Written by Susan S. Adler in 1986; illustrated by Dan Andreason and Renee Graef
Here we are introduced to Samantha Parkington, a nine-year-old growing in 1904 New York who lives with her wealthy grandmother. Her parents were killed in a boating accident when she was five. Samantha straddles two worlds: the old-fashioned Victorian one her Grandmary inhabits, where she's expected to act lady-like, and the newer Edwardian era with suffrage and tomboyishness.
As she's very wealthy, Grandmary employs several servants: her seamstress, Jessie, who often helps Samantha out of scrapes (like cleaning her up when she takes a tumble during the non-Grandmary-approved activity of tree-climbing); a grumpy maid named Elsa; her butler and driver Mr. Hawkins who is kind to Samantha; and her cook Mrs. Hawkins who is also friendly with Samantha. Samantha is also close to Uncle Gard, but is unsure about Cornelia, his...whatever they called girlfriends in 1904.
Although Samantha has many people in her life who care for her, she doesn't really have friends. The annoying boy next door, Eddie Ryland, certainly doesn't count. She's understandably excited when the Rylands hire nine-year-old Nellie to work for them (her family--a mom, a dad, and two younger sisters--is destitute). Since she's supposed to be working, Nellie can't really play, but Samantha helps her with her duties so that they can have a few moments together. Nellie opens Samantha's eyes to a world beyond her own: Nellie's family often goes without food or heat, and Nellie's never been to school. Samantha resolves to teach her in their brief times together.
In the midst of this, Jessie suddenly announces that she won't be returning to work the next day. All the adults seem to understand what's going on, but no one will enlighten Samantha. She's briefly distracted by a gift from Grandmary, a fancy doll Samantha had been wanting because it looks like her mother. But while she's thrilled with the doll, she misses Jessie. Being imaginative, she makes up fantastic reasons for Jessie's abrupt departure, but Nellie has a much more reasonable explanation: maybe Jessie had a baby. Since Nellie knows where Jessie lives, she and Samantha plan to sneak out that night and make a clandestine visit. On the way there, Samantha's world gets a little bigger as she learns Jessie and her husband are forced to live in a dilapidated section of town: the colored part. They find Jessie's house, and meet her baby, Nathaniel, before her husband Lincoln (three guesses who he's named for, and the first two don't count) guides them home.
But the next, Samantha learns that Nellie is being sent away from the Rylands'. Mrs. Ryland fears that Nellie is too weak to work. She'll have to go back to the factory where she worked before. With help from Mrs. Hawkins, Samantha sends Nellie off with a large basket of food (including a whole ham, which should last a bit!)...and her prized doll, Lydia. She tells Grandmary that she lost her doll, for which Grandmary scolds her about not treating things of value properly. But Uncle Gard reveals the truth (Mrs. Hawkins told him), and Grandmary quickly recants her statements, surmising that Samantha does indeed understand how to value things...and people. During the same conversation, Samantha reveals that she knows why Jessie left. Grandmary agrees to offer that Jessie can continue working for her if she's comfortable bringing Nathaniel, and also to find a way to help Nellie's family.
In this book, the section details the life that the wealthy lived at the turn of the (last) century, and all the work that went into making the finery possible. It took an army of servants to create the setting. Children like Samantha weren't even expected to make their own beds. But things were changing: suffragettes were campaigning for women to be respected as people, not just workers (poor women) or decorations in fancy homes (rich women). Technology was also growing in leaps and bounds with the advent of wide-spread electricity, fueling the changing times.
Samantha attends the same church as her next-door neighbors, the Rylands (who employ Nellie and her family).
I had this as a book on tape as a child, and I can still "hear" the words being read in the same voice as the woman who did the recording.
I'm not sure if Grandmary is Samantha's maternal or paternal grandmother.
I just had a thought: was it a marketing ploy that so many of the American Girls had dolls themselves? Especially Samantha's fancy one?
So, Jessie can bring her baby to work with her. Just like me! (I'm a nanny and bring BOTH my kids with me when my husband's at work)