Tuesday, June 03, 2008

History Mystery: The Light in the Cellar by Sarah Masters Buckey

It's April of 1942, and the strain of full wartime production is beginning to be felt by civilians. On the homefront, Molly McIntire's family has taken in a London Blitz evacuee, Emily who had come to Jefferson to stay with her Aunt Primrose. But when pneumonia sends Auntie Prim to a local convalescent hospital, she moves in with the McIntires for a few weeks.

Molly longs to help with the war effort by joining the Junior First Aid program, but Emily urges her to become a magazine delivery girl with her at the hospital so that she can visit her aunt during the day. Molly reluctantly agrees to keep Emily company, but she can't help longing for a more glamorous homefront volunteer job: after all, her sister Jill helps out as a nurse's aide for wounded soldiers, and her older brother Ricky is studying to become an aircraft spotter.

Still, Molly loyally loans Emily her old bike for the trips out to the hospital and takes her out to the little-used roads beyond town to practice her bike riding in preparation for their volunteer job. Then, while helping Emily ride, the girls and their friends chase their puppies Yank and Bennett onto the grounds of the local abandoned mansion, where they spot a mysterious light in the supposedly unoccupied Greystone Manor. Afraid that her big brother will tease her about being afraid of haunted houses, Molly tries to forget about the unexplained light.

Then, while helping Molly's mom organize Red Cross supplies for the nearby servicemen's canteen, the girls learn that seven ten-pound bags of rationed sugar are missing from the headquarter's storeroom. As the girls pedal out to make their first delivery of magazines to the convalescent hospital, Emily tells Molly that she believes the sugar has been stolen to be sold on the black market, just as some people had done in London. Molly and Emily determine that they will be the ones to solve the mystery of the missing sugar.

As they chat with the patients at the hospital, they learn that the kitchen there is also missing bags of sugar. When one of the patients, the actual owner of Greystone Manor, asks Molly to retrieve her reading glasses from the house, Molly is a bit intimidated at the thought of entering the dark, foreboding house, but when her mother agrees that she should do the errand for her old friend and Emily agrees to go along and wait outside, Molly warily enters the empty house and hurriedly locates the glasses. Just as she turns to leave, Molly hears someone entering the cellar below. Hiding upstairs, Molly hears voices as several men seem to be unloading heavy materials from a black van, and she hears them saying that they'll be "done by Saturday."

Molly and Emily are sure that they've discovered the secret cache of the black marketeers. While the entire town works to come up with enough sugar to make cookies for the troop trains coming through their canteen on the weekend, the girls decide to return to Greystone to make sure the stolen sugar is still there before sharing their suspicions with the police. Reluctantly, Molly decides to confide her suspicions with her older brother and sister. Although her brother pokes fun at the "girl detectives," he agrees to keep lookout while they revisit the old house. When the girls spot the black truck approaching the house, they can only hope that Ricky and Jill can call the police in time to catch the thieves with their rationed contraband.

Like the other books in American Girl's Molly McIntire series, The Light in the Cellar: A Molly Mystery (American Girl Mysteries) is filled with historical details of life on the World War II homefront. Molly's mom saves up ration tickets to buy sugar, eggs, meat, and gasoline, while Molly slogs her way through soybean casseroles and other "meatless meals," and ruefully contemplates sugarless cereal when her mother gives up her family's sugar ration to make cookies for soldiers bound for the front. As in the other American Girl books, an appendix featuring period photos reinforces the historical details in the novel itself. For girls who loved the original Molly McIntire books in the American Girl series, the Molly Mystery books, which also includes the 2005 A Spy On The Home Front: A Molly Mystery (American Girl Mysteries), bring back a favorite character in suspenseful mysteries steeped in the American homefront during the first years of the Second World War.

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  • I would also recommend 'When Mack Came Back,' by Brad Strickland.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:37 PM  

  • I attend a meeting of veterans of my fathers age. One of them reported wearing his unit emblem bedecked cap when stopping at a gas station. A teenager asked him what it was about, and when told, said "WWll, oh yeah, I've heard of that! Who won, anyway?"
    I have been astounded to find that CA high schools do not teach WWll history, saying it is a subject for college. I have attended two lectures on WWll, one at Stanford and one at UC Berkeley, top institutions. Both emphasized the "war crimes" guilt the Us should feel for it's bombing of cities.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:04 AM  

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