Molly Book #1: Meet Molly, An American Girl by Valerie Tripp
Title: Meet Molly a.k.a. “You Know Who Else Played Pranks? HITLER!”
Author: Valerie Tripp
Illustrator: Nick Backes
Summary: FOR MOLLY MCINTIRE, life seems full of changes. It’s 1944 and the world is at war. Her father is far away caring for wounded soldiers. Her mother is busy working for the Red Cross. Mrs. Gilford, the strict housekeeper, makes her eat terrible things like turnips from the Victory garden. And everyone in America is so serious and practical that glamorous Halloween costumes are hard to get. Molly’s special hula skirt is a huge success – until Ricky, her pesty big brother, plays a mean trick. Molly and her friends are determined to get back at him. One mean trick leads to another until the fighting goes too far.
I am really thankful I didn’t give these books away like I had planned.
When I was a kid I was a big fan of historical fiction books, mainly the “Dear America” series and the “American Girl” books. My interest in the genre started thanks to the cartoon “Histeria” which sparked an interest in Henry VIII and his many wives. I still have a box full of my old “Dear America” and “Royal Diaries” editions in the attic closet.
With the “American Girl” series, my focus gravitated towards the Molly books because they took place during WWII. I’m not as much of a buff as I’d like to admit, but I do enjoy 40s era movies. One year for Christmas I got the (at the time) complete “Molly” set of books. I’ve offered to do bimonthly reviews of all six in the set this year, with a bonus Molly story for October and a different “American Girl” book I still own for December.
Y’know, there’s always been one thing about this sub-series that stuck with me for so many years. I only remember a few bits from the Molly movie they made. Mainly, the housekeeper, Mrs. Gilford, was made younger and given a son named Johnny who was fighting overseas. Mrs. Gilford started watching Molly and her siblings when Mrs. McIntire began working, but she wasn’t their official housekeeper before the war began. It took some time for Molly to get used to Mrs. Gilford’s presence, and she even expressed annoyance about how much Mrs. Gilford gushed about her son on her first day. Time passed and Molly became accustomed to the housekeeper’s presence, and then one day she came home and found her mom back from work early. Mrs. McIntire said she was baking a casserole. Earlier in the film, Molly’s sister Jill mentioned bringing a casserole to a neighbor who had a relative that died in the war. Molly immediately realized why Mrs. Gilford wasn’t there…
As cheesy as this will sound, I still tear up thinking about when Molly brought the food to Mrs. Gilford’s home, and the older woman broke down in tears and hugged the girl. The way Molly spoke “Not Johnny” when she realized what happened was sad on two levels: she was sad for Mrs. Gilford, and sad for Johnny separately instead of only feeling bad because he was Mrs. Gilford’s child.
[Wing: Ah, American Girls. I have such a nostalgia for them even though I never owned the books, much less the dolls. (In case you’re not familiar with them, the American Girl dolls are detailed and fancy and really fucking expensive; there’s no way we could have afforded them). I did pour over the catalog looking at all the fun little accessories that came with the dolls, and I skimmed some books at the library, though never any of the Molly books. I have concerns already over that hula skirt costume in the summary.]
First we shall meet our illustrious cast of characters.
- Molly: A nine year old who is growing up on the home front in America during World War II.
- Dad: Molly’s father, a doctor who is somewhere in England, taking care of wounded soldiers.
- Mother: Molly’s mother, who holds the family together while Dad is away.
- Jill: Molly’s fourteen year old sister, who is always trying to act grown up.
- Ricky: Molly’s twelve year old brother – a big pest.
- Brad: Molly’s five year old brother – a little pest.
- Gilford: The housekeeper, who rules the roost when Mom is at work.
- Linda: One of Molly’s best friends, a practical schemer.
- Susan: Molly’s other best friend, a cheerful dreamer.
Second, we move to Molly, who is fantasizing about her classy as fuck Cinderella costume for Halloween. It’ll be pink and swishy with silver stars sewn into the skirt, a fluffy white top, and it would even come with a crown and veil. Given this is 1944 and 6 years before “Cinderella” would be released from Walt Disney, Molly is forgiven for not knowing pink is Sleeping Beauty’s color.
Now all Molly has to do is somehow figure out a way to convince her mom to make the dress, find all the materials, AND glass slippers, and then convince Linda and Susan to be the two stepsisters. [Wing: Molly is very optimistic about how much time and money her mother has for this.] Susan wouldn’t care as long as she gets to wear a dress, but Linda would most likely insist on going as Snow White and try to convince Molly and Susan to go as two of the dwarves. Why they don’t each go as a different princess is beyond me, but that might be due to Molly’s attention being divided on the problem that is currently, and literally, on her plate.
(Molly does not like green eggs and turnips)
The turnips that have been on Molly’s plate for the past two hours, forty-six minutes, and one, two, three seconds and counting since Molly sat down at 6 o’clock for dinner.
Molly had smelled trouble as soon as she walked into the kitchen. It was a heavy, hot smell, kind of like the smell of dirty socks. She sat down and saw the odd orange heap on her plate. She made up her mind right away not to eat it. “What’s this orange stuff?” she asked.
Mrs. Gilford turned around and gave her what Molly’s father used to call the Gladys Gilford Glacial Glare. “Polite children do not refer to food as stuff,” said Mrs. Gilford. “The vegetable which you are lucky enough to have on your plate is mashed turnip.”
“I’d like to return it,” whispered Molly’s twelve-year-old brother Ricky.
“What was that, young man?” asked Mrs. Gilford sharply.
“I like to eat turnips,” said Ricky, and he shoveled a forkful into his mouth.
Ricky was practically a human garbage disposal, so eating turnips wasn’t a problem for him. And Molly’s older sister Jill took ladylike bites at a time, washing each down with a sip of water. In the old days Jill would’ve been as unhappy as Molly with the prospect of turnips, but she’s been trying to act more mature and grown-up ever since their father left overseas. Molly could only consider the odd lump of vegetable disgusting, earning a sharp reprimand for such language from Mrs. Gilford. The housekeeper also added that if anyone failed to eat HER turnips, there’d be no dessert nor would they be allowed to leave until their turnips were finished.
Before we go further I wish to say I’m definitely in Molly’s corner. I’m a picky eater too, have been since I was a kid. The hardest thing for me is trying something new on my own, because it’s even more difficult when I’ve got people needling me about my eating habits, how I should try new stuff or shoving something in my face asking to have a taste. It makes me super self conscious and uncomfortable.
Molly can’t help but feel this situation wouldn’t have happened if her dad was still home. Before Dr. McIntire was sent overseas on the war front, the family never ate such disgusting things like turnips. That makes Molly remember what it was like every day when her dad came home from work; a group hug, Dad lighting up his tobacco pipe while relaxing in his favorite armchair, catching up with the family and asking Molly “Gosh and golly, olly Molly, what have you done today?” He made Molly feel like everything she had to say and talk about was the most important thing in the world.
And then there was the way he’d flatter Mrs. Gilford during dinner.
“Mrs. Gladys Gilford, an advancement has been made tonight in the art of cooking. Never before in the history of mankind has there ever been such a perfect pot roast.”
Now things were different. Molly would sometimes snuggle in her dad’s chair, the scent of old tobacco and vanilla leaves bringing a sense of nostalgia. The best days were when they’d receive letters in the mail from dad, not too detailed for fear of enemy soldiers getting information, but enough to let the family know he’s okay. He sometimes includes funny jokes, sketches and drawings. Molly, her siblings, and her mom gathering to read the letter, Mom sitting in Dad’s chair, was the closest it truly felt to having Dad home again.
(Everything changed once the Fire Nation invaded)
With Dad gone, Mom began volunteering and working for the Red Cross, which meant most days Mrs. Gilford was in charge from sunrise to sundown, doing the cooking and cleaning and keeping an ever watchful eye on the McIntire offspring. She was also trying to do her part for the war effort, and had started a Victory Garden. The logic was that all canned goods such as vegetables were being sent to the soldiers overseas. People would send away for seed packets to grow their own vegetables instead. During the summer, Mrs. Gilford, with help from Molly and her siblings, worked on a vegetable garden in the backyard. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, not every crop was exactly thriving. The carrots, tomatoes, and peas did not make it, but Mrs. Gilford was unstoppable and had produced a healthy crop of radishes, turnips, and lima beans to make up for it.
Which is why Mrs. Gilford had this to say about Molly’s nitpicking:
“Wasting food is not only childish and selfish, it is unpatriotic. Think of your poor father off in some strange land. Maybe he didn’t have enough to eat tonight. And you turn up your nose at fresh turnips. You will not leave this table until those turnips are gone. Completely.”
Jesus, Mrs. Gilford goes straight for the jugular. And it sort of worked. Tired of sitting at the table and feeling guilty thinking of her dad, Molly swallowed her pride and ALMOST started eating her turnips, when her asshole brother Ricky came in just to tease her about eating “Old, cold, moldy brains.” One tiny bite was all she could muster before the power of suggestion worked its magic and it felt like she WAS eating brains, hating her brother for being a rat. Ricky ended his teasing just as they could hear Mrs. McIntire’s car pool dropping her off. Now Molly feared she’d get the third degree from her mom as well, which means no Cinderella for Halloween. Not like she’d even be allowed to go out since she’d still be at the kitchen table by the time Halloween arrived.
Mrs. McIntire can sense immediately what happened when she enters the kitchen, with Molly explaining how hopeless the situation is and she’ll most likely be at the table until she dies because she will never, ever eat turnips. Molly’s mom asks if she could join her, not until she dies of course, just to have a cup of tea. Mrs. McIntire also offers to reheat Molly’s turnips in the frying pan, smoothing out the lumps, and even bends the rules by sneaking just a pinch from their butter and sugar rations. She even throws in a little cinnamon. I’ve never eaten turnips so I don’t know if this really does work, but Mrs. McIntire’s fine tuning makes the turnips much more desirable and Molly finds herself enjoying them. While Molly eats, Mrs. McIntire recalls when she was a girl, her mom once tried to make her eat sardines on toast for dinner. Like Molly, Mrs. McIntire wasn’t allowed to leave until she finished her meal, so instead she snuck the sardines into her napkin while her mom wasn’t looking. While playing checkers with her dad, the two cats Mrs. McIntire’s family had sniffed out the sardine-loaded napkin in her pocket and swarmed her.
(She left out the part where her mom locked her in the ice chest for wasting food)
Mother and daughter laugh about the story, but Mrs. McIntire adds that there won’t always be cats to eat the sardines, and sometimes we have to do things we don’t like. Molly admits she’s having trouble adjusting to all these changes and she misses her dad a lot, which her mom understands. Mrs. McIntire tries to help by pointing out the things that haven’t changed. Jill’s still Jill, Ricky’s still Ricky, and Molly is still Olly Molly. Turnips eaten and mom not mad, Molly heads upstairs pretending she’s wearing a beautiful, swishy gown.
The following morning is golden and beautiful, and Mrs. Gilford’s French toast was an indicator Molly was forgiven for her behavior the previous night. On their way home from school, Molly discussed with Linda and Susan their Halloween plans. They wanted to keep their ideas a secret, which made them feel like spies keeping their plans hidden from enemy forces. That kinda sorta included Alison Hargate, a classmate and satellite friend. When asked, Molly tells Alison their Halloween costumes are a secret, to which Linda and Susan they’ll be amazing. Alison mentions she’s going as an angel, and her mom’s lending her white satin dressing robe for the costume.
(Alison be all “Bitches can you believe my swag?”)
Molly immediately feels jealous thinking of how awesome Alison’s gonna look. See, the thing about Alison is she’s the WORST kind of blonde rich girl, the kind who’s genuinely nice. That made it hard to hold it against her when she talked about the things she owned or her parents gave her because she’s not bragging, she’s just being honest. Still, it was hard not to resent her a little. Molly added their costumes would be a tad more original than an angel, and surprisingly Alison admits the idea’s a bit boring; her mom thought it up first.
At Molly’s house the girls help themselves to some apples and discuss battle plans outside while Ricky shot baskets near the garage. Susan muses they could be angels too, but Molly doesn’t want to copy Alison and proposes her Cinderella idea. Linda immediately asks who, exactly, would be the title princess. Molly deflects the question by proposing whoever has the best dress can go as Cinderella, not realizing Susan already has an advantage in the form of a hand-me-down prom dress from her sister. Ricky overhears their discussion and begins the typical “Older brother teasing” shtick. Sensing things aren’t going as she planned (especially since she still doesn’t have a dress), Molly suggests they could go as the Three Musketeers instead. Ricky adds they could go as the Three Stooges, or Three Pigs, or the Three Wise Men.
“We three kings of Orient are,
Tried to smoke a rubber cigar,
It was loaded, it exploded…”
Molly finally screams at Ricky to shut up, and he does. Not because of her, but because Jill has shown up with none other than Dolores, her hot best friend. Ricky immediately tries to act like he’s hot shit, twirling his basketball on one finger and pretending he doesn’t care when Dolores goes “Hey, Rich.”
The trio sees ample ground to return Ricky’s teasing by making fun of his obvious crush on Dolores, including Molly pretending to kiss his basketball while Susan and Linda gag. Ricky hops on his bicycle and promises these bitches are going DOWN.
(I’m gonna start my own theme park! With hookers! And blackjack! You know what? Forget the blackjack and the theme park! Eh screw the whole thing)
Molly and her friends don’t really care and go back to costume planning. None of their ideas seem very good, and the ones that do aren’t possible because they call for materials that are being rationed. [Wing: About damn time they figured that out. I get that it’s hard on them, but these things were very clear. And for Molly to be jealous of Alison is rich to me (unintentional pun, but I’m leaving it), considering how many kids were poor and hungry all the time.] Mrs. McIntire steps in and offers to show the girls how to use newspapers and crepe paper to make grass skirts so they can go as hula dancers. Susan knows how to make paper flowers (her sister taught her to help with decorating for her prom) and Linda’s dad has an old ukulele (it doesn’t have strings, but the effect works). The girls decide to meet back tomorrow at Molly’s after school to make the costumes. Too bad nobody remembered Ricky’s promise to get even.
(Hooray for cultural appropriation!)
[Wing: Goddamnit, book. I know this was typical of the time period (and, shit, is typical now), but “we’re a culture, not a costume.“]
Halloween night, the girls are in full hula regalia (well they have to wear sweaters because it’s cool but the paper flowers cover up most of it). Jill and Dolores lend a hand, non-patronizingly gushing how cute the girls look. [Wing: I do like the sibling bonding here.] Mrs. McIntire is taking Brad (a ghost) trick-or-treating while Ricky (a pirate, like every Halloween) and the girls are allowed out by themselves. Keep in mind this was 1944. [Wing: Kids were allowed out on their own in the 90s, not that I’d know because we didn’t celebrate Halloween growing up; some kids are allowed out on their own now in my neighborhood, though most are accompanied by parents and/or only do the Trunk or Treat celebrations.] The trio runs into Alison, whose angel costume does look gorgeous, yet she’s jealous of how cool the girls look. Molly, feeling a little pleased, does think Alison’s costume looks great too. Too bad that Alison’s mother insists on taking her trick-or-treating and is right there with her. The trio feels bad Alison’s not allowed out by herself.
Now it seems because of war time rationing, most people weren’t giving out candy for Halloween, which meant the trio had to settle for a lot of homemade goods. Peanuts, popcorn balls, apples, donuts, molasses kisses. The “best treat” was the Tootsie Pops given out at Alison’s house. Meanwhile I’m thinking that spread mentioned earlier sounds fucking delicious, and there’s no way people would be able to get away with that kind of treat giving today. Girls, you’ve got no idea how good you had it. At a couple of houses they even put on a little performance. By the time their treat bags are bulging, Molly, Linda, and Susan are returning to the McIntire household for a Halloween sleepover when OH SHIT! The girls get sprayed full blast by a hose, destroying their costumes and treats. Left standing in a soggy puddle of green dye, paper, and destroyed food, the girls can hear Ricky singing “I see London, I see France, I can see your underpants!”
(I still can’t get over how OFFENDED Susan is)
Realizing maybe they shouldn’t have teased Ricky about Dolores, Molly is still pissed off beyond conceivable belief that he would’ve retaliated by destroying all their hard work. As Ricky runs off into the night laughing his ass off, the trio decides tonight is the night when a little shit dies.
(A-ha! So RICKY was the pirate ghost all along!)
The trio head back inside to wash off the dye stains and after getting into dry clothes, begin discussing their revenge plans. Mrs. McIntire returns with Brad and asks from downstairs if they want hot cocoa. Linda and Susan can’t wait to tell Molly’s mom what Ricky did, but Molly vetoes that. She doesn’t want to be a snitch, and she wants Ricky to fall under her own power and not their mom’s because she’ll be too merciful. But Mrs. McIntire quickly finds out what happened when she asks why the girls aren’t in their costumes, leading to the trio giving all the details when Ricky sheepishly admits he got them “A little wet.” Mrs. McIntire is NOT impressed by Ricky’s behavior, saying she’s ashamed of him and she expects his father would be too. She punishes him by declaring he has to apologize and give all his treats to the girls (he can save ONE for himself).
Linda and Susan agree with Molly that punishment wasn’t nearly as severe as they’d hope and decide they have to avenge themselves. They brainstorm several ideas, but Molly figures they have to humiliate Ricky in front of an audience. Namely someone he’d want to impress like, say, Dolores. After remembering that line he gave while spraying the girls with the hose, about seeing their underwear, Molly gets some inspiration…
Luckily, Dolores also spent the night at the McIntire household, and plans to see a movie with Jill. At breakfast Ricky, I mean Rich, comes down with his hair sleeked back in an attempt look suave and debonair. Molly’s plan begins to unfold.
(Please read this part while imagining a 1940s version of the Mission Impossible theme playing)
- STEP ONE: The girls ask Mrs. McIntire for big brown bags “To hold their Halloween treats.”
- STEP TWO: Linda gets Ricky outside by asking him to show her how to throw hoops. And Mrs. McIntire’s attempt to squash sexism actually helps, because after Ricky says “Girls can’t shoot baskets” she orders him to be respectful to his guest and show Linda how to shoot baskets. No seriously I really love this woman.
- STEP THREE: Molly and Susan go into Ricky’s room and put all his socks and underwear in the brown bags.
- STEP FOUR: Susan tells Jill and Dolores that, *sigh*, Russ Campbell, the high school heartthrob, is outside and wants to take them for a cruise around town.
- STEP FIVE: Profit
- FINALE: As Dolores and Jill exit the back door, Molly and Susan shower the two in Ricky’s undergarments while he’s standing in front of them.
- BONUS: A pair of plaid underwear lands RIGHT on top of Dolores’s head and over her face.
“I See London
I See France
Those are Ricky’s underpants!”
(Molly and Susan makin it rain on dem girls)
Jill sputters in outrage and Dolores hands back “Ricky” his shorts. The sputtering turns to mocking laughter aimed at Ricky, with Dolores adding the final touch by telling Jill they should head over to her house so they won’t have to worry about “little kids.” [Wing: This vengeance may be aimed at Ricky, but I feel for Jill and Dolores being caught in the literal middle of it.]
Ricky swears unholy vengeance on Molly and her friends, but then suddenly everyone sees something horrifying. It’s Mrs. McIntire, whose face and eyes and demeanor look so icy cold you’d think she could march into Germany and kill Adolf Hitler with her bare hands right now if she had the chance. Mrs. McIntire decides to end this prank war before it begins and declares there’s not gonna be any more treats if the tricks are continuing. Ricky will spend the afternoon cleaning the mess he made the previous night, while Molly and her friends will wash, hang, and fold the clothes they dumped on Jill and Dolores. She then forces the kids, including Jill and Dolores, to listen as to why she’s not putting up with this shit in her house.
“I suppose these tricks you have been playing on each other don’t seem very serious to you. But they are mean, childish, and wasteful. I’m disappointed in you, but more than that, I’m sad and discouraged. If we can’t get along together, who can?”
Molly looked at Ricky. Ricky looked at his mother. “This fighting has to stop,” Mrs. McIntire went on. “This is exactly what starts wars – this meanness, anger, and revenge. Two sides decide to get even and end up hurting each other. There’s war and fighting enough in the world, and I won’t have any more of it in our house. Is that understood?”
With that settled, the kids get to work on their tasks. Molly and Ricky air their grievances, both admitting they didn’t mean to upset the other, and Ricky conceding maybe he did deserve it a little for what he did the previous night.
(Not shown, Molly strangling Ricky with his long johns after he tried to take her head off with the rake)
He does admit he’s glad they’re back on the same side, since Molly and her gal pals have some killer ideas. Molly thanks him for the compliment and gets to work on washing his clothes, sort of viewing it like playing Cinderella before going to the ball. Mrs. McIntire even helps as the girls hang the laundry to dry, joking the clothesline looks like an underwear tree.
Molly shares a hug with her mom, thinking she was right about this whole “not fighting” thing.
This is the first time I’ve felt really nostalgic doing a book review. With the Point Horror recaps it’s different because I never stopped reading those books. Nostalgia only works when you return to something you haven’t done, read, watched, or played for a number of years right?
What really surprised me is how much I came out of this liking Mrs. McIntire the most out of everyone.
[Wing: Mrs McIntire is great. Both the adults are pretty great, though I do love the sibling interactions, both the teasing and the supportive bits. I’m definitely nostalgic for this brand even though I never experienced them first hand growing up; they were such a background part of the media that made up baby!Wing’s life. Looking forward to what the Brits have to say; I hope they have time to comment]
I loved historical fiction growing up. I too devoured the Dear America series and its spin off The Royal Diaries. All this training to lead up to me reading a 600 page biography of Catherine the Great on a flight from Istanbul to LA a couple years ago.
My sister and I each have a doll – I have Kirsten and she has Josefina. On a business trip my dad once went to the American Girl doll flagship store in Chicago for a present for my sister. Evidently it was packed and he was the only man in the store. When I visited Chicago a few years ago, I went and took a selfie.
I remember the victory turnips ahh. We had a “three bite rule” growing up. You had to eat three normal bites of a food before you could declare it terrible and skip it. Their logic was acclimating to the flavor, which I think is the best take I’ve seen on picky eaters. I have friends who developed eating disorders over childhood food issues.
I love all your Bender references, and Profit is one my go-to jokes.
It’s so nice to see adults be good role models.