Molly's Surprise

Written in 1986 by Valerie Tripp, illustrated by Nick Backes, Keith Skeen, and Renee Graef


As Christmas draws nearer, Molly is concerned. Her dad hasn't been able to send any presents, and his presents have always been a big part of their Christmas tradition. Plus, what if he never sent presents because he...can't send presents? She also can't expect any big or non-practical presents, what with the war and all. Molly's able to sadly give up on her dream of a doll--mostly--but worries that Brad, being only five, is going to be very disappointed Christmas morning.

There are some more snags, too. Molly's sister wants to have things be different from the previous years, because seeing everything else the same when their dad isn't around makes her miss him more (she relents when she sees that she can still enjoy the memories and look forward to his return). Molly's older brother, on the other hand, gets ready to do stuff like put up the Christmas lights, which was normally a job for their dad. While Molly wants the lights up like they always are, she feels uncomfortable that it's not her dad putting them up. Molly's grandparents were going to bring a Christmas tree, but they get a flat and can't. It happens while Molly's mom and younger brother are out, so Molly and her older siblings pool their money (including the fifty pennies Molly was going to give Brad for Christmas) to buy a small tree from a nearby lot.

Once the tree is up, things don't seem quite so bad. Plus, the next morning, it snows. Almost hidden by the snow is a package. Molly's dad was able to send presents after all! Molly and Jill find it, and recognize their dad's handwriting instructing them to keep it a secret. They hide the box quickly, not even telling their mom. Fortunately, they only have to keep the secret two days. They sneak the box under the tree just after midnight, and it's waiting for the family Christmas morning. It's filled with the fun presents they wanted: a real silk paratrooper scarf for Ricky, a canteen and helmet for Brad, a beautiful hat for Jill, a doll of a Red Cross nurse for Molly, and some nice leather gloves for their mom. There's a note inside the gloves, and Molly's mom suddenly turns on the radio...just in time to hear their dad wishing them a merry Christmas from across the ocean.

Looking Back

Like Molly's family, people all over the United States had to be frugal and practical during Christmas 1944. Most factories were being used to make supplies for the war effort, rather than toys. The Looking Back section indicates this as a cause for fewer Christmas ornaments being made. That's true in part, but another big factor is that most Christmas ornaments in the first half of the twentieth century had been made in Germany. Three guesses why those were unpopular, and the first two don't count.


This book is dedicated to Michael.

Molly's family doesn't get their Christmas tree until December 22! We usually get ours the first weekend of December. And it's still up...I should probably take the ornaments off later today...

They don't put up ANY decorations until December 22. I guess it makes sense to save energy and not do lights, but nothing?

The illustrations of a hat Jill is knitting are off a bit; she's clearly knitting in the round but has regular needles. They should be double-pointed needles or cable needles. But both drawings are far better drawn than I could ever hope to do, so there's that.

I think my theory about dolls is getting stronger. Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly all really want their doll (Kirsten's in storage) or a new one for Christmas. And there were dolls of the girls. I think it's a marketing ploy.

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