by Eleanor Estes
Published 1941, 1942, 1943, 1983
In the pages of these books we meet some of my most beloved literary characters. Sylvia, Joey, Jane, and Rufus Moffat, plus dear Mama and Catherine-the-Cat.
Don’t be confused: even though these books were written during World War II, they’re set just before, during, and after World War I. In a small Connecticut town, the Moffats are a beautiful family. Papa Moffat died several years before the books begin, and Mama works as a dressmaker to support her family. Though poor, the Moffats are a happy, tight-knit family. They work and play together.
These books are genuinely funny. I literally laughed out loud on multiple occasions at the antics of the Moffat children, especially Jane (my favorite). The stories mostly focus on the two younger Moffats, Jane and Rufus. Full of fun, they frequently get into scrapes, but always manage to come out right at the end.
I’ve actually struggled a bit with this review. These books are just so sweet and wonderful that I don’t really know how to describe them. They are simple yet deep, funny yet touching, happy yet serious. I will say that The Moffat Museum is my least favorite of the quartet. Estes wrote it quite a long while after the rest; in the meantime she had written her two famous books about the Pye family (Ginger Pye and Pinky Pye), which also take place in the Moffats town of Cranbury. Somehow, The Moffat Museum is a great deal more about growing up than the others – somehow not quite as innocent. Plus, it almost feels as though Estes goes out of her way to mention other characters who were actually originally introduced in the Pye books. In The Moffat Museum, Sylvie gets married and Joey has to leave high school to get a job. These life changes are met with grace and humor, but the book has much more of a bittersweet taste to it than the other three.
The Middle Moffat is probably my favorite. It focuses on Jane, and especially her friendship with Mr. Buckle, the oldest citizen of Cranbury. (As an aside, Mr. Buckle is a veteran of the Civil War! It’s quite amazing, if you think about it, how close our country’s history really runs.) Jane’s thoughts are truly hilarious to me.
The Moffats are kind. They live in a world wherein neighbors care for one another, where young children run about town without fear, where pleasures are inexpensive, and where contentment is a characteristic strongly cultivated and greatly valued. Even though they are set nearly a hundred years ago, the laughter and lessons found in these stories are timeless. Excellent read-alouds for younger readers, I cannot recommend these books highly enough. They are quick, easy reads, 100% guaranteed to bring a smile to your face, and possibly a tear to your eye.