Book Review: Milly and the Macy's Parade
Publication Date: October 1, 2006
· Shana Corey
· Brett Helquist
by R.J. Carter
Published: December 8, 2006
Shana Corey's semi-fictional origin of the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade centers on a young girl named Milly, a Polish immigrant still finding her way in America in the year 1924. Her papa is one of the many immigrant workers who operates the loading docks at the famous department store.
But as the holidays came upon them, Milly begins to notice that her papa -- and many of the other immigrants -- are feeling homesick for the countries they had left.
But Milly is an enterprising young girl, and she knows who's who in New York -- and there's no more powerful man she knows than Mr. Macy himself. Mr. Macy has also noticed the problem of depressed workers -- which makes for depressed customers! But he doesn't know the root causes of the problem. Mr. Macy's assistant, Mr. Snidely, suggests that perhaps all the workers should be fired unless they quit acting sad. But when Milly bursts in and explains her idea to Mr. Macy, it becomes the start of something huge:
"What's wrong?" asked Milly.
"I miss our holidays back home," said Papa. "I love America, but everything here feels different."
"I miss home, too," said Papa's friend Herman. "In my country, I was surrounded by friends and family. How can I celebrate when I'm all alone?"
"Nothing in America is the same as it was in the old country," agreed Albert. "In my country, we celebrate with big brass instruments and caroling from house to house."
"It would take a hundred years to go caroling to all the apartments in New York City," sighed Papa. "Maybe we won't ever have a real holiday celebration in America."
The author concludes her tale with a page of factual corrections. It's true that Macy's did organize the first parade as a way to blend the tradition of all their immigrant employees into a single celebration. However, the real Mr. Macy had already died back in 1877, well before the 1924 setting of the parade (and definitely before his fictional appearance in the classic "Miracle on 34th Street"!) The readers will also learn that the parade was only ever cancelled three times in its long history -- from 1942 to 1944, because all the rubber balloons were donated to help the war effort (back in the days when the country donated to such things, rather than bid out their goods and services for government contracts.)
Milly explained her plan. Maybe, just maybe, Macy's could bring a little bit of everyone's home to America.
"What?" asked Mr. Macy. "Singing and strolling in the streets?"
"Ridiculous," scoffed Mr. Snidely. "No one will come."
But Mr. Macy didn't seem to hear him. There was a twinkle in his eyes that hadn't been there before. "I like the way you think," he said to Milly.
Brett Helquist, best known for his illustrations in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events and Blue Balliett's Chasing Vermeer, gives Milly's tale a unique flavor with his angular and expressive faces, all of which looks absolutely marvelous in full color. Milly and the Macy's Parade provides an easy to digest educational look at the melting pot of early twentieth century America, and one hopes the character may return to provide other glimpses of this fascinating time in history.