This one was part of my on-going listening adventures with my son. As my dear readers no doubt remember, he’s about to start first grade, but is listening on more of a fifth- or sixth-grade level, so we’re always looking for books that will be enjoyable without getting too advanced subject-wise. I’d never actually read this classic, but remember Mrs. Austin reading it to the family in Meet the Austins by Madeline L’Engle. LB is often of the opinion that if children have been enjoying a book for a long time, there’s probably a reason. He chose to listen to this over the modern fantasy I checked out at the same time.
Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney. Read by Bernadette Dunne This book, published in 1881, is a Victorian Sweet Family Struggles through Hard Times novel. (Little Women, featuring a family with older children, was published in 1868.) The Peppers are a family of six. Mrs. Pepper, or Mamsie, is a widow struggling to support her five children with her needlework. As hard as she works, it’s only ever enough to put bread in their mouths, never enough to send them to school. Ben, the oldest at twelve, also works outside the home to bring in some extra cash, while Polly, probably eleven, manages the house, doing the cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the three younger children, Davie, Joel and little Phronsie, the baby at three years old. Despite their poverty, the little brown house in which they live is filled with love and laughter. They have little adventures around things like trying to bake a birthday cake for Mamsie, though they can’t afford white flour, getting measles, and trying to celebrate Christmas with gifts. One or the other of the girls getting lost is a recurring theme, resolved by the little girl being found by a rich man of some variety. In the first incident, little Phronsie is kidnapped by an itinerant organ grinder, left behind in the country, and rescued by thirteen-year-old Jasper King and his dog Prince. This develops into a family friendship that leads to first Polly and then the whole Pepper family moving into the King family mansion. I counted this plot device happening three times over the course of the book, and it’s not really a life message I want my children to absorb – just get lost and find a rich stranger who will rescue you and improve your lot in life. I also found the relentless sentimentality of the writing style to be a bit much. Never a child is mentioned to be doing something but the hand doing it is described as being a chubby little hand, even when the owner of the hand is eleven or twelve. I found that the narrator’s style exaggerated this with her reading style, so that it might not be so cloying if someone else were reading it. However, I was still able to enjoy it, even as the plot got increasingly improbable. When LB gets old enough not to want to hold hands in public, he might not enjoy this series so much. For right now, I’ll enjoy both holding hands and his excitement at finding out that we can get sequels from Project Gutenberg for free.
Originally posted at http://library-mama.dreamwidth.org .