August 26, 2016

Little Miss Atlas by Janet Lambert (1949)

By all the rules Tippy Parrish should have been having a perfectly marvelous time. Here she was, in a beautiful little village in the Bavarian Alps where her father, Colonel Parrish was stationed; she had a handsome young American lieutenant paying her flattering attention; she danced and skied and skated the days away. But Tippy was not happy. And why?

Mrs. Lambert has chosen a slightly graver thesm for her story this time and a truly fine story it is . . . one which girls, after they have read it, will often recall with awakened interest in their fellow beings everywhere. Not only is the delightful unity of the Parrish family stressed as it always is, but now there has been added a warm and beautiful interest in and sympathy for others outside that charmed circle of security and happiness. Tippy Parrish has become someone to admire tremendously as well as to love as a favorite heroine. (from the inside flap)

How gorgeous are these covers? Look at Tippy's perfectly tamed cap of tan curls, and the very, very handsome young American lieutenant Ken Prescott. Dreamy! Sadly, there's no artist listed on the dust jacket. How things have changed! Now, publishers credit everything, from design and illustrations to the person who picks out the font.

Back to Tippy. Little Miss Atlas picks up almost immediately after Miss Tippy, as Tippy and her mother are setting sail in an army transport ship from New York harbor. Their accommodations are less than ideal, and sound incredibly claustrophobic. Tippy starts with a pretty unhappy attitude:
"'The army defeats me. I don't want to live in Germany, and I wish Dad had retired when he got wounded.'" Her mother responds with a reproving "Don't be silly. We all love the army."
A quick catch-up with the family takes place. Carrol and David are taking poor Davy (stricken with polio) to Warm Springs, and baby Lang as well. Penny is turning down acting gigs right and left, worried about her own child Parri, and wishing for another baby. Bobby is at home, preparing for West Point, and Colonel Parrish is already in Germany, preparing for his family's arrival.

Things begin to look up for Tippy when she and her mother get  moved to one of the ranking officers' staterooms, and she hears that handsome lieutenant Ken Prescott might be on board. She gets in with a group of young people, and runs into Prescott, who treats her with a combination of casual bemusement and growing interest. She confides in him about the dragon that she thinks has gobbled up Germany and Europe and that she's determined to fight that dragon.

An interesting observation from Ken as the passengers ready to disembark. We've learned there are thirteen hundred troops aboard, heading to Germany with their families as part of the Marshall Plan, and Ken watches the trucks and boxes and cars roll out.
"Ken was proud of the scene. He was proud of his compatriots who brought their electric gadgets with them, their refrigerators, sanitary wire screening, and washing machines; who bought and planned for comfort. They live--right!' he silently told the crates. 'They're what makes America good. And even if it costs a lot to get the stuff over here, Uncle Sam wants them to have it. He wants them to stay used to good living.
Unlike Tippy, he was eager to be a part of the scene before him....above all, he was impatient to see the ruined city where he would help bring order out of chaos."
Although the first part of this triggers a bit of an 'ugly American' reaction in me (really? they brought refrigerators?), the last bit redeems Ken for me. We get a look at that chaos as Tippy and her mother drive to Bremerhaven.
"Tippy looked at block after block of ruined buildings. Nothing she had seen in the newsreels or magazines had prepared her for this. Whole apartment houses were roofless shells full of gaping holes which had been windows. Now and then a sagging floor showed through; and sometimes a section or even a room could still be used and had people living in it. There was nothing but rubble in what once had been the main business section of the town, nothing but bricks and plaster cleaned away so pedestrians could walk on the broken sidewalks."
They finally make it to Garmisch, where they are reunited with Colonel Parrish and settle into their new home, complete with an array of German servants. Colonel and Mrs. Parrish are worried about Tippy:
"'Sometimes she seems as happy as a child,' she answered, 'and is all bubbling enthusiasm; and then, the very next minute, she looks as if someone had struck her or stolen her favorite doll. Tippy is such a strange child,' she sighed. 'She's so much more complicated than the others.'"
Life in Garmisch is pretty grim, with little social interaction for Tippy. She's being tutored for her schooling and hasn't met many friends. Ken comes down to visit and introduces her to a lovely family who remind her of Penny's family, and who are kind to the Germans. However, things are so grim that Tippy even looks forward to Bobby's visit at Christmastime. The whole family goes to Switzerland for Christmas and Tippy gets a wonderful surprise visit from Alice Jordon. Tippy is delighted to have her dear friend visiting and confides in Alice that she is in love with Ken Prescott. Alice, loyal to her brother Peter as Tippy's potential swain, is dismayed, especially since Ken is too old for Tippy. They have a nice visit, but Tippy is still unhappy in Germany.

Ken Prescott, also in Switzerland for the holidays, has a heart-to-heart with Colonel Parrish, who asks Ken's advice about what to do with Tippy. Ken recommends that the Parrishes send her home.
"'You would? Why?'
'Well, sir, I guess, for two reasons. One of them, we've talked about. Tippy needs to have her faith restored, and America can do it. that's what she needs. She's lost and she has to find herself.'
'And the other reason?' Colonel Parrish's glance was keen and Ken raised his eyes to meet it.
'Me,' he said.
Kind of swoony, right? Ken is a very charming, but sincere character. He goes on:
"'I'm too fond of her, Colonel Parrish. But you needn't worry about it. I won't let her know it.'
'Thank you, boy. I appreciate that.'"
In a rather clumsy (to modern ears) discussion, Ken sells the virtues of America to Tippy, who (quite rightly) points out a number of horrible things the country has done, such as taking the land from the Indians and slavery, to name a few. But Ken defends America:
"'You see, Tip,' he told her, 'that's the important thing. We were just a young country then and we made mistakes. Just like kids make more mistakes than grown-ups. And we had the enthusiasm of kids, too. We wanted to grow up to be a swell country and we never got tired, or discouraged, trying. And as we grew, we saw our mistakes and tried to fix 'em.'"
I'm not one hundred percent with you on that one, Ken, and neither is Tippy. She feels conflicted about being sent home, and that she's being cheated.
"'All these years while I was being 'developed,' as you call it, I was only learning the stuff they taught me. Now they don't want me to use it. It's just as if they said, 'Don't be kind, don't do the best you can, don't help people. Go home and have fun. And that's not fair.'"
Ken buys her a dog (the adorable Switzy), and after a lot of thought, Tippy decides to stay in Germany. She chooses to go to school in Munich, and her parents are proud of her decision and her strength of character. She tells Ken about her decision and while he supports her (he calls her "about the biggest little guy I ever ran into and you try to carry the world"), the conversation turns a bit confusing, and leaves them both unsettled.
"'Would you like to have me around, cherub, darling? Would you?' The words flew out. They escaped his control, and they gave him such a fright that he missed her muffled answer.'
'Oh, Ken it's what I want most,' she whispered. Then she, too, gasped and clutched her package."
Both are regretful at letting their feelings show, thinking the other doesn't return the sentiment. They part as friends, and Tippy runs upstairs to finish her letter to Peter Jordon. And end book.

There's a lot happening in Little Miss Atlas. It's very interesting to see post-war Germany through the eyes of naive Tippy, and the efforts of America to help rebuild the country. It's a unique look at a massive Army operation, and the interactions between the Americans and Germans. There's a fairly clear-eyed look at America as a country, although still quite a lot of post-war patriotism. As usual, Tippy struggles, but continues to grow older and wiser.

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