Title: Happy Birthday, Molly! – A Springtime Story
Author: Valerie Tripp
Illustrator: Nick Backes
Summary: Molly is excited to learn that an English girl is coming to stay at the McIntires’, and just in time for Molly’s birthday! But Emily Bennett turns out to be different from the glamorous girl Molly pictured. Emily is shy, and she seems unfriendly. Then Molly discovers that Emily is worried about her family in war-torn London, just as Molly is worried about her father, and the girls become good friends. They even plan to turn Molly’s tenth birthday celebration into a real English tea party. But they can’t agree about what’s important, and it takes a special birthday surprise to patch up their hurt feelings.
I’m really ashamed of myself because of how late this is. Between work and getting sick and things just being God awful over here, I really slipped up and now I have to scramble before the year ends.
This one was difficult to re-read because a lot of the characters display a nasty side that wasn’t totally present in the last few books. But it also presents a much more sobering look at what life during wartime was like for these girls, in a manner different than Molly’s fears about her father’s life. But mainly, this book introduces Emily Bennett, who becomes a semi-reoccurring character in the “Molly” books. She even received her own spotlight tale, “Brave Emily.”
Molly was skipping rope outside her house one early spring afternoon, wondering where her friends Susan and Linda were. They should’ve been over right after lunch. She had big news to share with them and the anticipation was just about killing her. Once the girls arrive, Molly ecstatically tells them something amazing. An English girl is gonna be living with her!
Molly explains to her friends how an English girl was moving to town to live with her aunt. Y’know, because of all them Nazis running around England. But the aunt came down with pneumonia and is recovering in the hospital. Mrs. McIntire is friends with the aunt, so she offered to let the English girl stay with Molly’s family for the time being. She’ll be living with them just in time for Molly’s birthday in a few weeks.
Susan thinks Molly’s lucky, but Linda’s confused. Why’s the English girl moving to America now when England’s been in the war for years? The girls callously wonder if the English girl’s house got bombed or something. Maybe she’s starving and ragged like those kids you see in “Life” magazine. Linda proposes that might not be the case; the English girl might be as rich as one of the princesses, like Princess Margaret Rose or Elizabeth.
Molly fantasizes about how gorgeous the English girl must be when Linda asks if the girl has met Molly’s dad in England. Molly thinks it’s not likely, but reveals she IS moving in today before dinner. Hey, maybe they can get Mrs. Gilford to throw them a little tea party and they can ask if England ever got over that “Revolution” nonsense. The former came from the book, the latter was all me.
The girls decide it’s too cold to keep chatting outside so they reconvene in the makeshift bomb shelter they put together in Molly’s basement. By “Bomb shelter,” I mean “A table with a heavy blanket draped over it.” The girls have been play pretending ever since they saw a bomb shelter demonstration during a news reel at the movies. It looked like playing musical chairs.
Only the loser dies.
Linda complains the blanket smells of mothballs, but Molly reminds her they need the blanket on at all times to complete the illusion. They even kept Molly’s Girl Scout canteen full of water for whenever they retreated to their fake shelter. Do you think the English girl has a bomb shelter at her house? What if she had to sleep in it all night long? The conversation gets sidetracked when by Molly’s brother Ricky, bouncing his basketball on top of the table to mess with the girls. He finds their lack of authenticity disturbing. Everyone knows that real bomb shelters are dug in the ground. Ugh, girls.
Ricky’s especially not looking forward to the English girl’s arrival, because the house is definitely not lacking in the estrogen department.
After Ricky departs to blight someone else’s goddamn door, Mrs. McIntire asks the girls to come upstairs to meet the new arrival. The girls rush upstairs to find Molly’s mom and Miss Emily Bennett.
Molly’s excited to meet Emily, who quietly asks “How do you do?” Susan curtsies as she introduces herself, but is all “If you’re English how come you don’t curtsy?”
Oh my GOD Susan you don’t just ask people why they don’t curtsy.
Molly and Linda giggle at Susan, but Molly sees the look on Emily’s face and fears Emily believes they’re laughing at her. Molly tries to introduce Linda and Ricky before mentioning there’s also her baby brother Brad and older sister Jill, but they aren’t home. Sadly, Emily doesn’t have much to say. Mrs. McIntire assures Emily they’re happy to have her and asks Molly to show Emily her room.
Going up the stairs, Susan and Linda whisper behind Emily’s back about how small and skinny she is.
Emily was the skinniest girl Molly had ever seen. Her knee socks were twisted and saggy around her legs, which were as thin as spaghetti noodles. Even her hair was skinny. It was gingery-red and absolutely straight, cut short. Her eyes were pale blue. Her skin was pale, too, as if she had not been outside in the sunshine for a very long while.
Ricky plops down Emily’s suitcase and Molly offers to help her unpack. Emily quietly turns down Molly’s offer, but Molly at least clears some space for her in her drawers. Unfortunately, Emily hadn’t brought that much with her and Susan wonders aloud if the rest of Emily’s stuff burned up in a fire or something. Emily ignores Susan’s rude question by focusing on hanging one of her blouses in Molly’s closet. Molly offers to let Emily use or borrow anything she needs if she wants.
It’s getting really hard to keep the conversation going so the girls decide to show off their fake bomb shelter in the basement. They claim it’s just like the kind Emily has in England. It’s like she never left! The girls ask if she wants to play with them, but Emily politely declines and heads back upstairs.
Linda nudges Molly to go and talk to Emily, but her mother advises her to give the girl some space while she writes a letter to her parents. That and Emily’s probably overwhelmed from such a big day and could use time to herself. Molly comments on how quiet Emily is, to which her mom explains British kids are taught to be very reserved. But she asks if Molly wouldn’t feel the same way if she started living with a new family.
“It seems as if she doesn’t like us,” said Molly. “She won’t smile or anything, and she wouldn’t play in the bomb shelter either.”
Mrs. McIntire stopped sweeping and thought for a moment. “Give Emily a chance, Molly. Remember, bomb shelters haven’t been places for her to play. In fact, the whole world must have seemed cold and dangerous to Emily for a long time. The war in England has been going on since she was five – practically her whole life. I think Emily is like a little crocus who’s not sure it’s spring yet. It will take some time for her to realize it’s safe to come out now.” She grinned at Molly. “I imagine quite soon I’ll have two chatterboxes on my hands. But meanwhile, you be as warm and friendly and welcoming as you can be to Emily, okay?”
“Okay, Mom,” said Emily.
“That’s my girl,” said Mom.
…I want to trade my own mother for this woman.
Molly tries her best to be friendly with Emily, but it’s not easy. She showed Emily Katherine, the nurse doll Molly’s dad sent her from England for Christmas, but Emily had to correct her on a couple of things. In England, nurses take care of little kids, while women who work in hospitals are called “Sisters.” Molly misunderstands and says she always pretended Katherine was her sister when Emily points out Katherine is a sister, not her sister.
At school, all the kids asked Emily questions about England. Alison Hargate gushed about how Emily’s accent made her sound like a movie star and soon lots of kids start trying to imitate her to sound cool. During lunch Susan continues with the rude questions, like if Emily’s house was bombed or if she ever saw a house get bombed in general. Emily replies her house wasn’t bombed, but she’s seen it happen yet doesn’t really remember all the deets.
“Gosh, how could you forget a thing like that?” asked Susan.
You mean like how you forgot not be an inconsiderate douche, Susan?
After a few days Emily’s novelty at school wore off and the kids were starting to leave her alone. Apparently everyone started to think she was “A Disappointment.” Christ. Linda’s just glad Emily wasn’t a demanding brat.
Heading home school one day, Molly reported Emily was visiting her aunt with Mrs. McIntire, and then they were going shopping so Emily could get new sneakers. Or as Emily called them, “Plimsolls.” Linda jokes about how her “Plimsolls” smell bad. Susan, who manages to be both horrible and considerate at the same time, says maybe Emily is so quiet because she doesn’t like sounding so different and not knowing the American words for things. Oh but maybe it’s because she’s still weak and starving. Molly adds her mother gives Emily plenty to eat, but she likes strange things like sardines and doesn’t seem to like cake.
At the mention of cake the girls start talking about Molly’s birthday. Mrs. Gilford is making a vanilla cake without eggs, butter, or milk, but has saved enough sugar rations to make chocolate icing. Susan offers to have Emily’s slice if she doesn’t want it.
I was wondering why these girls weren’t so horrible in the last three books. Clearly the author was saving all the nastiness for this one.
Emily and Mrs. McIntire return just as dinner was starting, when they hear the sound of a shrill siren. It looks like they’re about to experience a surprise blackout. They’re a drill to perform in case of bombings, to make their town appear dark and difficult to view from a plane. Everyone has to turn off all the lights, get the blackout curtains drawn, and head for the basement.
Emily doesn’t move, however. Molly tells her they have to hurry while Brad assures Emily it’s just pretend. There’s no reason to be scared. Molly realizes Emily really is terrified and promises this is just practice. Downstairs, Emily sits apart from the McIntires, huddled in a blanket. Molly sits down beside Emily and tries telling her these things aren’t so bad before she realizes Emily’s crying. At which point Molly gets a much needed reality check.
“I hate this,” she said suddenly. Molly sat very still and listened. “I hate sitting in the dark, waiting. In England, back during the Blitz, almost every night we had to do this. You’d hear an awful noise, then one split second of silence, and then the explosion.” Emily shuddered. “The whole house would shake. If we were on the street when the siren went off, we’d have to make a dash for the tube station – the subway, you call it. We sometimes had to sleep there, with all the other people, all crowded together.”
Molly didn’t know what to say.
Emily went on. “But it was almost worse afterwards, coming out again. A house you’d walked past every day would be nothing but a pile of stones. Sometimes the flowers would still be growing along a path, and the path would lead to nothing. The house would be gone.”
Emily pulled the blanket closer. “In England the bombing isn’t exciting at all. It isn’t a game. It’s terrible. People and… things get hurt. They get killed. You Americans don’t know.”
Molly agrees with her, but tries to reassure Emily that her parents are safe and so is she. Emily is still afraid, though. Molly tells Emily about how her father’s in England and how much it hurts missing him. Emily admits she feels like a coward, having left everything behind.
“Oh, no,” said Molly. “I think you’re very brave to have been in the bombing. You’re as brave as a soldier. You’re the bravest person I know, after my dad.”
…okay, Molly has somewhat mitigated her behavior from earlier.
Emily responds if she were truly brave she would’ve asked to stay. Molly reasons even the princesses had to leave London and are now hiding out in some old castle (Windsor Castle, Emily points out) and have to sleep in dirty old dungeons to be safe from the bombing. They’re brave and they had to leave. Molly tells Emily she’s as brave as the princesses.
Emily asks if Molly likes Margaret Rose and Emily. Molly explains she loves seeing them in newsreels and magazines, and even has paper dolls of them. Emily mentions she has a scrapbook about them which she brought with her, and is happy to show it to Molly. When the signal for the all-clear goes, the girls head upstairs to look at Emily’s book, and for the first time since she met her Molly sees Emily smile.
As the spring buds began to open up, so too did Emily. She showed Molly her scrapbook and they talked all about the princesses. One afternoon while showing a photo of how the princesses were matching clothes when they were younger (around Molly and Emily’s ages), Molly proposes they can do that too. At this point Molly has understood just because Emily was quiet didn’t mean she didn’t care about things. She simply didn’t say everything she was thinking like Molly did.
Emily even offers to let Molly borrow her blue knee socks so they can complete their ensembles. As they get dressed, Molly notices Emily always buttons every button on her blouse. Emily admits she’s not used to how warm American houses are. She mentions how even the princesses have to live in the cold Windsor Castle, can barely use hot water and have to eat horrible things like turnips. Molly recalls the turnip fiasco in the first book, which Emily sees as proof they really are like the princess. Their names even start with the same letters as Elizabeth and Margaret Rose.
The girls confess they both assumed the other would be quite different before they first met. Emily though Molly would look like Shirley Temple, Molly though Emily would look like Elizabeth. Molly mentions her hair is like brown sticks compared to Shirley Temple’s golden curls, but Emily believes her hair is nice the way it is.
Molly mentions they should also pretend to have dogs like the princesses do and suggests going for a walk with them. On their way out the gal pals bump into Ricky, annoyed by how they’re even dressing alike. Emily notices the poster Ricky’s got of fighter planes and notes the details are wrong. Ricky is shocked as Emily explains he labeled an American plane as an enemy, citing she’s seen lots of them back in England. Ricky’s incredulous at first before he asks Emily if there are other mistakes, and she offers to inspect the poster later.
The girls are inseparable over the next few days, playing princess with their pretend dogs. They use Molly’s jump ropes to simulate a leash and talk about how much they love dogs. Molly asks if Emily ever wanted a real dog, but Emily doesn’t answer.
Since the market isn’t producing more roller skates because of the war (the need for metal and plastic, you know), Molly and Emily split Molly’s pair and wore one each. They didn’t mind, because even princesses have to make sacrifices.
One day, Mrs. McIntire saw the two princesses skating and asked what Molly wanted to do for her birthday party. Molly asked Emily what they do for birthday parties in England, and once she says “Tea party” Molly gets an idea. She proposes they do a tea party like they have in England, and Emily can advise them. Emily mentions it’s been a long time since she had a proper tea party, so Molly decides Emily can share her birthday to make up for it! They can dress up as the princesses for real and have fun. Emily would like that a lot.
…which is when things started to go wrong.
The more Molly learned about a proper English tea party, the more she disliked the idea. Because it was so alien to what she was used to at her birthday parties. They drank stuff like milky tea, and ate little sandwiches with meat paste or water cress. And instead of a big cake they usually had little cakes or a lemon tart. Molly proposed they could meet in the middle, but Emily quietly insisted it wouldn’t be a proper tea party. Molly conceded if such a party was what the princesses did.
Soon all the girls in school were talking about “Emily’s tea party” and how lucky Molly was.
The night before the party is when the shit hit the fan. It started off with Molly wanting her and Emily to wear princess crowns (not real ones, of course) and dresses. Emily had to explain the princesses don’t dress up like they came out of a fairy tale, they wear normal clothes. Especially during war time. Molly starts to get a bit testy because she insists on wearing her party dress, even though Emily points out they won’t look the same. Molly backs down when she internally realizes Emily doesn’t HAVE a party dress like she does, or most likely any dresses. Which is why she always sticks to skirts and sweaters.
But then while working on party decorations is when the arguing began. Emily was singing “God Save Our Noble King,” and Molly thought she was mixing up an American song. Emily points out it was a British song FIRST, it’s their fucking national anthem!
Take it from Americans, they think they own everything.
That was when Molly and Emily overheard the news program Ricky and Mrs. McIntire were listening to on the radio. Emily gets mad hearing the reporter state the English soldiers are grateful to get their asses saved by the Americans. She’s sick of everyone ignoring how England was fighting the Nazis a lot longer than the Americans. Molly just HAD to comment the American soldiers are stronger than the English. Emily exclaims she’s sick of Americans acting like they’re God’s gift to the world, to which Molly retorts they are! Mrs. McIntire tries to stop the fighting by pointing out the Americans and English are on the same side.
Molly’s mom decides the girls have been working too hard and sends them to bed. Unfortunately, the arguing continues in Molly’s bedroom where she accuses Emily of ruining her birthday party. Emily finally has enough and calls Molly a spoiled brat who has no idea how horrible real war is. She calls Molly obsessed with playing pretend like she lives in her own little fantasy world. That’s it for Molly and she decides to have her birthday party the way SHE wants it. Screw Emily. She can go back to England if she loves it so much.
Of course by the next morning, Molly wakes up and feels like complete shit as she remembers the horrible things she said. When she sees Emily coming out of the bathroom, Molly tries to think about what her dad would do in this situation. Before Molly can apologize, Mrs. McIntire enters the room with Molly’s siblings and a real surprise for the girls.
Two puppies, one for each of them!
Molly and Emily immediately fall in love with their new dogs while Ricky jokes they can stop acting like nuts now that they have real dogs. After Molly’s family leaves to get their birthday breakfast started, Emily reveals a heavy secret.
See, Emily used to have a dog back in England. But she lost him in one of the bombings. Molly starts to apologize saying Emily was right the other night. The war hasn’t been “real” to Molly and she trivialized Emily’s feelings.
Emily admits she wasn’t giving Molly enough credit in one area though. She’s been away from her parents for only a few weeks, but Molly has spent TWO YEARS terrified for her father’s sake. She can’t imagine what that must’ve been like.
So hooray they’re both awful!
The girls discuss what to name their new puppies. Emily decides because her little guy seems like a fighter, she’ll name him “Yank.” Molly decides to name hers “Bennett” after her good English friend.
And the surprises don’t end there when Molly opens her closet door and discovers two new, identical party dresses. One for her, and one for Emily. Another gift from Molly’s mom.
This was going to be a happy birthday indeed.
Yeesh, this was kind of hard to swallow.
I did like Emily though, and I have to believe her snapping back at Molly was something she’d been holding in LONG before she came to America.
Unfortunately Emily doesn’t appear in the next two books in the main Molly series. But she IS a main character in the “Molly Mystery” I’m recapping for October. I’m floored by the efforts Mrs. McIntire went through to make Emily feel at home. I have to believe she got consent from Emily’s aunt to go through with buying her an honest to God dog.
Oh, and here’s a scan of the shit they tried to sell with this book.