Felicity's Surprise

Published in 1991; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Dan Andreasen, Luann Roberts, and Keith Skeen


It's December, and as Christmas celebrations get underway, Felicity receives a stunning invitation: she, Elizabeth, and Annabelle have been asked to a dance lesson at the governor's palace! Miss Manderly arranged it for them. Felicity is worried that her parents' political views will cause trouble (Elizabeth and Annabelle's parents are loyalists), but her father and Miss Manderly assure her that because she was invited and she knows her manners well, things will be fine. Her father is even hopeful that this offer of civility between the governor's children and the colonists' means that the colonists can work out their difference with the king without war. Ben thinks Felicity shouldn't go at all because it would imply loyalty to the king, but Felicity prepares to go with her parents' blessing.

She's still nervous though, more so when she infers from conversation with Elizabeth that her church dress won't be fancy enough for the lesson, which will almost be like a ball. When she and her mother go out shopping for some new lace or other additions to dress up her gown, Felicity sees a doll wearing a gorgeous blue dress. The store owner explains that he adapted a pattern that the governor's wife was wearing, and he has a pattern that would work for Felicity and some beautiful blue silk that will compliment her complexion and red hair perfectly. It's a complicated pattern, but Felicity's mother works hard while Felicity helps out more with chores so her mother can focus on the dress. She makes good progress, but comes down with a serious illness just after Christmas (still before the dance). She's too ill to get out of bed, much less finish the dress. As time goes on, she's still very weak and feverish, and struggling to breathe. Felicity pours herself into taking care of her mother and keeping her brother and sister from worrying too much. All her efforts are focused on doing whatever she can to help her mother get well.

Felicity's father notices how hard she's been working, and on New Year's Day he gives her a present: the doll from the shop that Felicity admired. But now the doll reminds Felicity of how she thought the dress was her priority, not the people she loves. She gives the doll to Elizabeth, who agrees only to keep it for Felicity until Felicity is ready to have it again. Felicity also tells Elizabeth that she won't be able to attend the dance after all, not with her mother so ill and the dress unfinished.

But January 7, the day of the dance, Felicity's mother is stronger, and finally truly on the mend. And Felicity finds the finished dress and the doll waiting for her on her bed. Ben even offers to escort her to the dance, now agreeing with her father that Christmas is a time to hope for peace. It turns out that he and Elizabeth coordinated getting the dress pieces out of the house, and Elizabeth, Annabelle, and their mother finished the dress. Felicity has a wonderful time at the ball, taking in everything so she can share the memories with her mother.

Looking Back

Christmas in Felicity's time had a lot of familiar customs, like parties and church services. But it was more an adult celebration than one for children. At that time, children were more often treated like little adults. It wasn't later centuries that kids were allowed to act like kids, and Christmas was a good time to shower them with attention without spoiling them. (I gleaned that last bit from my History of Christmas DVD)


This book is dedicated to Alice Martin Tripp.

Miss Manderly has got to be the most caring teacher in the history of ever. She's always making all her students feel important.

The Christmas season didn't end on January 6, past tense. It DOES end on January 6. At least on the liturgical calendar, anyway. The twelve days of Christmas are from Christmas to Epiphany.

The book makes a big deal of how complicated the dress pattern is. But my mom sewed me a dress to match my Felicity doll's for Christmas when I was a kid, and she said it wasn't too hard (picture on my December 25, 2013 post). But Mom had a sewing machine and is very talented with needle arts. And she wasn't deathly ill.

Oh, funny. I have an episode of Friends on in the background and Chandler just told Monica she needs to "settle" before leaving a poker game. She says, "Settle what?" and he says. "The Jamestown colony of Virginia."

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