Rebecca and the Movies

Published in 2009; author Jacqueline Debmar Greene; illustrators Robert Hunt and Susan McAliley


Rebecca's birthday is nearing, but so is Passover, and she thinks that with all the preparations for the holy day, her birthday will be forgotten. Even if her family does remember, she won't be able to have a cake, because of the religious restrictions on food at this time of year. So she's stunned when she and her friend Rose arrive at Rebecca's to a surprise party,complete with Passover versions of treats! Her sisters give her an IOU for a day out at the movies with them (she's only seen a movie once before, when her mother's cousin Max treated them after he got a job with a movie company). And Max invites her to visit his work! Although her parents and grandparents don't really approve of girls being in show business and want Rebecca to be a teacher, they acquiesce and let her go.

After an exciting trip to New Jersey via subway, ferry, and bus, Rebecca gets to see the movie studio. She's in awe of all the things there, and gets to meet a rising young actor, Lillian Armstrong. Lily shows Rebecca her dressing room and some of the ins and outs of show business. Rebecca thinks she couldn't be happier as she settles in to quietly and unobtrusively watch Max film a scene. But then the director decides the scene needs a child for drama--and picks Rebecca! She can hardly believe it, and with the director's help, films the scene! However, during the lunch break, she embarrasses Max without realizing it when she calls him out on thinking about eating non-Kosher and non-Passover foods. But she also notices that Lily is flirting with Max and contrives to get them dancing together. It turns out Lily is Jewish too, and has some proper Passover food to share with Max. Both adults seem pleased, and stay near each other the rest of the day.

Before leaving for home, Rebecca learns that she won't be listed in the credits. She's a bit disappointed, but acknowledges that it's good her disapproving parents and grandparents won't know. She wonder if she'll ever be able to really pursue acting. The director says she's naturally talented, but she knows what her family thinks of acting. She decides to satisfied with the one day for now. As payment, the director gives her a prop: a working phonograph!

Looking Back

In Rebecca's time, there was of course no television to watch, and children had fewer toys than they do today (families were often larger too; Rebecca's would have been small). Kids played outside when they could, various games like hopscotch and baseball. In a crowded city with small dwellings and no lawns, entertainment was also available by watching the interactions of the street vendors. But most exciting were movies. Many early movies were produced in New York and New Jersey, but soon people sought out southern California, for its warmer climate that allowed more filming outdoors. A lot of early movie companies were headed by Jewish immigrants, who were more willing to take the risk of making movies. Movies originally didn't have much respect; they were seen as a lower, common form of live theater, and natural-born citizens didn't think they'd do well enough to invest much in. But immigrants were eager to jump at the opportunity to try something new.


This book is dedicated to "my father, George Debmar, and to Julie, Gloria, Shirlee, and Jack for sharing their memories."

At one point, Max describes himself as not being in the same "heavenly constellation" as Lillian Armstrong. I hope that's a pun relating to Neil Armstrong being the first man on the moon.

EDIT: Never mind, this book takes place in 1915. As the comments explain, the Rebecca's worry that her birthday will be ignored makes sense. In 1914, Passover started at sundown on Friday, April 10 and would have been over April 17. Rebecca's birthday is April 4. Doesn't quite line up. It does, however, make sense that she'd have the following Monday off from school, as Easter was that Sunday, April 12, and it used to be more common for places to close on Easter Monday, or it could have been spring break at her school.

I hope Rebecca waits to take her sisters up on the movie deal until hers comes out, to see if her sisters recognize her.

There's a fan theory that when Kit or Molly go to the movies, Rebecca is acting in some of them.


Anonymous said...

Okay, first of all I haven't read the book, so I'm sorry if I'm telling you something you already know. But I'm Jewish and I think that Rebecca's birthday being just before Passover makes some sense. Although certain foods are prohibited only *on* Passover, she and her mother and sister would have been cleaning the house from top to bottom to prepare for it, and I could imagine Rebecca figuring that that close to Passover there's no way she's getting a real cake because why would they bring in something non-Passover-approved at that point when their kitchen is most likely mostly turned over?

Anonymous said...

Just to make things clear; this book takes place in 1915, not 1914.

And Passover in 1915 went from March 30 to April 6, so it would make sense if Rebecca worries about her birthday falling over passover.

SJSiff said...

Oh! I had the year wrong! Thank you, I will update that. And now that I know that and with your other comment, yes, her worries make more sense. Thank you very much for clarifying. :)