Clues in the Shadows

Written in 2009 by Kathleen Ernst, illustrated by Jean-Paul Tibbles


This book is complicated.

Molly's hard at work collecting for a paper drive. Any student who collects a thousand pounds (half a ton!) or more of paper will get a medal from General Eisenhower! Molly's annoying neighbor Ronnie thinks there's no way Molly can do it, which just motivates her all the more. One night, she someone lurking around the shed out back where her paper is stored. A thief? The figure is scared off before the police come, so there's no evidence to investigate. But Molly's paper stash is disturbed. She wonders if Ricky (who's also collecting for the paper drive) or Ronnie was sneaking around trying to steal from her.

Another thing on Molly's mind is how her dad doesn't seem himself. Molly knows that her dad was under great pressure and stress for two and a half years, but she doesn't understand why he won't at least talk to her about anything. Maybe Molly could help if he would open up. But he won't even tell her about the picture she found of him in England holding a girl Molly's age.

Suddenly, there's a massive distraction: VICTORY IN EUROPE! The Allies have won the European theater! During the impromptu celebration that follows a store clerk's announcing the news in the street, Molly spies Miss Delaney, the woman who leads the Junior Red Cross volunteers, looking scared, and a red-haired man she'd seen in a scuffle with the police a few days before (unrelated to the shed incident, as far as Molly knows).

Even with the victory in Europe, the war still continues in the Pacific theater. And the hospitals are still full of wounded troops. Molly and her friends make little gift bags for them and go to visit. Molly's sister Jill has also collected old jewelry for a jewelry drive, and Molly "borrows" a rose pin from it, intending to give it away at the next volunteer meeting. One soldier recognizes it as similar to one he sent from France to a woman back home. When she returns from the hospital, Molly asks Jill who donated the pin. After admonishing Molly for taking the pin, Jill says it was Miss Delaney. Furthermore, Miss Delaney has just resigned from her volunteer position with no explanation. PLUS other people have had their drive supplies gone through.

Clearly, someone is looking for something, and Miss Delaney is scared about something. Are the two facts connected? And what about that red-haired man, who Molly also sees starting a fist-fight?

The plot is getting pretty convoluted at this point. But it gets wrapped up pretty well. The soldier at the hospital HAD sent the rose pin to Miss Delaney, who was kind to him before he left for war, but is happy with his memory of her as it is, and doesn't want to possibly ruin it by bothering her. The red-haired man reveals himself as Ronnie's uncle, who is suffering from "battle fatigue" which we now know as PTSD. He also reveals that Ronnie's dad is MIA, and Ronnie has had to get a job to help pay bills.

With the help of Ronnie's uncle, Molly and her friends also discover who was gong through the papers: their kindly neighbor accidentally donated a letter from her much-younger brother, who is also a soldier...for Germany. The woman is from Germany but moved to the United States years ago. She was worried she'd be suspected of being a Nazi sympathizer. Molly and her friends and family agree to find the letter and return it, and keep her secret.

Molly's dad also opens up. He's still working through the difficult memories, one of which is treating an injury on the girl who looks like Molly (I figured the girl had died!). But he's getting better, and doesn't have full-blown battle fatigue, just very bad memories.

AND Molly organizes her class to secretly collect scrap paper in Ronnie's name, ensuring he wins one of the Eisenhower medals.

That's the best I could summarize this. It's pretty convoluted.

Looking Back

By May 1945, the United States was running low on supplies. Rations were cut further and further, and scrap drives were becoming more frequent. Families were stretched thin, with many men fighting across the oceans and women taking on jobs and volunteer duties outside the home that had previously been reserved for men. Children had to grow up fast to help take care of responsibilities at home. The news that the war was over in Europe gave great relief, and a few months later, the fighting ceased in the Pacific. Things didn't bounce right back, though. The troops returning home had physical and mental scars. To ensure that the men who had sacrificed so much had jobs, women were encouraged to quit or just outright laid off. Not every man could find work though; the lasting effects of battle made some unemployable. And of course, not everyone made it home. More than one hundred eighty thousand men died in World War II, not including civilian casualties.


This book is dedicated to "all those in my extended family who served, on the home front or overseas."

I wish that the books would refer to Nazi pilots instead of German pilots. Maybe because I'm part German (the German side of my family came to the US centuries ago). Plus, Italy was part of the Axis powers, too; the Nazi fighters in Germany weren't the only "bad guys."

Linda's mom works the night shift at an airplane factory, until she's laid off in this book.

Ronnie's dad should be in the Army Air Corps, not the Air Force. The Air Force was part of the Army until 1947.

A ream of standard printer paper is five pounds. So a thousand divided by five is 200 reams of paper, and there are 500 pieces of paper in a ream. Anyone wanting to earn a medal needs to find the equivalent of 100,000 pieces of paper, in scraps. The newspaper should help, but still!

There's a bit with Molly realizing the shed she's stored her papers in smells of cigarette smoke, and decides that both Ricky and Ronnie aren't dumb enough to have caused that. I don't know if she means smoking near dry papers and oil or smoking at all, because a couple paragraphs before her dad is getting tobacco for his pipe.

Hitler admitted that he couldn't win on April 22, 1945. Mussolini was overthrown and executed April 27. Hitler committed suicide April 30. Germany officially surrendered May 8, 1945: VE Day. Molly's birthday is April 22, but it's not mentioned at all in the book.

Also, the second-to-last chapter ends just before June. Then there's an epilogue that takes place two months later. I wish it would have been three, because the war would have been over then. (Japan officially surrendered in September, but after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in mid-August, things were essentially done.)

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