Title: Molly Learns A Lesson, a.k.a. “A Lesson In Te-Am Work”
Author: Valerie Tripp
Illustrator: Nick Backes
Summary: Molly is determined that the third-grade girls will win her school’s Lend-A-Hand Contest to help the war effort. Instead, they choose an idea that Molly knows will never work out. So she talks two friends into planning their own project and keeping it a secret from the rest of the girls in the class. But the secret project turns out to be harder than Molly thought it would be. She begins to worry that it might not win after all and decides to spy on the other girls to see how they are doing. When Molly and her friends get caught peeking in a window, they learn some important lessons.
Here’s our second foray into the world of Molly. I can safely say there’s no underwear or cultural appropriation in this one, but it’s probably gonna leave you craving bread.
[Wing: There’s something off about her face on that cover, but I’m not sure what. Proportions? Location of eyes? If you figure it out, dear readers, let me know.]
We open with Molly thinking about how beautiful and wonderful her teacher Miss Campbell is. Miss Campbell is a very energetic and supportive teacher because she makes class interesting and keeps the students engaged in their work. She’ll walk around the room asking questions, making even the most boring tasks seem like fun challenges. She’s also very fair. In Molly’s class, it’s considered an honor to be chosen to use the pole to open the large windows on the other end the room. Miss Campbell gives everyone a try, regardless of how tall or strong they are. [Wing: Baby’s first crush.]
One of the things Molly especially loves about Miss Campbell’s routine is when she pulls down the world maps for the geography lessons. Sunlight from the windows reflects off the diamond ring on Miss Campbell’s finger, sometimes creating the image of a rainbow. Molly and her friends often fantasize about where Miss Campbell got her ring, wondering if she’s engaged to a soldier fighting overseas. Even though they have no proof it’s true, Molly hopes Miss Campbell’s soldier will return from the war and they’ll get married. And in her wilder fantasies, she hopes Miss Campbell will pick Molly to be the flower girl at their wedding.
[Wing: Look, if I have to be earwormed, so do you.]
Unfortunately for Molly, today Howie Munson reminds Miss Campbell they planned a multiplication bee. Those types of things make Molly super nervous since she’ll have to stand in front of the whole class and answer questions. Molly’s not swayed even when Miss Campbell announces the winner of the bee will receive a golden badge.
Before the multiplication bee, the class has a lesson about England. Molly spaces out when Miss Campbell asks her what the capital of England is, but gets to make up for it when she explains London is America’s ally in the war against Germany (and adds her father’s role as a doctor in England). Miss Campbell thanks Molly for her answer and the tidbit about her dad, then explains to the class for homework she wants them to write three paragraphs about what it means to cooperate with one another. But enough about that, it’s time for the bee!
(They’re all gonna laugh at you!)
Molly is immediately nervous and feels like she’s about to throw up as the girls go head-to-head against the boys. Sadly, Molly stumbles when she’s asked what eight times seven equals and is one of the first to head back to their seats. By the end of the bee it’s Howie Munson against Alison Hargate, and Alison wins. All the girls cheer except Molly, still upset she missed her question.
The rest of the day moves pretty slowly. During lunch, Molly’s barely able to eat her sandwich and wonders if she’s getting sick. At reading time, Miss Campbell has a special announcement for the class. She’s just been informed the school is holding a Lend-A-Hand Contest to assist in the war effort. Every class will be divided into teams to work towards lending aid to the soldiers overseas. Howie thinks it should be boys against girls as well; Miss Campbell doesn’t have a problem with that as long as everyone does their best. The students have the weekend to plan and work on their projects before bringing them to school the following Monday.
(When you finally post stuff on tumblr and it gets three likes, two of them from porn bots)
Molly desperately tries to think of an idea she and her friends would be capable of doing because she really wants to impress Miss Campbell. Buying a war bond would be too hard and collecting newspapers would be too easy. No, it has to be something great. While Molly’s lost in thought, Alison is the first to propose an idea for the girls. Molly’s heart sinks when Alison suggests the girls could knit socks. Molly knows from personal experience knitting socks is a terrible idea. She’s had knitting lessons with Mrs. Gilford and it’s simply too complicated. Molly fears none of the girls will be able to finish even one sock in time for the contest. But Miss Campbell thinks it’s an excellent idea and jots it down on the blackboard. The boys, meanwhile, have decided to collect tin foil for scrap metal and plan to bring in a ball that’s at least six feet tall.
Linda and Susan decide to hang out at Molly’s house after school to talk about the contest. Molly is still trying to figure out an idea of her own that’s even better than Alison’s, but the girls are in for a pleasant surprise because it’s Bread Day, bitches!
(It’s like Breaking Bad except with Betty White)
[Wing: I would watch the hell out of that, because Betty White.]
Mrs. Gilford’s been doing her part for the war effort by baking bread every week to bring to the local canteen. She’s been experimenting with new recipes and relied on the girls as her official taste testers. It was a bit tricky because she had to make do without rationed ingredients, but Mrs. Gilford was always up for a challenge. Today the housekeeper had Boston Brown Bread to share with them, which she proudly baked in an old coffee can without any sugar or butter. The girls love everything about it (Molly even mentions she’d wear the scent as a perfume if she could), which was no surprise because all of Mrs. Gilford’s breads were delicious. Well, except for the one she made with tomato juice. The only one who liked Red Bread was Susan, simply because it was pink.
(I swear I’ve always wanted to try Boston Brown Bread ever since I read this book, but I’ve never had the opportunity)
The girls mention the contest, but before Molly can claim they’re working on a secret project, Susan explains the girls in their class will be knitting socks. Mrs. Gilford gladly offers the girls yarns and needles should they need them. The girls decide to munch on their slices in the storage room above Molly’s garage. They started using the room as a private sort of clubhouse where they could talk forever. Linda and Susan reveal they’re divided about the knitting project. Linda hates knitting, but Susan’s looking forward to it even though she’s never knitted socks before. Molly explains how difficult sock knitting is, requiring at least three needles and some complicated steps. [Wing: THREE NEEDLES?! What kind of knitting witchcraft is that?] Susan deduces Molly’s jealous Alison thought of an idea first, which leads to an argument before Linda tells them to knock it off.
Molly proposes they work on their own project independent from Alison and the rest, phrasing it like the three of them will be heroes to the rest of the third grade after Alison’s project bombs. Linda asks what they can do that would be so amazing. Susan snarks they could steal secrets from enemy soldiers, which gives Molly the idea they go about this like secret agents. That’s when Linda has a flash of inspiration.
They’ll collect bottle tops for scrap metal, which would make them… TOP SECRET AGENTS!
(ALISONMAN! THE LEGENDS WERE TRUE!)
Molly figures they’ll collect 100 bottle tops for scrap metal, and Susan adds they can dress up in dark clothes like spies in the movies do. And they can’t let anyone else know what they’re doing. The girls are about to take an oath of secrecy when Molly hears something outside. Gasp! Alison’s outside, talking to Mrs. Gilford! The girls hide out of sight before Alison enters the room. No one answers her when she calls Molly’s name, so Alison leaves. The girls wait a few moments, then rush to see Alison leaving a white envelope on the kitchen door. Susan doesn’t understand why they had to hide, but Molly fears what would happen if Alison found out their top secret plans. Linda’s eager to find out what Alison’s note says; she left them a cute invitation to a knitting bee at her house on Saturday. Linda and Susan think it sounds fun, but Molly stubbornly believes they’ll have more fun collecting tops. As Linda and Susan head for their homes, Molly crumples the invitation in her pocket. Ouch.
The next morning it’s gray, cold, and raining, not exactly the best weather for collecting tops. When Molly explains to her mother some, but not all, of her project’s details, Ricky asks if they’re volunteering to be monkeys in the zoo. The morning gets another strike when it turns out Molly’s boots are too small for her now. Since rubber is being rationed, Mrs. McIntire tells Molly to wear Ricky’s old boots, even though they look ridiculous on her. Ricky warns Molly not to wreck them, or “Get perfume on them.” Like wow, way to dig into the barrel for sexist insults, ya puke.
(“We’re never gonna be able to save the orphanage!”)
Susan and Linda aren’t doing too well either. Susan’s mom made her put on too many layers, and Linda doesn’t have enough on because her mom didn’t have time to wash her dark shirt. The girls are already asking for breaks when they haven’t even started yet. Their sojourn into the world of bottle tops does not go well. Out of all seven houses on the first block they try, they only get ten bottle tops. By lunchtime, they’ve only got sixteen. The girls are cold, miserable, AND hungry. Molly insists they try at least one more block before they have lunch, but wouldn’t you know it, it’s the very block Alison Hargate lives on. The girls decide to take a peek to see how Alison’s knitting bee is going; it’s worse than they thought. Alison’s living room looks warm and cozy with a fire roaring in the fireplace. Alison’s group are sitting in a circle knitting, talking, eating, having fun. Although Molly notices there aren’t any finished socks and Grace Littlefield can’t seem to hold her needles properly when GASP!
(GET THE FUCK OFF MY LAWN)
The girls are startled when they’re approached by Mrs. Hargate, Alison’s mom, dressed in a coat and holding an umbrella. Mrs. Hargate proceeds to unintentionally lead the girls on a guilt trip.
“You girls are late for the knitting bee,” said Mrs. Hargate. “But that doesn’t matter. Come along! Alison was so worried when you didn’t get here at nine with all the other gals. She was afraid you weren’t coming at all. But I told her you’d never be so rude. You’d never miss out on all the fun and not help on the project. I said I was sure you’d turn up, and I was right. Here you are!” Mrs. Hargate kept talking as she herded them inside like criminals. Linda, Molly, and Susan didn’t have any time to say anyting. Molly didn’t know what to say, anyway.
Bravo, Mrs. Hargate.
Alison’s mom ushers Molly, Linda, and Susan into the house to join the knitting bee. Alison’s all
and helpfully lends the girl extra needles and yarn they had on hand since the girls have none with them. But then Susan blurts out before Molly can shush her that they have another project they’re working on instead. Amazingly, Alison takes this rather well and simply returns to knitting with the other girls. Upon further inspection, Molly confirms her earlier thoughts that none of the girls have completed a single sock. Instead, what they HAVE knitted looks like a bunch of squares. Like for a doll’s blanket.
And then it hits Molly. A blanket! Instead of socks, the girls could knit a big blanket! It was easier AND it was faster. Molly keeps silent though, because she doesn’t want to intrude on Alison’s project.
That’s when Grace Littlefield finally admits defeat, almost on the verge of tears and looking really embarrassed. Grace exclaims it was hard enough with only two needles, but now what little she HAS knit is coming undone every time she tries to use the third. Molly, feeling bad for Grace, tells her she knows sock making is hard, and then begins to suggest making a blanket would be easier. Alison reminds Molly they’re making socks, but another girl agrees with Molly. Alison asks how they’d sew all the squares together for a blanket, to which Linda answers they simply need a big sewing needle.
(Always remember to share your needles)
Now all the girls are working together to make a blanket. The girls who’re more skilled at knitting focus on making more squares (Susan takes over Grace’s work to give the poor girl a break), while the others organize what they already have, and Molly and Linda sew the squares into strips. Once they’re finished, everyone’s proud of their blanket, but worry if it’ll be good enough for the contest. Molly remembers in her father’s last letter how he mentioned hospitals need things like blankets, especially considering winter’s coming. Alison beams thinking their blanket might save a soldier from freezing to death, and then thanks Molly for suggesting they do a blanket. In fact, Alison asks Molly if there’s anything she can do to help with the project Susan mentioned. Molly’s trio reveals they tried to collect bottle tops and it was going pretty poorly. Alison and the other girls decide to ask their moms for bottle tops, but it gets better. Grace lives in an apartment building with over twenty families for neighbors. They’re sure to get a hundred bottle tops there!
By next week, the girls are in the local paper alongside Miss Campbell for having won the contest thanks to the blanket AND the bottle tops.
THIRD GRADE GIRLS WIN LEND-A-HAND CONTEST
Ten students at Willow Street School showed the true meaning of allied effort this weekend. The third grade girls won first prize in the school’s contest to help the war effort. They knitted a blanket and collected 100 bottletops, which they made into a sign saying “Lend A Hand.”
“Both projects were a surprise to me,” said their teacher. “I don’t know how the girls managed to finish them in one day. I am very proud of every one of the girls.” At a school assembly, each girl was given a blue ribbon.
The blanket will be sent to a hospital in England, where Dr. James McIntire, the father of Molly McIntire, is working with the U.S. Army Medical Corps. The bottletops will be given to the Boy Scouts’ scrap metal drive.
And they did it with te-am work.
Okay, so, it’s easy to judge Molly for coming across as self-absorbed in this book, but I think that was the point and I’d be a hypocrite to judge her for it. When I was kid, I had a tendency to act the same way unless people chose my ideas. I remember a rather… difficult moment in eighth grade when my parents received a package with handwritten notes from all my teachers about my poor performances and selfish attitude.
In my defense, I had developed a lot of behavioral problems after I was sexually assaulted in sixth grade and every single adult in my life proved to be useless.
That’s still some impressive shade from Mrs. Hargate, and I do feel bad that Alison wasn’t aware she was being snubbed even though she wasn’t doing anything wrong.
And I still want Boston Brown Bread.
[Wing: I found this surprisingly charming, though I do wonder, as fast as they seemed to work on the first blanket, why they didn’t make more than one. Also, I’m still boggling over THREE NEEDLES WHAT THE HELL. HOW. WHY. WHAT. So I went to Sister Canary and friends, who are all needleworkers (all I do is cross-stitch and embroidery), and THIS IS A TRUE THING. Here’s a little bit of instruction for beginners, which already lost me. Random Wing Story: One time, when my mom was hospitalised and all the siblings gathered in the ICU waiting room, Sister Canary tried to teach us to knit (well, those of us who didn’t already knit). Guess who was the only one who couldn’t get it. GO ON, GUESS. I could knit one line, barely, but I could not purl. (Or, as Brother Owl called it, I could Neal, but I couldn’t Diamond.) (Yes, I have a bunch of siblings, and I’m giving them bird(ish) names. They are not as charmed as I am. So far, we have Sister Canary, Brother Raptor, and as of this story, Brother Owl.) So yeah. Knitting = witchcraft, and triple needle knitting = WITCHCRAFT.]