Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes
Do you see how cute the cover is? And that this is a Newbery winner? Good. That may carry you through as you are skimming the first six chapters. I wish I were kidding, but I’m not. There are flashes of greatness here, no doubt. The chapter where Ginger goes to hunt Jerry up at school is fabulous and will have any child begging for a dog within minutes. It’s just that the greatness is tempered by chapters that seem largely irrelevant and are peppered with dated references that will confuse even more experienced readers of older books. The references range from fairly easily explained ones like character books (sort of like an autograph book, but with questions about your favorite stars, snack, your crush), to religious (making mite boxes for church or covering your head with a handkerchief when you don’t have a hat), to onesie-twosie (some type of game). Fortunately, negative signs of the times are few, with the most egregious being about papa having to marry mama because she ate like a bird and a sort of negative reference to gypsies.
Also? Ginger Pye, the starring pup, spends most of the book missing. You see, in between all the quaint historical living is a bit of a mystery. An “unsavory character” followed Jerry and Rachel home the very day they bought Ginger. When Ginger goes missing, they immediately suspect the footstepper that followed them home, but with little to go on, other than that the villain wears a mustard yellow hat, Jerry and Rachel are at a loss. Much of the book passes as they worry, wait and hope for Ginger’s return.
Because of the dated references and unfamiliar vocabulary I would say this is best for fourth grade and up. The question is whether or not older children will find any charm in this old fashioned story. Also, despite my leading with crankiness, I don’t actually think learning to skim read is a bad skill. I introduce it each year when my class gets into the Little House series. The first few chapters of Little House on the Prairie are mindnumbing.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – A cat kills rats and rips their stomachs open. A lot of disoriented birds crashed into tall buildings and died. Ginger’s tail is “docked” as a pup and there’s some discussion about the practice of cutting off dog’s tails. Bennie eats a robin’s egg and the other children explain that this is the kind of egg that would have turned into a bird. There are some dog and cat fights that result in injury to the animals. There’s a story about a man whose nose was bit off by a dog, but reattached by a doctor. Ginger has a gash on his forehead either from abuse or barbed wire. Someone threatens to thrash the living daylights out of someone else. There a sort of strange story about the Judge’s that signed King Charles I of England’s death warrant and fled to the United States. They hid in Judge’s Cave. They are referred to as the “regicides” after their initial mention, a word most children won’t know.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – Jerry and Rachel are followed home and Ginger is dognapped. There’s not a lot of scary suspense built around these events, but they may be worrisome to some. Mrs. Speedy has a stroke (but she’s okay in the end). Rachel worries that some fruit is poison. There’s a case of German measles. There’s also a slight trolley fire.