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ginger pye

19 april 2011

Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes is a middling-obscure Newbery Medalist from the early 1950s. Unlike most of the Medal books that I post Facebook news about, Ginger Pye drew no "Likes" or comments about how my friends had loved it at age nine. From this unscientific sample, I'll guess that Estes's book, while still in print (like all the Medal books), has few current devotees, old or young.

And I don't have much to say about it either. Ginger Pye is relentlessly calm. It's about a generic family in a generic small city, a brother and sister who decide to complement their pet cat with a puppy. There is a plot, involving an "unsavoury character's" slow-moving attempts to detach them from their dog. But the whole thing is placid and anodyne.

There are quirky characters in Ginger Pye, for sure. Jerry and Rachel (our protagonists) have an Uncle Bennie, who is much younger than they are. Their mother married their father when she was only seventeen. These eccentric insistences of biology and desire lead not much of anywhere, though. It's as if Estes's world contains quirks for the sake of quirkiness. Discrepancies from the usual chronology are superficial markings for characters without much to distinguish them.

For instance, you might think from their names that Jerry, Rachel, and Bennie are at least Jewish, but they're not. They belong to the most featureless of Christian churches. This is a kind of 1950s America airbrushed to reassure a mass audience, but it's an airbrushing that goes beyond comfort, to the kind of uniformity that would later draw critique in more interesting children's books like A Wrinkle in Time. For some this formulaic Middle America might be a source of nostalgia; for me it's just enervating.

Estes, Eleanor. Ginger Pye. 1951. New York: Scholastic, 1991.