Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Sundae With Judy (1949) by Frieda Friedman

This is the first book that really got me interested in older books, though at the time I purchased it at a used book store, it was only about 40 years old. Not that vintage. The book is written in an endearingly optimistic tone, almost as if it's a modern book looking back on the 1940s. Daddy leaves his money out on his newsstand for people to make their own change when he takes a break for dinner. Judy is endlessly cheerful. The Marshalls look out for their neighbors. Yet the book also deals with serious issues like prejudice and poverty.
Judy Marshall lives in New York City and her father owns an ice cream/general store. She loves to help out even though her older sister Elaine taunts her about her plumpness when she samples the goodies.
A new girl, Mayling Lee, moves into the neighborhood. Judy marvels at the fact that the girl is Chinese and instantly invites her to join The Saturday Club, a group of her friends who meet up every Saturday. Judy is also excited that Mayling owns a piano, something Judy longs to have someday. To Judy's amazement, Mayling offers to give Judy free piano lessons. Mayling is also kind enough to buy a sundae for Butch, a dirty little boy who stops by the shop every day for a free piece of candy.
At the next meeting of The Saturday Club, Judy broaches the idea of having Mayling as a member. The girls seem agreeable to the idea until club president Margaret objects. Judy resigns, and the other club members except Margaret follow suit, saying maybe they could form a new club.
Next, a young man, who turns out to be their neighbor Mrs. Kersten's nephew, moves into his aunt's apartment. He takes an interest in Elaine. Judy sees Tom at the Automat and they eat together. Judy comes up with the idea of Tom working at the ice cream parlor while the Marshalls are eating dinner. Elaine is jealous when she hears about Judy and Tom having this talk. Elaine, if he's interested in an eleven year old you shouldn't want him anyway!
Judy and Mayling visit Butch's family because the boy hasn't been seen in school or the ice cream shop in several days. They learn from Mr. Fenton that the family just had a new baby, Mr. Fenton lost the job and has a leg injury. Later on, Judy has an idea to help raise money for the family's rent. All the kids will get together and put on a show! Sounds like one of those old movies. Judy and Mayling plan to play the piano, a girl from The Saturday Club will toe dance. There will also be a harmonica player, a comedian, and a pair of African American twins from school who sing on the radio will perform. During their rehearsal, Mayling's mother notices that Judy's skill level during her performance is not up to the other children's. She gently suggests that Judy be the master of ceremonies instead. Judy is very hurt by this because her dream is to be a concert pianist, but she agrees to take the job. 
The show is a hit and brings in more than enough money for rent, and some job offers for Mr. Fenton. Judy does a wonderful job as master of ceremonies and even gets a used piano out of the deal. In the end, there is a photo in the newspaper of all the kids together. Judy's mother remarks that this is how things in the United States should be, with people of all colors and from all backgrounds and religions working together. I'm sure this kind of statement wasn't popular with everyone at the time.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Popular Girls Club (1972) by Phyllis Krasilovsky

This is one of those books where the narrator remains nameless. This book is about a girl whose friends mysteriously stop speaking to her and exclude her from their new club.

It's not as though other girls don't try to befriend her. A nerdy girl named Clara invites her over to make leaf placemats, but the narrator is worried that she'll never get into the club if she hangs out with "Dr. Cyclops." The protagonist's own prejudices are apparent pretty early on.

Also, she bonds with a very shy girl named Amy over cookies in the cafeteria. But when Amy works up the courage to invite the protag home to help bake some, she turns her down. The girl bemoans the loss of her friends, even though she has to admit they could be mean and shallow at times. She tries to contact her best friend of the group, Rosemary, but the group is always together and make fun of her when she tries to ask why they are acting this way.

Look at that groovy room! The illustrations really add to the story, even though the way the book is set up is a little young for the intended audience. Anyway, the girl reflects on how other girls were jealous of her group of friends and worries that she really does smell like they are now saying. We learn that the girls didn't like anyone to be too different from them because "it would be like planting a cactus in the middle of a row of tulips." All the girls belonged to the same church and wouldn't think of inviting the two black kids at school along. Her parents begin to get worried about her and buy her a kitten to keep her company. Then the popular girls plan a Halloween party and of course, don't invite the protagonist. It's especially hurtful not to get an invitation because it's the first boy/girl party the group has had. The protagonist meets up with Amy on Halloween and the two see that the party really isn't all that it was cracked up to be. The girl finally relents and becomes friends with both Amy and Clara. Rosemary calls to apologize and the Popular Girls Club (they don't actually call themselves that) breaks up. We never really find out why they were so cruel to her, except that one of the girls might have been out to take her best friend.

I've been thinking about writing Amazon reviews instead of this blog so more people will see it and because most of the reviews of old books over there are like, "I was 8 when I read this book," and don't actually tell anything about the book. Or maybe I will do both. Until next time...