Happy Birthday, Molly!

Written in 1987 by Valerie Tripp, illustrated by Nick Backes and Keith Skeen


Molly's birthday is coming up in a few weeks, and her mother has more exciting news to add: an English girl is going to stay with them! Emily Bennett was supposed to escape the blitzkrieg bombing by coming to live with her aunt. But her aunt is very ill and while she's expected to recover, she's not well enough to care for Emily. So Emily will stay with the McIntires until her aunt is better.

Molly, Linda, and Susan imagine that maybe Emily will be like a princess, and can't wait to play with a new friend. But Emily is very shy (and, Molly notices, very thin, possibly malnourished) and doesn't seem to want to let anyone get to know her. The most she says is when she politely refuses to play "bomb shelter" with the other girls. Thankfully Molly's mother points out that bomb shelters aren't a fun, exciting thing in England so that the girls won't make that mistake again. They try to include Emily in their play at home and at school (Emily is their age and in their class), but she's so shy and reserved that most people end up ignoring her.

It's not until a blackout drill that Emily opens up. The McIntires view it as more of an interesting diversion and maybe a bit of a hassle, but for Emily it's like being back in the middle of the blitzkrieg. She tells Molly how awful it is to know that at any moment, a plane could fly over with a bomb to drop, leaving death and destruction in its wake. She feels guilty and cowardly for leaving London while her parents are still there. Molly reassures her that she is brave, and that even the English princesses have left England to stay safe. As the drill ends, the girls bond over their shared interest in British royalty (they're even Molly and Emily, and the princesses are Margaret and Elizabeth). They start to become friends, and plan a princess tea themed party for Molly's birthday. Since Emily has had to miss out on birthdays with the war right in her front yard, Molly offers to share her birthday with Molly.

They hit some snags with the planning. The differences in their upbringing show more and more as they each want vastly different things that they value for the party. Their national pride also causes a riff. Both girls are rightly very proud of what their countries are doing to stop the Nazis, but instead of appreciating what both allies bring, they argue over which is doing a better job. The night before the party they go to bed angry, Molly silently vowing to do her own thing and not invite Emily.

In the morning, both girls have calmed down. They're just about to apologize when Molly's mother and siblings burst in with a puppy for each girl! The girls have a moment alone with their new pets, and Emily reveals that she had a dog that was killed in a bombing. Molly knew that the war was more real to Emily, but not how real until that revelation. Emily also remembers that while she misses her parents terribly after being away from them for a few weeks, Molly's dad has been gone for two years. The girls see that they each have difficult things in their life to deal with, and there's no point in arguing who has it harder. Like the Allied soldiers, they should work together to make life better. Molly names her dog Bennett, after Emily, and Emily names her dog Yank in honor of the American soldiers. With their friendship that much stronger, they get ready for their birthday party.

Looking Back

Raising a child in the 1940s was easier in some ways than it had been in the past. While the war and rationing was hard, new technology (like my favorite household appliance, the washing machine) and new medical science (yay vaccines!) were improving the length and quality of life. Not every advancement was good, like the notion that formula was more scientifically balanced and therefore better than breast milk. Formula is a good alternative if breast milk is unavailable, but breast milk is the ideal infant food. The 1940s and 1950s also saw the rise of the idea of teenagers as distinct from either children or adults. Molly would have enjoyed very exciting teenage years, especially relative to the war years.


This book is dedicated to Emily Stuart Matthewson.

The book places the day of the party, April 22, as a Saturday. It was in 1944, so Molly's repeating a year. Christmas in the last book was 1944 as well. It's too bad she wasn't moved into 1945: April 22, 1945 was the day Hitler admitted defeat.

I hope Molly's mom asked Emily's aunt if it was okay for Emily to get a dog. And I hope she checked that Emily would be able to bring it back to England.

The new teenage culture of the 1950s was a big reason the producers of Back to the Future set the movie in 1955.

No comments: