The Light in the Cellar

Written in 2007 by Sarah Masters Buckley, illustrated by Jean-Paul Tibbles


Molly and her friends are excited when their teacher offers them an opportunity to volunteer with one of several organizations to help the war effort. Susan and Linda join a Junior First Aid club, while Molly agrees to join Emily in riding their bikes to deliver things to a convalescent home. Emily's aunt is recovering there, and this will allow her to see her aunt more often.

Molly and Emily also help Mrs. McIntire get ready to prepare refreshments for a gathering at a nearby train station. It's where troops pass through on their to or from the war, and different towns take turns hosting a gathering. Molly's town always bakes dozens and dozens of cookies, but the bags of sugar are mysteriously missing. Three were used legitimately by other volunteers, but what about the rest? Some cooking oil and coffee has also disappeared. Aside from the cost issue, sugar is heavily rationed (as are other things) and it will be difficult to get enough for the cookies without finding the missing bag.Tthey'll have to ask private citizens of the town to donate cookies. Molly and Emily wonder if someone stole it to sell on the black market.

The convalescent home is also running out of sugar faster than it should be. While delivering donated magazines so that patients can have something new to read, Molly also gets a cup of tea for an elderly woman, but isn't allowed to have the sugar in it the woman asked for. The stern director is watching like a hawk and won't allow extras. But the woman, Mrs. Currier, and Molly have a nice visit anyway. Mrs. Currier happens to live in a house near Molly which is said to be haunted. Yet Mrs. Currier is able to talk Molly into going inside to get her reading glasses. Emily has no question about going with Molly as she figures she owes Molly for having her join the "boring" volunteer activity, which is sweet of her.

They find the glasses just where Mrs. Currier described, but then a truck pulls into the driveway. Two men get out and the girls can hear them talking in hushed tones about something being almost done. They're suspicious, and hide until the coast is clear. Molly's brother Ricky thinks they're being ridiculous; the men were probably just doing some repairs. But when Molly talks to Mrs. Currier, she learns that no one else lives in the house (Mr. Currier is deceased), and that no repairs are scheduled.

The next day, when Molly has to return to Mrs. Currier's (she forgot to lock the door and re-hide the spare key), she, Linda, and Susan take a moment to peer into a window they'd seen a light coming from the week before. It's full of all sorts of rationed goods, too much to have been bought with ration stamps. Molly briefly suspects a foreign woman who works at the convalescent home, but upon hearing that she and her young daughter escaped Nazi concentration camps in Poland--and her husband didn't--she dismisses the thought. Molly comes up with a plan to catch the real crooks, and she, Ricky, Ricky's friend David, Jill, Susan, Linda, and Emily stake out the place Saturday night, when the men indicated whatever they were doing would be finished. Sure enough, they see the man who owns a laundry delivery service (which also serves the convalescent home and other places) load up his truck and drive off with his brother. Tipped off by Ricky and David, the police stop the truck and on the urging of the children, search the back and arrest the man.

As the plot lines wrap up, the troops get their cookies (neighbors brought over more than enough), the thieves are brought up on charges, Mrs. Currier hires the refugee woman to be a caretaker at her house just before she and her daughter would have become homeless, and Emily's aunt is declared recovered enough to move back home. Molly and Emily are torn by the last piece of news. Of course it's good that Emily's aunt is well, but it means that she won't live with Molly's family anymore, and she'll be busy helping her aunt, who is still a bit weak. Both girls have started thinking of each other as family. Molly has a plan in mind, though: they will continue their twice-weekly volunteering, and Molly will go with Emily to her aunt's house those days to help fix dinner.

Looking Back

The United States entered World War II after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. By May 1942, the US was feeling the impact of not being able to import or produce as many goods, due to the war. Different items began to be rationed, starting with sugar. Eventually, there were limits on rubber (i.e., in car tires or elastic), gasoline, butter, meat, toothpaste, clothing, and more. Everyone, even children, received ration stamps that allowed them to purchase various goods. Once the stamps were gone, they were gone until the next time they were issued. Most people were eager to make do so that the troops abroad could have what they needed, and learned to make things last longer or use things differently. But others stole goods or forged ration cards, creating a black market. But again, most people wanted to help. Even children could volunteer to put together first aid kits for hospitals or overseas, or be plane spotters watching for enemy planes, or collect scrap metal.


This book is dedicated to Jessica.

A nurse mentions in passing that her baby is feeling better. "It was only a cold, thank heavens." In the 1940s, I wouldn't be surprised if she was worried her baby had something like whooping cough, which can kill an infant. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Vaccines and antibiotics are probably the best things invented in modern medicine. Go look up your immunization records or call your healthcare provider and see if you need a TDaP booster (Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis, AKA whooping cough). Pertussis is at epidemic levels in several US states, including mine, and in other countries as well.

Back in Meet Molly, Molly tells her friends that lying doesn't count if you cross your fingers. In this book, written twenty-one years later, she crosses her fingers behind her back when lying to her mother.

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