Monday, January 4, 2016

Middle Grade Classic: Five Little Peppers and How they Grew


Title: Five Little Peppers and How They Grew
Author: Margaret Sidney. Read by Rebecca Burns
Publisher: Tantor Audio, 2005. Originally serialized in the children's magazine Wide Awake in 1880. Approx. 300 pages in print editions.
Source: Library digital resources

Mrs. Pepper is a widow with five children: Ben, Polly, Joel, David and Phronsie. They are very poor, but managing as best they can in their Little Brown House in Badgertown. The greatest desire of the children is to have a nice birthday for their mother, and maybe celebrate Christmas, while the Mrs. Pepper most wants for her children to get an education--something she can't afford, either to pay school fees or to spare the pennies the older ones bring in working. Despite the challenges of their lives, they remain positive in outlook, and the reader is soon as convinced as they are that "their ship will come in" any day. Of course, it does, in a most unexpected way.
Although this book is more or less contemporaneous with Louisa May Alcott's books, one thing I noticed quickly was that it does not have the preachy tone that mars most children's books of that era (including Alcott's, much as I love them). The characters (the children and their mother) are all a bit too good to be believable, but escape sanctimony by making some very human mistakes (which always work out fine in the end).
I found the story charming, if sentimental. It isn't so sweet you need an insulin injection after reading it, but there is also nothing at all in it to disturb or challenge the reader. It made a nice bit of fluff to listen to during the holidays, especially as there is a marvelous Christmas scene.

Rebecca Burns does a creditable job reading, though I felt it could have been a bit smoother, and the children's voices could be rendered less annoyingly. That was a minor thing, however, and as the story went on I got used to it and ceased to be particularly aware of the narration.

I'm not sure how I missed reading this long ago, but I can recommend for any reader from about age 7 up who enjoys classic tales. The language is, for the most part, simple enough for younger readers to manage (and doesn't feel particularly dated, though there will be references to things a modern child may need explained), and the story is free of excessive peril or tension. No one will have nightmares after enjoying this simple tale, though they are likewise unlikely to have any grand dreams.

Full Disclosure: I checked Five Little Peppers out of my digital library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


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  1. I read Five Little Peppers when I was a kid. It was one of my mother's books from her childhood.

    1. I'm not sure how I missed this one as a kid. Maybe I skipped it because it didn't have horses...

  2. I love this entire series! They were my grandmother's books and she gave them to me. I've read them several times over. Loving each time.

    1. I find myself wanting to read on in the series, and find out how their lives come out. I'll track down some more soon.

    2. The rest are really good. But this is one of those series where the author was persuaded to go beyond the original plan. The first five published are the best.

      Correction to my above comment - I pulled out my copy for The five Little Peppers Grown Up - they were my great grandmother's. If I'm reading the title page correctly first editions too. Yikes!


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