Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce


Tony’s enthusiasm brought me to this book, and a better audiobook I cannot imagine. It is the story of a young woman making her way in London during the blitz. Thinking she was applying for a newspaper job, she found herself typing for a failing women’s magazine from another era. Emmy lives with her friend from home Bunty in the upstairs of Bunty’s grandmother’s house (Granny has wisely retreated to the countryside). Several nights a week Emmy volunteers for the fire brigade taking calls from bombing victims.

Emmy’s job at the magazine is to screen letters asking for help that the “acting editress” Mrs. Bird responds to. Mrs. Bird has helpfully made a list of all unacceptable topics and these include any “unpleasantness” one might imagine concerning women’s relations with men. The few she is willing to answer involve reproaches and advice about a stiff upper lip. Emmy types the letters to be printed in the magazine. Readers sometimes ask for a personal response and enclose a stamped envelope. Mrs. Bird is a large formidable woman, given to shouting her instructions, and often leaves the premises to carry out her “war work.”

Emmy sympathizes with the women looking for help and support during the hard times. She researches responses given in other magazines, and begins responding to the letters that have included stamps. She is emboldened to soften Mrs. Bird’s responses printed in the magazine when she learns Mrs. Bird doesn’t read the finished product and throwing in the occasional letter and response of her own. Oh no, this won’t go well, will it?

Though this book has an overall rosy outlook, the author gives us a picture of the blitz through Emmy’s time at the fire station and one particularly bad night of bombing. The plucky Emmy does suffer true loss and we are sad with her and admire her for her bravery and hard work.

A.J. Pearce, Dear Mrs. Bird, Scribner, 2018, 288 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available at the UVa and public libraries.

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