Felicity Discovers a Secret

Short story collection published in 2006; author Valerie Tripp; illustrator Dan Andreasen, Susan McAliley, or Philip Hood


Felicity is out racing through the streets, spinning along her toy hoop, when she slips in a mud puddle, dirtying the linens a neighbor had set out to dry. The neighbor is Mrs. Burnsie, who takes in washing to earn a living. She has a reputation for being stubborn and mean. Embarrassed and contrite, Felicity offers to help clean the things for Mrs. Burnsie. While doing so, she learns that part of the reputation is well-deserved: Mrs. Burnsie has very specific ways of doing things and refuses to try any others. But she can be very nice. Felicity notices a few things around the house that are out of place for Mrs. Burnsie's fussiness: some embroidery is upside-down relative to the rest of the work, her apron is inside-out, her hair is messy, and the lavender she puts in the loads of laundry is just about run out. Felicity can at least help with that last bit, and the next day brings some fresh-cut flowers from her garden. She surprises Mrs. Burnsie, who was bent over her embroidery so close to the work that Felicity thought the woman had fallen asleep. Suddenly, Felicity understands: Mrs. Burnsie has poor eyesight! She brings a pair of glasses from her father's store, and urges Mrs. Burnsie to try them on. Despite being initially reticent about change, Mrs. Burnsie acquiesces, and is stunned at the difference the lenses make. She promises Felicity she'll go buy a pair, and thanks her for her friendship.

Looking Back

The historical section gives an overview of the history of corrective lenses. They were relatively uncommon until the invention of movable type in Middle Ages, when the sudden widespread availability of reading materials encouraged more people to learn to read. Glasses started out as lenses held in front of the face on posts or in fans or other handles, like opera glasses. By Felicity's time, glasses were held on with straps or pieces that went over the ear or on the temples. Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals in the 1700s, and in the 1800s, contact lenses were invented. Hooray for peripheral vision!


Felicity's a little ruder and more thoughtless with her speech than usual, but it's to advance the plot ("Why is this flower embroidered upside-down?" "Well, my mother does it this way...").

I have atrocious vision. If I couldn't use corrective lenses, I'd be legally blind. But I'd never make most of the mistakes that Mrs. Burnsie does. The way she's described bent over her work, she seems near-sighted rather than far-sighted, which makes no sense for embroidery something the wrong way. And you can still feel the hems of clothes and the way your hair is in order to put yourself together right. The lavender's the one that makes sense, because if her eyesight's like mine she'd just seen a purple-ish blur and might not notice how low her supply is. Not recognizing Felicity would be a good one, too; or if she's supposed to be far-sighted she should have been holding her embroidery further away from her face.

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