“Ginger Pye” and “Pinky Pye”

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by Eleanor Estes

Published 1951, 1958

These are two of my favorite children’s books.  While I don’t love Pyes *quite* as much as the Moffats, they are still an endearing family.

First off, I have to brag that my edition of Ginger Pye is a first – “Newberry Award Winner” is actually written in pencil in the front, probably by some librarian in years past.  Secondly, I have to confess that I stole this wonderful edition from my mother …  books are a precious commodity in our family, and book snitching is pretty acceptable, as long as you’re willing to return the book if the person from whom you “borrowed” demands a return.  :-D  (Pinky Pye I picked up from a book sale in a perfectly respectable manner.)

The Pyes consist of Mama, of Papa the bird-man (he’s an ornithologist), Jerry, Rachel, and Gracie the cat, plus Mama’s parents and her little brother, Uncle Bennie, who is actually younger than his nephew and niece, since Mama was married at a very young age.  (The story of how Papa and Mama met, when he was running up the down escalator, is just one example of the delightful anecdotes that fill the pages.)  In the beginning of Ginger Pye, however, Jerry is contemplating adding a new member to the family: a dog.  The story describes how he earns the money for this amazing dog (“He’s purebred, part fox terrier and part collie”), how Ginger gets his name, and, tragically, how Ginger is stolen!  The mysterious foot-stepper, the man with the yellow hat – there is a bit of mystery to Ginger Pye, especially if you’re a young reader.  As an adult, the solution seems quite obvious, but this is a delightful read for children who are just learning the joys of reading a chapter book on their own.

In Pinky Pye, the entire family heads out to small island to spend the summer with Mr. Pye, who has a job watching birds, and working on his latest book.  Pinky, a small kitten, joins the family.  While there isn’t quite as much mystery to this one, the simple story of how the family spends their summer is sweet and restful.

While for some these books may be a bit overly nice, I highly recommend them as incredibly relaxing and delightful books for adults, and very fun and exciting books for younger readers.  If you’re looking for a read-aloud or a book to recommend to a young relative, you should definitely check out the Pyes.

The “Moffat” books

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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.

The Hundred Dresses

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by Eleanor Estes

Published 1944

Okay, I know I say this all the time, but I’m super serious this time:  EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS BOOK.

It is short, simple, and an easy read (it took me less than twenty minutes to read it).  And yet it manages to truly look at the problem of bullying and prejudice in a way that is brilliantly insightful, and, in the end, deeply beautiful.  And on top of all of that – the writing is gorgeous.  Not only should you read this book (tonight, if possible), you should buy copies of it and give it to every child you know.  Because so often children are mean not because they are mean, but because they are ignorant.

This is a story about three little girls.  Wanda is poor and awkward.  Peggy is well-off and popular.  Maddie is poorer than Peggy, but is Peggy’s best friend.  All three of these girls are nice, generally kind girls, yet Peggy begins a game of mocking Wanda, a game that Maddie isn’t comfortable with, but doesn’t know how to stop.

How had the hundred dresses game begun in the first place, she asked herself …  Oh, yes.  She remembered.  It had begun that day when Cecile first wore her new red dress …

It was a bright blue day in September.  No, it must have been October, because when she and Peggy were coming to school, arms around each other and singing, Peggy had said, “You know what?  This must be the king of day they mean when they say, ‘October’s bright blue weather.’ ”

Maddie remembered that because afterwards it didn’t seem like bright blue weather any more, although the weather had not changed in the slightest.

Seriously.  Find this book and read it.  It’s less than 80 pages long and has lots of pictures, but the simplicity of this story is precisely what makes it so timeless and so important.