Eleanor Estes/Moffat Books

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The Moffats

I've finished all the Moffats books and recommended them highly.

The author, Eleanor Estes, has a way of revealing the inner workings of a
child's mind with affection and humor, and the family she portrays over
the course of several years is loving and united. The family suffers
hardships (they are poor and fatherless), but its members are generally
content, and often joyful. If I'm making the books sound sentimental or tragic,
I'm giving the wrong impression - they're really fun and upbeat.

My favorite is Rufus M. The story takes place during World War II. If you
would like your children to learn what life was like back then, they will
get a feel for it from this book. The children plant Victory Gardens, add
yellow coloring to the oleomargarine, and knit washcloths for the

Here's an excerpt about Rufus and his washcloth. It's probably too long,
but does give an idea of what the book is like:
All the children cast the same number of stitches onto their needles, but this did not mean that all the washcloths were going to be the same size. Not at all. Some were big and some were small, although they all started out with the same number of stitches cast on.

Rufus's washcloth was one of the kind that grew wider and wider as it grew longer. He knit the way he wrote, with large loose generous stitches. And maybe it was because he was left-handed that many of his stitches had a way of turning upside down. Every now and then Jane cast off some stitches at the side for him so the washcloth would not become too wide. Also she added some stitches in the middle to fill in some of the biggest holes.

"Try and knit closer together," she urged Rufus. "This looks more like a fish net."

Rufus's [washcloth] was very dirty, especially the beginning of it that he had knit the first. The end that he had just finished was not quite so dirty because the string inside the ball was still fairly clean. Mama said she hoped she would be able to boil the dirt out of it and make it good and white for some soldier. Rufus watched her wash it and wash it. Finally it did get fairly white except for the first rows that Rufus had had to undo so many times in the beginning. These remained slightly gray. "But it's pure," said Mama, "because I boiled it."

Saturday, June 26, 2004

G. A. Henty

John Derbyshire on National Review Online had some comments on Victorian "boy's book" author and homeschool favorite G. A. Henty. He references an article in The New Criterion which is worth reading. The conclusion of both is that Henty's historical fiction is (unlike most) better as history than fiction. Derbyshire says:

I can't actually say I am a big Henty fan. I see the home-schoolers' point: His stories convey strong Christian values and masses of fascinating historical information. Set against the sort of PC drivel that makes up much of the "young teen" book market nowadays...they look pretty good.

However, there is one (for me) big drawback to Henty: He was a simply terrible writer. He has no ear for the rhythms of speech, and as Brooke points out in her article, he wrote in haste and didn't bother to edit. At one point in THE CARTHAGINIAN BOY, some people are -- I am not making this up -- precipitated over a precipice. The broader skills of a novelist are also absent. One never feels that Henty has much interest in his characters. Sometimes he just forgets about them for pages at a stretch and drones on about military deployments, diplomatic exchanges, or political squabbles in a dull schoolmasterly style -- not very captivating stuff, surely, for a modern teen. I never find myself caring much about a Henty character. If the author doesn't care, why should I?

One of our boys echoed this criticism: "He describes the camp, then the tents in the camp, then the material the tents are made of..."

We've read very little of Henty and have none of him on our list at this point. I have heard from a number of sources that a few of his books have an anti-Catholic bias. Whether or not this is so (and I have no firsthand knowledge that it is), I do suspect that the Victorian Protestant Christianity of the author is unlikely to be completely congenial to the Catholic worldview.

Still, many of the titles sound intriguing --- I will add some to my to-read list and see for myself.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Books by Eleanor Estes

The Moffats
The Middle Moffat
Rufus M
The Moffat Museum

Ginger Pye
Pinky Pye

Our 7, 9, and 12 year-olds recently read the above, and recommend them all, though our 7 year-old didn't think Pinky Pye was as good as the others.

I (their mother) read only Ginger Pye, and thought it was wonderful. The characters, especially the children, are quirky in a true-to-life way, and the book is very funny. My favorite is Uncle Benny:

Uncle Bennie was famous in Cranbury. He was a hero because here he was, only three years old, and yet he was an uncle. All the children came and gaped at him when he came to visit Jerry and Rachel, which was just about every Saturday...."What's your name?" people would say to Benny. "Uncle Benny," he would answer. And like as not someone would give him a nickel or a penny merely for being an uncle.

And this about Uncle Bennie and his blanket:

Uncle Bennie called not only his old pink blanket "bubbah," he called the little bits of wool he plucked from it and with which he tickled his nose and chin and even his knees "bubbah," too. When he waked up in the morning the first thing he would say, ecstatically, was, "Ah-h. Bubbah!" Sometimes he would crawl around on his hands and knees picking up old stray pieces of bubbah he had dropped. And, outdoors, he might find a little speck that Gramma had shaken from the rugs. "Ah-h, Bubbah!" he would exclaim and gather it fondly up.

The book is really about a brother and sister and their dog Ginger, and what they go through to get him and keep him, which is a great deal. The story is suspenseful and compelling, but not too intense for most younger readers.

Freddy the Pig

We recently discovered the Freddy the Pig series by Walter Brooks. The kids (ages 7-12) went through as many as we could find (about 20 titles) and enjoyed the down-home humor and general silliness of the characters (they thought the sheriff and his unusual jail were especially funny). Brooks began the series in the 1920's, which stars Freddy, a clever pig who lives on Mr. Bean's farm. Freddy is a versatile pig, as you can see from the titles, listed below. The New York Times Book Review, quoted on the book jacket, calls the series "the American version of the great English classics, such as the Pooh books or The Wind in the Willows." That's going a bit far, in my opinion. I wouldn't call this great literature, but it is fun stuff. We've read all but the asterisked titles, and will be adding them to the EagerReaders.com list shortly.

Freddy Goes to Florida
Freddy Goes to the North Pole
Freddy the Politician
Freddy the Detective
Freddy and the Bean Home News
The Clockwork Twin
Freddy and the Space Ship
Freddy and the Ignormus
Freddy Plays Football
Freddy's Cousin Weedly
Freddy the Cowboy
Freddy Rides Again
Freddy and the Men from Mars
Freddy and Mr. Camphor
Freddy and Simon the Dictator
Freddy Goes Camping
Freddy the Pied Piper
Freddy and the Popinjay
Freddy and the Perilous Adventure
Freddy and the Dragon
Freddy the Pilot
The Story of Freginald
Freddy and the Baseball Team from Mars
Freddy the Magician*
Freddy and the Flying Saucer Plans*
The Collected Poems of Freddy the Pig*
The Wit and Wisdom of Freddy and his Friends*
The Art of Freddy*

Monday, June 21, 2004


We have a number of Heinlein's science fiction "juveniles" on our list already.

I recently read (or re-read) some we haven't covered before to see whether they should be added: Between Planets, The Rolling Stones, and Starman Jones.

Between Planets: A boy in school on Earth gets caught up in interplanetary war and conspiracy. Allusions to torture, suicide, and violent combat.

Starman Jones: Boy runs away from bad (unsavory) step-parents, fraudulently get aboard spaceship (he confesses and is sorry later, though the consequences are minor), has adventures (creepy aliens) and rises to his destiny. (Classic fairy tale structure.) Probably the best story of the three.

The Rolling Stones: The extended Stone family leaves the comfort of the Moon for adventures aboard their own spaceship.

I wouldn't put any of these in the great category, though kids may find them more gripping.

The offensive stuff in these is mostly fairly subtle, brief, and allusional: a passing reference to "dancing girls" or descriptions of guerilla warfare with implied brutality. Tame by today's standards, but still may be not the tone you want.

There's some proto-feminism in The Rolling Stones, but the women still do the cooking.

I'm not inclined to recommend any of these at the moment. I should re-read the Heinleins we have listed now to see how they compare. (His Red Planet was one of my own favorites as a child.)

Our mission

From the EagerReaders.com site:

There is a great wealth of children's literature sitting on the shelves of your local library and bookstore, wonderful books written for kids that they will love and never forget. However, as parents we know that it may be hard to find these books, or evaluate ones we haven't read.

To help parents and children find these books, we have collected a list of good titles for all ages, based on books we and our own children have read and enjoyed - the cream of the crop. Some are very light, others richer and more serious, but all have qualities that make them fun, memorable, and exciting - not bland, stuffy, or boring. Many of these are in print and most are available at your local library. In order to help you find books to match your child's age and tastes, we have organized the titles by subject and reading level.

Many of these you may have already heard of. Many may be forgotten friends from your own childhood which you can pass on to your kids. And some may be new discoveries for you and your family.

We deliberately do not include the following on our list: books with "gross" or gory content; books in which dishonesty or lying is depicted as acceptable; books with "mature" content that would violate a child's innocence; and books that contain gratuitous violence. Though the books on our list have been carefully selected, parents should always exercise their own discretion when choosing literature for their children. What one child finds exciting in a book, another child may consider frightening. Some children don't enjoy suspense, or stories in which very sad events occur. As parents, you know your child's sensitivities; if you have a sensitive child you should always look a book over before handing it to him to read.


Welcome to the EagerReaders weblog.

I am hoping we can provide some running look at what we are reading, what we liked and didn't like, and why. The good books will find their way onto the EagerReaders.com list.

Readers' comments will also be welcome.