoleon and executed. Domi knows that her father was innocent of the charges, and she suspects that Maurice was killed because he knew something important, but she needs Nina’s help to find the missing pieces.  Domi knows that Mrs. Staynes is working on a book about her father’s life, and she doesn’t want the false accusations against him to be printed.

I thought that the book started out a little slowly.  It takes quite a while before Nina discovers that the boy’s name is Gil or learns anything about him, and it’s about halfway through the book before Nina learns that Domi is a ghost, although there are hints before it.  I knew that Domi was from the past, although I thought at first that she might be a time traveler of some kind.  Even after Nina learns that Domi is a ghost, it takes a while before Domi tells Nina her full story and what she really needs her to do.  The first part of the book dragged a little for me, and I was a little confused at first about why Odile’s diary was so important, but it turns out to contain the vital clues that Domi needs.  Domi’s father was with the Chrysostome family at the time that he supposedly murdered his valet and was conspiring against Napoleon. There is a piece of physical evidence that proves it, and finding it convinces Mrs. Staynes to change her book. 

One of Nina’s strengths is her power of imagination, and she helps Mrs. Staynes not only to see the truth about Domi’s father but to see him as a living, breathing person.  Before, Mrs. Staynes’ book was mostly facts with little sense of the feelings of the living people behind it, but Nina’s discoveries and imagination help breathe life into the work.  At the end of the book, the past remains unchanged (Domi’s life and that of her father are what they were before), but having the truth known gives Domi peace. Nina also makes peace with her new life in San Francisco, having discovered new opportunities and friends there as well as a nicer apartment for her family to live in.

This book is currently available online through Internet Archive.

Fog Magic

Fog Magic by Julia L. Sauer, 1943.

Greta loves fog and always has, although other people can’t understand it.  When she is ten years old, she begins to get the sense that there is something in the fog that she should find.  One day, when she goes looking for a lost cow from her family’s farm, she sees a house in the fog that isn’t there when the fog is gone.  Apparently, there used to be a house on that site, but it’s gone now.  Except when there’s fog.

From then on, Greta loves to walk in the fog.  When she does, she meets people from the past.  One day, she meets a woman named Laura Morrill, who recognizes her as being from the Addington family and says that her name must be Greta.  According to Laura, there’s always a Greta in every generation of Addingtons and that there’s always a child in every generation who has a great love of fog.  Greta’s ability to use the fog to travel back in time and see her town as it once was is apparently inherited.

Greta makes friends with Retha Morill, Laura’s daughter.  However, when Mrs. Morrill gives her a piece of pie to take home, it disappears, making Greta realize that she can’t bring things from the past to the present.  Retha’s parents seem to realize it, too.  When Retha offers her a little silver egg cup to take home, Mrs. Morrill suggests that perhaps it would be better for Greta to leave it at their house and use it when she comes.  Greta also has the feeling that, when the fog starts to lift, she needs to go home, and Mrs. Morrill agrees.

On another day, Greta and Retha spot an older girl in the woods.  Retha seems to know who she is and calls out to her, but she runs from them.  They try to catch up to her, but she gets away, and Retha is upset.  It turns out that the girl is named Ann, and she was falsely accused of theft.  When it was discovered that she hadn’t stolen anything, the townspeople had tried to find her, but she’s been hiding from them ever since, too afraid to come back.  At first, people had thought that maybe she had gone to another town to find work, but now that they know that she’s been living alone in the woods, they’re worried about her.  The story also upsets Greta because she has heard a local ghost story about a girl who haunts the woods after being falsely accused, and Greta takes that to mean that Ann will die.  The Morrills assure her that they will look out for Ann.

Greta is tempted to talk to Retha about her mysterious time traveling in the fog, but Retha stops her from talking about it.  Retha says that even her mother doesn’t want to talk about where Greta goes while she’s not with them, only saying that both men who go to sea and the women who wait for them on shore “have to learn to be content and at peace shut in by their horizon.”  To Greta, that means that she should be content with wherever she is while she’s there and with the fog that allows her to see her friends in the past.

The more Greta visits the Morrills, the more she gets caught up in the lives and troubles of the people living in the past.  At one point, Greta and Retha talk about some of the sad things that have happened to people the Morrills know, and Retha asks Greta if there is sorrow where she lives.  Greta has to admit that there is.  People generally do have their troubles, no matter when they live.  Retha says that her mother says that living and dying are both natural things, so there is no use being sad about them, except when the death is an unnatural one, like in a war.  There is no war going on in Retha’s time, but Greta lives during the time this book was written, in the middle of World War II.  Greta is aware of the war and says that sometimes people have to fight whether they want to or not, but Retha doesn’t think so.  Greta realizes that she can’t make Retha understand the circumstances of the world in the future.

However, as Greta’s twelfth birthday approaches, she has the feeling that things are changing.  Her birthday will be the last time that she can visit her fog friends, but they give her a special present to remember them by.  Greta’s father seems to know what Greta has been doing in the fog, and he reveals to her, without actually saying it, that he once did the same thing himself.  He says that when people grow up, they leave the things of childhood behind, but each of them is able to keep a special birthday gift from the past as a reminder that some things do last.

The ending of the story implies that, although Greta’s adventures in the fog were real, not purely imaginary, she has to give them up to make room for the new things that will enter her life as she grows up.  Her life lies in her present and future, so she can’t keep going back to the past.  However, her experiences with her friends in the past are part of what has made her more mature, and they will stay with her forever.

The idea of magic and magical adventures ending at a certain age, as the person begins to grow up, is a classic idea in children’s literature. Sometimes, in other books, it’s implied that the reason this happens is because the “magic” was all imaginary, and the child in the story grew out of that particular kind of imagining, but that isn’t the case in this story. The explanation in this book for why the magic has to end is simple but makes sense. The characters don’t really analyze the issue too deeply, simply taking it in stride. We never find out why this particular family seems to have this tradition of going back in time in the fog as children, and the characters seem to decide that there is no reason to find out why. Unlike in some modern books, there doesn’t seem to be any particular mission for Greta (or her father or any other generations before her) to fulfill in her time traveling. She is mostly an observer of the events in the past, not really participating in them directly or changing them in any way. She doesn’t even seem to influence the thoughts or attitudes of people in the past much. When she talks about the concept of war with Retha, she doesn’t try to change Retha’s mind about it or tell her about World War II and other future events because she realizes that each of them really belongs to two different times and sets of circumstances, and each of them needs to live in their own time, dealing with their own situations. It is their differing situations which give them their attitudes. The Morrills seem to be aware that Greta comes from the future, but they treat the subject carefully, never directly stating where she is from, just hinting at it. From they way they act, it seems as though they’ve met other members of Greta’s family before, but again, the ties between their two families (if any) are never explained, and none of them seems to want to delve too deeply into the matter. For the most part, they just seem to take the whole situation as being a natural part of life in their families and in the area where they live, something just to be enjoyed and not questioned. In fact, some of their attitudes seem to imply that they fear questioning too deeply, as if that in itself might end the magic too soon.

Although the story leaves the reasons behind the time traveling very open and unresolved (probably, other children in Greta’s family will be doing this in the future, also not really knowing why), it is really a very calm story. Not having a special mission to complete in the past leaves Greta free to simply enjoy the company of the people in the past, observing their lives without the stress of needing to solve their problems for them, and readers can similarly enjoy the ride without worrying that anything really bad will happen. You do end up being interested in what happens to some of the characters, like the woman who is in danger of losing her family’s home, but events unfold in the way Greta knows they will. She’s sad when she knows that certain people are going to die (not the woman whose home was in danger, that works out well) and there is nothing she can do about it, but it all seems to be part of the natural circle of life, something that matures Greta when she realizes it.

One of the fun things that I liked about the book were some of the unusual first names of the characters, like Retha, Eldred (Retha’s father), and Ardis (Mrs. Stanton).

The book is a Newbery Honor Book. It is currently available online through Internet Archive.

The House Without a Christmas Tree

The House without a Christmas Tree by Gail Rock, 1974.

Addie Mills starts the story reminiscing about a special Christmas that she had when she was young and living in a small town in Nebraska with her father and grandmother in the year 1946. The story talks about the things that she did with her friends while they were getting ready for Christmas and buying presents for each other and such, but it mostly centers on how badly Addie wants a Christmas tree.

Addie is ten years old, and she can’t remember ever having a Christmas tree in the house. Apparently, the last time there was a tree in the house was when Addie’s mother was still alive, when Addie was a baby. Addie tries to talk to her father about it, but he just gets angry. Addie’s father doesn’t want a Christmas tree because it reminds him of Addie’s mother, and he still misses her.

Addie feels self-conscious because other families have Christmas trees, and she schemes to find a way to get one. When Addie wins a tree in a guessing contest at school, beating a girl from a needier family, Addie’s father gets angry and makes a scene, which makes Addie feel terrible. She gives the tree to the other family, and worries that her father doesn’t really love her.  Seeing Addie’s desperation, Addie’s grandmother lectures Addie’s father, saying that his grief over his dead wife is keeping him from being happy and is making his daughter miserable too.  In the end, Addie’s father sees the importance of the tree to Addie and decides that it’s time the family had one again.

I like the story because the characters are very realistic. Addie and her father, like real people, often find it difficult to communicate and understand each other, but in the end, family love wins over the situation. Addie does get the tree she’s been longing for, and for the first time, her father talks to her about her mother.

This book is a little unusual in that the movie version came first, and then the book was written.  Sometimes, you can find the movie or clips of it on YouTube.  The book is currently available online through Internet Archive.  There are also other books in the Addie Mills series.

Changes for Molly

American Girls

MollyChanges

Changes for Molly by Valerie Tripp, 1988.

MollyChangesLetterMolly’s family has wonderful news!  Molly’s father is coming home from the war to take charge of a veterans’ hospital right in their home town!  Everyone in the McIntire is happy, but Molly has one worry: In her father’s letter, he talked about how much her brothers and sister have grown and changed since he’s been away, but not her.  Molly still feels like plain old Molly, and she thinks that her father will look at her like she’s still a dumb little kid.  What can she do to show her father that she’s grown in the last two years, like her siblings have?

One thing she can do is get the role of Miss Victory in her dance school’s performance.  She’s favored to get the party anyway because she dances it so well.  But, with her plain, old, straight braids, Molly thinks that she looks too plain and little-kid like to get the part.  What she wants more than anything is to have curls.  Miss Victory’s pretty crown would look great on a girl with a head full of curls.

MollyChangesPinCurlsHer friends try to help her by buying a box of hair permanent and offering to help her use it, but it soon becomes obvious that they really don’t know what they’re doing.  Fortunately, Molly’s older sister, Jill, catches them before their experiment goes too far and talks them out of it.  Molly’s older sister likes to trade hair tips with her friend, Dolores, and she’s more experienced with doing hair.  She says that if curls are important to Molly, she’ll help her to set her hair in pin curls until it looks the way she wants.

As Jill helps Molly with her hair, Molly talks to her about how grown up she is and how she still feels like such a kid who hasn’t changed much since their father went away.  Jill says that she doesn’t think that it’s true.  Jill is five years older than Molly, and she tells her that growing up is something that takes time.  A ten-year-old like Molly just isn’t going to be the same as a fifteen-year-old like Jill, and she shouldn’t try to be.  Jill says that the war and their father’s absence has made them all grow up a little faster than they would have otherwise.  They’ve had to become more mature, more accustomed to making little sacrifices and making do.  In a way, Jill envies Molly for having some of her childhood left to spend with their father when he comes home.  Jill has already left a lot of hers behind.  But, she says that even if Molly doesn’t look very different on the outside, she’s changed somewhat on the inside.  She’s developed a more mature outlook on the world.  She’s become more aware of some of realities of life and what’s important (at one point in the story, she and her friends talk about the people they know who have returned from the war permanently injured and some, like their teacher’s fiancé, who were killed and will never come back), and she’s starting thinking about other people more (Jill reminds Molly of how understanding and generous she became when Emily was staying with them).  Molly just wishes that she would look more mature on the outside, too.  More than anything, she hopes that her father will arrive home in time to see her as a beautiful Miss Victory!

Molly gets part of her wish in getting the role of Miss Victory, but it seems like everything is ruined when she comes down with a bad ear infection and won’t be able to be in the performance at all.  Her father’s arrival home is also delayed, so Molly is stuck at home alone while everyone else is at the performance.  But, just when Molly is feeling horrible and gloomy, what seems like a disappointment turns into something good when she is the first person to welcome her father home, a father who is glad to see her looking just the way he remembered her, braids and all!

In the back of the book, there is a section of historical information about the end of World War II and what happened when soldiers began returning home.

The book is currently available online through Internet Archive.

MollyChangesHistorical

Molly’s Surprise

American Girls

MollySuprise

Molly’s Surprise by Valerie Tripp, 1986.

MollySurpriseFamily

Christmas hasn’t been the same in the McIntire house since Molly’s father went overseas as a doctor during World War II.  As Molly writes her father a letter before Christmas, she and her mother and siblings talk about whether or not he might send them presents.  Molly is sure that he’ll send something and adds a “thank you” to the letter she’s writing, but her older sister, Jill, is less sure and worries that he’ll feel bad if Molly thanks him for presents that he was unable to send.  The boys talk about whether or not any presents that he might send could be shot down before reaching them, and Brad, the youngest child in the family worries about whether Santa might get shot down, too.  The children’s mother reassures them, but it’s just another sign of how the war has changed the feeling of Christmas.

MollySurpriseTreeBuying

Jill tries to be realistic and tells Molly that she should be, too.  Jill thinks that there probably won’t be many presents this year, and what they get will be mostly practical things, handmade gifts, or hand-me-downs because of war rationing and the family’s need to be frugal.  Everyone is determined to be practical and patriotic, but Molly finds all this “realistic” talk depressing.  When her father was home, Christmas was always a time of surprises, and she likes to believe that, somehow, he will still find a way to surprise them.

When the children’s grandparents call and say that they won’t be able to come after all because of car trouble, and they won’t be able to bring them a Christmas tree as promised.  The kids are depressed, but Molly says that they’ll just have to do as their mother told her earlier and rely on themselves to make their own Christmas surprises this year.  Jill, Ricky, and Molly pool their money and go out to buy a tree.  As in the Charlie Brown Christmas special, the only tree they can afford is small and scrawny, but it’s better than no tree at all.

MollySurprisePackage

Once they get the tree decorated, it looks much better.  As they decorate the tree, Jill admits that some of her attitudes about how this Christmas should be different and more simple from others is because she really misses their father, and when everything looks the same as it did before he left, it just reminds her of how much she misses him.  Molly also admits that she doesn’t really care what presents their father sends; she’s only worried that, if a package doesn’t arrive, it might mean that something bad had happened to him.  All of the kids want the reassurance that their father is still okay.

The next day, when the children go out to play in the snow, they find the package from their father that they’ve been waiting for!  However, there is a note on the package that says, “KEEP HIDDEN UNTIL CHRISTMAS DAY!”  Probably, their father wanted their mother to hide the package from the children, but since Molly and Jill are the first to find it, they decide to do the hiding themselves, putting the box in the storage room above the garage.  Jill thinks they should tell their mother about it, but Molly persuades her to wait because she doesn’t want to ruin their father’s surprise.

MollySurpriseRadio

On Christmas Eve, the girls retrieve the box and put it under the tree after everyone else is asleep.  However, that’s not the end of the Christmas surprises.  Their father has one more special surprise for them . . .

There is a section in the back of the book with historical information about Christmas during World War II.  Many families couldn’t be together during the war because families members were overseas and because many civilians limited their traveling during the war in order to save gasoline.  In fact, speed limits were greatly reduced in order to save gas – the “Victory Speed Limit” restricted people to driving no faster than 35 mph.  Public transit, like trains and buses, was often needed to transport soldiers, so civilians avoided traveling as much as possible.

MollySurpriseHistorical

People also had to get creative about Christmas treats because some essential ingredients, like butter and sugar, were rationed.  People also made their own decorations.  The selection of toys was somewhat limited because factories had been converted to making war materials, and many families gave their children practical gifts. However, there were still toys available, and people managed to give their children a few special surprises.

The book is currently available online through Internet Archive.