Ginger Pye



Ginger Pye

by Eleanor Estes

Age: 6+ (read to) ; 9+ (independent reading)

Interests: dogs, pets, family, mystery

306 pp. – 14 chapters

Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc.: 1951

Next: Pinky Pye (sequel to Ginger Pye)

Also by this author: The Moffats, The Middle Moffat, Rufus M., The Hundred Dresses

Jerry and his sister Rachel (10 and 9 respectively) are thrilled with their new puppy Ginger. He is a smart little dog all right, and when he tracks Jerry to school one day, right up the fire escape and into his classroom window, the story makes the newspaper and he becomes the most famous dog in the small town of Cranberry. All that fame however leads to a terrible result however, as Ginger is stolen soon after. Jerry and Rachel do their best detective work but months pass before the mystery is solved and Ginger is returned to his family.

Another in the genre of simpler-times-small-town-charming-oddball-family fiction, but a worthy one. This is the lighthearted tale of the Pye family and their adventures and misadventures in connection with the family dog. An ominous tone is introduced very early on, as the children noticed they are being followed around town by a stranger with a yellow hat. The yellow hatted fellow, whom they call Unsavory Character, becomes the chief suspect when Ginger disappears.

Throughout the second half of the book Ginger is missing and the children are increasingly desperate and distraught. Such an extended stretch of misery might be too much for younger listeners (5 or 6), but older children should be intrigued by the mystery of it all. At the end the identity of the Unsavory Character is revealed – it turns out that Ginger has been kept chained in a small yard on the other side of town and taught to do tricks by circus folk. When Ginger finally makes his escape the Pyes are overjoyed, but surprised that he’s become a grown dog during his time in captivity.

What is especially nice is the lesson of how Jerry and Rachel deal with the tragedy, and how they keep their spirits up and their hope alive. I liked the fact too, that the kids are not in the habit of screwing up/misbehaving constantly, which a lot of books of this genre tend to lean on, (ie. the otherwise excellent Ramona books by Beverly Cleary). My daughter finds stories like that just too stressful!

What I particularly enjoyed is how spot-on Estes is about the way children think. The interior monologues of Rachel and Jerry are amusing and touching, full of misunderstandings, high hopes, and wild enthusiasms. I especially loved their full-on, barefaced adoration of Sam Doody, captain of the high school basketball team. When Sam unwittingly provides Jerry with the job and the dollar he needs to buy the puppy in the first place, Jerry almost sobs in admiration, “awestricken at the years of learning and accomplishment that had gone into the formation of this perfect person, Sam Doody.” The dollar is for dusting pews in the church, and Rachel is meanwhile thinking her own thoughts about this… “She had never thought that a church might get dirty. If she had, she would then never have imagined that ordinary people like herself and Sam Doody would do the dusting. She would have imagined the dusters would have to be superior beings, angels perhaps.”

In addition, the chapter about Ginger sniffing his way to the school and Jerry’s classroom is actually told from the point of view of the dog, and very convincingly too!

Supporting characters are varied and just as amusing – from Mr. Pye the bird expert, to the tall short man Mr. Tuttle who keeps a heroic eye on the streetcars, to Jerry’s friend Dick “the perpendicular swimmer” Badger, who swims up and down instead of horizontally like everyone else, to their own Uncle Benny, famous all over town for being an uncle at the tender age of three.

A warm and quirky story about the challenges and occasional heartache of loving a pet. Quite a long book, but funny and engaging. May work best as a read-aloud, as the subject matter may be a little tame for kids old enough to read it on their own.

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