Barbara Cohen's Make a Wish, Molly
illustrated by Jan Naimo Jones
Book review by Monica Friedman
The companion book to Molly's Pilgrim, this is the story of recent Russian-Jewish immigrant Molly, and her continuing quest to understand American society, particularly as it pertains to the customs and habits of school-age girls.
Having already experienced prejudice due to her unusual background, Molly has learned that some people will be accepting of her differences, and others will use them as a reason to discriminate.
Review - Make a Wish, Molly
Molly’s family has been lucky enough to move away from the city and to a nice suburb, where they can live over the variety store where her father works, but this is another reason for cruelty. When her best friend’s other best friend discusses the living arrangement, “Elizabeth made it sound as if we lived in the garbage dump down by the railroad tracks.” Emma, Molly’s best friend, tries to help her feel comfortable, but there is a world of difference between their lives.
Molly knows nothing of birthdays, which were not celebrated in Russia, but when she’s invited to Emma’s party, and learns more about the traditions in this culture, she’s excited, particularly for the opportunity to eat “the most amazing cake” she’s ever seen: “It was three layers high and covered with pink frosting. Red roses, green leaves, and lacy white curlicues decorated each layer. On top in bright red letter matching the roses was written, ‘Happy Birthday…’.” Elizabeth belittles her excitement, but Emma agrees, “it’s the most beautiful birthday cake in the world.”
The problem lies in Molly’s own traditions: Emma’s birthday party falls during the week of Passover, during which time Molly can only eat specially prepared Passover food.
While Molly understands the importance of the old Jewish traditions, she can almost taste the delicious cake—“like clouds,” she imagines—and wonders, “If I did eat the pink cake, how would Mama even know?”
But at the party, she finds that she cannot break the rules of Passover after all, no matter how much she wants to.
Her inability to eat comes to the notice of her hostess, but even worse, the anti-Semitic Elizabeth makes a loud and incorrect proclamation: “Jews won’t eat in Christians’ houses…. And…if a Christian eats in a Jew’s house, the Jew breaks the plates afterwards and throws the silverware in the garbage.”
Horrified and unable to defend herself, she commits a worse breach of etiquette by leaving the party without explanation.
Her friendship with Emma now cooled, Molly suffers through the next few weeks until her own birthday, when her mother presents her with her first birthday present: a beautiful and grown-up charm on a gold chain, which inspires Emma to rekindle their friendship, and provides Molly with the opportunity to demonstrate how wrong Elizabeth is about her and her traditions, and even helps her make a new friend.
Make a Wish, Molly is a gentle and sensitive examination not only of the subtle and ugly ways that racism can affect young children, but also discusses the girl-on-girl cruelty that often slips under adults’ radar, but can radically affect the school experience. This book shows how Molly can remain true to her own heritage and beliefs, win friends, and, like the ancient Jews whose escape from Egypt she celebrates, free herself from the oppression of tyrants.
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