The One and Only

Published in 2015; author Valerie Tripp; illustrator Julie Kolesova


Maryellen Larkin is a nine-year-old girl, the fourth of six children (older siblings Joan and Carolyn, younger siblings Beverly, Tom, and Mikey). She lives in Daytona Beach, on the Atlantic Coast of Florida. Her mother worked at a line manger in an aircraft factory during World War II, and now manages the household. Her father is an architect. They married during the Great Depression, and now in the booming economic times of the 1950s, want to give their children all they themselves couldn't have when they were younger.

Maryellen likes all the popular TV shows of her time, like The Lone Ranger, and enjoys pretending she's a character in them when she plays with her close friend Davy. But her oldest sister, Joan, warns her that as Maryellen gets older, boys and girls won't play together much--until they get to high school and start dating, like Joan, who's 18 and nearly engaged. Maryellen isn't convinced. She and Davy have lots of fun hanging out, and Davy's always there for her. Maryellen tries to impress her mom's old work friends by painting their front door red so it stands out, and of course the paint spills on the deck. Davy is willing to get up in the early morning and help Maryellen scrub the spilled paint away.

Standing out is important to Maryellen. She wants to be known for being Maryellen, not for being Joan's or Carolyn's sister. This gets difficult when fourth grade starts in the fall: her teacher previously taught both her older sisters, and sometimes calls Maryellen the wrong name.

But soon Maryellen has a bigger concern in fourth grade: she and Davy have a falling out, and she's become good friends with a new student, Angela. Her other friends, Karen K. and Karen S., can't believe Maryellen would befriend Angela. Why? Angela and her family just moved to Florida...from Italy. World War II is still fresh in the nation's memory. Karen S.'s uncle was even killed fighting in Italy. But Maryellen won't let prejudice stand in the way of a new friendship. Angela would have an infant at oldest when the war was ending. After some time, the two Karens realize they're being unfair by judging Angela for what her country's leaders did before any of them were born. Maryellen feels good standing up for what's right.

Soon Christmas is coming. Maryellen is a good artist, very creative. She's always the one to come up with a gift for the kids to give the parents, and often makes presents for her siblings instead of buying them--and she's good enough at handmade things that everyone likes them. But thanks to TV shows, Maryellen finds herself wishing for a different kind of Christmas than she's used to. It never snows in Daytona Beach, it's not cold enough for ice skating...her grandparents live in the mountains outside Atlanta, Georgia, where it snows. Normally they visit for Christmas, but her grandfather's recovering from an illness, so they won't be able to this year. Maryellen has an idea though: for her Christmas present, maybe she can visit them! A trip on her own to a winter wonderland. She secures permission from her parents and grandparents to spend a week at the end of December.

Maryellen takes a train to Atlanta, where her grandfather picks her up. As they drive into the mountains, Maryellen is thrilled to see snow for the first time in her life. She gets to go ice skating, pick out a real live Christmas tree from the forest, and experience an old-fashioned Christmas.

But she starts to miss her parents and siblings. A lot. Her grandparents quickly pick up on this, and, feeling energized by the visit, her grandfather suggests they all drive down to Daytona Beach to surprise Maryellen's family Christmas morning. They'll even bring the tree and some snow in a cooler--it'll keep the sandwiches cold and Maryellen's siblings can see snow.

They drive through the night, arriving shortly after Maryellen's family gets back from church. Everyone's stunned and happy to see them. Soon there's another knock on the door: Joan's boyfriend, Jerry. Earlier, Maryellen had encouraged Jerry to think about how serious he wanted his relationship with Joan to be. He comes in the house, walks over to Joan, and proposes. Before next Christmas, there will be a wedding!

Inside Maryellen's World

The 1950s saw prosperity for much of US, a nice contrast to the Depression of the 1930s and World War II in the 1940s. Many families had several children, and enjoyed giving their kids things and experiences they'd had to do without in the past. Televisions were popular in American households, depicting an idealized lifestyle (some people's version of idealized: nearly all actors were white). This lead to some pressure to "keep up with the Joneses" like Maryellen's wish for a "proper" Christmas. But, while imperfect, the 1950s were an improvement for most people.


This book is dedicated to Ellie.

This is the first time I've read the BeForever version of the main books. Overall I'm neutral on the change--there are two longer books instead of six shorter ones, but the story still follows the same basic format. Obviously that means the books look different, but they're about the height and thickness of the short story collections so that won't annoy me too much when they're on my bookshelf. (They're also a similar size to the historical character and history mysteries, and the girl of the year books, but I don't collect those or girls of many lands; just the central books, best friend books, and short story collections.) But I do miss the family portrait from the beginning of the book. 

The Larkins have an ancient dachshund, Scooter.

Mrs. Larkin was offered a permanent position at the factory after the war ended, but she thought it was unfair that most of the other women were let go, so she quit in protest. She would have had three young children, including an infant (Maryellen was born in May 7, 1945, the day before Victory in Europe Day, or V-E Day). So, three kids, a woman, 1945--she was really good at her job to be offered a permanent one.

When Mrs. Larkin's former coworkers visit, they spend the night. Juggling the rooms inspires Maryellen to suggest all four sisters share a larger room and the two boys take the smaller room--before Joan and Carolyn had that while Maryellen and Beverly roomed with the boys. Mrs. Larkin agrees to experiment for the duration of her friends' visit, and all four girls agree they like rooming together.

Maryellen is left-handed, which makes writing difficult for her. Her hand smears the writing.

Maryellen had polio in 1952, resulting in one leg being weaker than the other and cold-sensitive lungs. These almost never affect her though. One the one hand, it's great that she's determined to overcome her difficulties, on the other...if they really don't impact her, why include them in the story? There's not even a mention of it being a little tricky to balance on ice skates or getting out of breath sooner in the cold when she visits her grandparents for Christmas.

Jerry's a Korean War veteran; a member of the US Navy.

The Larkins use an artificial Christmas tree (pink!). While I prefer live trees, it makes a lot of sense to have an artificial one if you live where the weather doesn't drop below freezing. You don't want to bring in a host of surprise insects or spiders.

Maryellen needs to pay for half of her train ticket to visit her grandparents, eight dollars. That's the equivalent of almost $71 in 2016.

So...Maryellen and her grandparents drive back to Daytona Beach. What about the return train ticket? Can she get a refund?

Maryellen doesn't ask for or get a doll for Christmas, but her parents do give her a jewelry box that, when opened, shows a little figure skating on a pond.

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