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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Molly’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.
Her 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Molly is excited because she has just learned that an English girl will be coming to stay with her family for a while. The girl, Emily, is one of the child evacuees from London. Really, she’s supposed to be staying with her aunt, who also lives in Molly’s town, but her aunt is in the hospital with pneumonia and won’t be able to take her for another couple of weeks. In the meantime, Molly and her friends are eager to meet her, imagining her to be something like the English princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose.
The girls have a fascination for England after all the things they’ve seen in movies and newsreels. Recently, they saw a newsreel about bomb shelters in England. Inspired by what they’ve seen, the girls make a pretend bomb shelter under an old table and enjoy pretending that they are like the people in the newsreel. Molly’s brother, Ricky, says that it isn’t very realistic, and the girls say that they’ll have to ask Emily when she comes.
However, Emily turns out to be very shy and quiet. She’s pale and skinny and hardly talks at first. When the girls show her their “bomb shelter”, she doesn’t want to play in it. Molly thinks that maybe Emily doesn’t like them, but her mother reminds her that, in World War II England, bomb shelters aren’t places to play. Emily is the same age as Molly, and the war has been going on since she was a little kid. Molly’s mother points out that Emily probably doesn’t remember much about life before the war. Emily is accustomed to bombings and danger all around her, and Molly’s mother compares her to a flower “who’s not sure it’s spring yet. It will take some time for her to realize it’s safe to come out now.”
Emily goes to Molly’s school, and their classmates are fascinated with her. This fascination makes Emily even more shy than she would be otherwise as kids try to imitate her accent and ask her questions about what it’s like to see buildings bombed. To the America kids, the war seems exciting, and they want to know what it’s like to see it up close, but Emily dodges their questions.
Molly finally comes to understand why Emily is so evasive when their town has a blackout drill. When the drill starts, a siren sounds, and everyone has to go down into their basements until they get the signal that it’s all clear. Molly is surprised to see that Emily is actually frightened by the drill, but everyone assures her that it’s just for practice, not because Illinois is actually going to be bombed. In Molly’s family, it’s almost like a game, but Emily has memories of real bombings during the Blitz. As they sit in the basement during the drill, Emily explains it to Molly: the fear, the explosions, destroyed buildings, people getting hurt or killed. Molly and her friends thought it was exciting to hear about the war in newsreels, but living it is an entirely different thing. The drill and everyone’s questions about what bombings are like bring back bad memories for Emily.
As Molly comes to understand Emily’s feelings more, Emily opens up to her. The girls discover that they share a fascination with Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret Rose. They start playing a game where they pretend to be the princesses, dressing alike in blue skirts and sweaters. Because the princesses have pet dogs, the girls also pretend that they have dogs, using jump ropes as leashes for their imaginary pets.
Molly’s birthday is approaching, and she offers to let Emily share in her party and help plan it. She’s curious about what people in England do on their birthdays, and the idea of an English tea party sounds great to her friends. However, Molly doesn’t like the way that Emily describes English birthdays, and the types of sandwiches that the English tea with tea don’t sound very good. Worst of all, Emily says that, at her last birthday before the war rationing started, she had a lemon tart instead of a cake. Molly can’t imagine her birthday without a birthday cake. Mrs. Gilford, the housekeeper, has been saving up rationed goods for her cake this year, and it’s what she’s been looking forward to the most!
Sharing things with Emily becomes more of a trial for Molly, and when the girls argue about their countries’ contributions to the war effort, they get into a fight and Molly starts thinking that she doesn’t even want Emily at her birthday party. However, Molly’s mother points out to the girls that the war effort is a team effort. A couple of special birthday surprises help the girls to make up, including something extra special that helps Emily to heal further from the trauma of the war.
In the Molly, An American Girl movie, Emily plays a larger role than she did in the books. This is the only book in the series where Emily appears. Her story was changed somewhat for the movie, too. In the movie, she says that her mother was killed in a bombing. In the book, her parents are both still alive, and it was her dog who was killed. Molly doesn’t learn that until the end of the book when her family gives the girls a pair of puppies as a present, and Emily tells her about her pet dog who died.
In the back of the book, there’s a section with historical information about what it was like to grow up in the 1940s. It explains how women used to stay in the hospital for about a week after giving birth, and sometimes, they could hire a practical nurse to help them at home as well. Canned baby food was a new invention, and vaccines helped to prevent disease. Back then, people still got smallpox shots because the disease hadn’t been eradicated, but there was still nothing to prevent chicken pox or measles, so children with those diseases had to be kept at home with warning signs out front to tell people to stay away from the quarantined house. (Note: My father was born in 1944, the year that this series takes place, and he said that throughout his early childhood, parents who knew of a child who had chicken pox would deliberately take their children to visit and get the disease. It wasn’t that they really wanted their children to get sick, but since there was no way to prevent the disease at the time, they had to accept that it was inevitable that their child would catch it eventually, and chicken pox is somewhat peculiar in that there is a kind of age window in which the disease isn’t likely to be too bad. If you waited too long, and the child got older or even to adulthood without getting it, it was bound to be much worse when they eventually caught it. So, if your child was about the right age for getting it, in early childhood but no longer a baby, people thought it was best to get it over with so they could benefit from the lifetime immunity afterward. This remained true even up through the 1980s, my early childhood, which is why I have a permanent scar on my face from the disease. Now, there are vaccines to prevent it, although I understand that some people still have chicken pox parties in places where the vaccine isn’t readily available. If you have the option, go for the vaccine. Preventing chicken pox also prevents shingles.)
The historical section also talks about child evacuees, like Emily, and what teenagers did during the 1940s. It was around this time that people began looking at the teenage years as being a distinct phase of life, and businesses began specifically catering to teenagers.
Robin is playing in her backyard sandbox when she hears a “Murmel, Murmel, Murmel” sound from a hole that she has never seen before. In the hole, Robin finds a baby. Since Robin herself is only five years old, she decides that she needs to find someone older to take care of the baby.
Robin asks various people, but they all have reasons why they can’t take the baby. Then, Robin encounters a truck driver who is enchanted with the baby’s “Murmel, Murmel, Murmel” and says that he wants him.
The story never explains where the baby came from, how he ended up in Robin’s sandbox, or if his parents are looking for him, but apparently, he’s happy with the truck driver. As for the truck driver’s truck, he says that Robin can keep it because he already has seventeen others. Robert Munsch books are like this. That’s basically the explanation.
Tyya begs her father to buy “something good” at the grocery store. Tyya would much rather have him get something like ice cream and cookies instead of boring things like bread and eggs, which is what he usually gets.
However, when she tries to get whole cartloads of ice cream and candy bars, her father makes her put it all back. Tired of her messing around, Tyya’s frazzled father tells her to just stand in one place and not move. Unfortunately, he tells her that near a display of large dolls. Because she doesn’t move, a store employee mistakes Tyya for a doll and puts her on the shelf with the others, giving her a price tag of $29.95.
Some people try to buy Tyya, but she yells at them, scaring them away. Tyya’s father comes to get her, but he has trouble taking her out of the store because she still has a price tag on her, and the man at the register insists that her father has to pay for her.
In real life, no grocery store would try to sell a child, and it would be a crime if they did. However, because this is a Robert Munsch story (where all kinds of crazy things happen), Tyya’s father finally pays the $29.95 because she’s worth it, and Tyya says that her father finally bought something good at the grocery store. Sort of touching, in an odd kind of way, I guess.
One of the benefits of this story is that it has a lot of potential for reading aloud because the reader can really play up the parts where the characters yell.