Times are tough around the little brown house! The widowed Mrs. Pepper has to sew all day long just to earn enough to pay the rent and to feed the five growing Peppers. But she faces poverty and trouble with a stout heart, a smiling face, and the help of her jolly brood: blue-eyed Ben, the eldest and the man of the house at the age of 11; pretty Polly, so eager to cook for the family and make everyone happy and comfortable; and the three littlest Peppers, Joel, Davie, and baby Phronsie. A favorite of children, parents, and teachers for generations, this heartwarming classic first appeared in 1880. Since then, it has inspired countless young imaginations with its tender tales of the ways in which courage and good cheer can overcome adversity.
The Pepper family would soon become beloved by readers all over America. Young people avidly followed the adventures of Ben, Polly, Joel, Davie, and Phronsie. While faced with many plausible trials and obstacles they remain eternally optimistic in the face of adversity, and reflect the real life issues of so many of their readers. Their universally appealing wholesome values and lives are not burdened with a heavy moralising tone which was present in many other popular works of the day.
Let's just say that I loved this book so much that I own three copies of it! An old one that matches the rest of the Five Little Peppers series, a 50's era one with color illustrations, and this pocket edition. (Of course, small books have their own charm, but when I found this edition I really didn't have to try hard to find an excuse to buy it also.)
The first of a series, Margaret Sidney's Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (first published in 1881) tells the story of the Pepper family (five siblings and their widowed mother), their joys, their struggles, their love for one another. Rather episodic in nature, and definitely of its time (there are elements of religious preachiness, strict gender roles and definite social stratification present), the chapters, while generally readable and at least mildly enjoyable, are also at times rather majorly far fetched, with some rather too obvious coincidences (so much so, that there at least sometimes seems to be an almost fairy-tale like aura of disbelief encountered, which can be a bit disconcerting, as Five Little Peppers and How They Grew seems to have been primarily written as a piece of realistic fiction). And yes, in particular the serendipity presented at the end of the novel (when Percy, Van and Dick's father returns and is revealed to be Mrs. Pepper's cousin) does tend to feel more than a bit artificial and forced (and while I know that this was often part and parcel to family type children's stories of the 19th and early 20th century, I do wonder whether modern children reading or attempting to read Five Little Peppers and How They Grew might not feel as though they are being force or spoon fed, that they are being told a story that kind of defies belief and one that assumes innocence and even a degree of naiveté on the part of the reader).
However, even more of an issue (for me personally at least) is the presented writing style, the narrative flow of Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, the words used/encountered, and the way many of the characters act (or rather, emotionally, extremely act out). For I do find Margaret Sidney's narrative style at best slightly scattered, unorganised and also often seriously overly emotional, with especially the Pepper children regularly screaming, laughing loudly, crying, on their knees praying (and constantly disclaiming or proclaiming their love, their fear, their pain, their joy). Of course, a novel where the characters are described as being mostly devoid of emotion would also not be natural either, but in Five Little Peppers and How They Grew , the constant emotional outbursts actually make many of the characters seem rather exaggerated to and for me and even perhaps slightly strange and unnatural, almost as though they are defined primarily by their emotions (or rather by their excess of the same).
Now I would still somewhat recommend Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, especially to those who are interested in what I call vintage girls' fiction or vintage family stories, but I do much wonder whether modern children would really enjoy this story, or wether they would also be (like I was and remain) more than slightly put off by the obvious and heavy-handed coincidences and especially the overly exaggerated emotionality of much of the printed text. And consequently, while I will likely end up reading the rest of the series at some time in the future, this will be more due to academic interest and not necessarily because I expect to in any ways greatly enjoy reading the sequels. 2.5 stars (but not willing to consider 3 stars)!
I have an old "antique" (well, just really, really used) edition of this book that my grandmother handed down to me when I was a kid which I suspect added to the feeling that it took me back in time. I loved it. If you liked Alcott's An Old Fashioned Girl, you will like this. If you think those old novels for children about families overcoming hardship and learning to appreciate one another despite lack of material goods, etc., etc. are painfully cheesy you will not like this.
I hadn't read this book in years. I had even forgotten some of the order of the story. I read it several times when I was a kid. I liked what a good sister Polly was to her younger siblings. This book will always have a special place in my heart.
I remembered this very fondly, but on re-read I discovered that the second part was entirely blocked out of my memory. No recollection of reading it at all. Perhaps I had to return the book to the library before finishing? A dog -- or younger sibling -- chewed the last half into shreds?
The start, with the Peppers in their Little Brown House and doing their best to make ends meet, is excellent. This is the part I recalled. But then prosperity strikes, and the two girls of the family are surrounded by kindly, loving people who continually discuss how wonderful the aforesaid girls are and "gentle reader fwowed up".
4.5/5 for before fortune smiles on the Peppers, 2/5 for the aftermath. I'll average it out to a "3".
"The Five Little Peppers" are Ben, Polly, Joel, Davie, and Phronsie. Their father died when Phronsie was a baby and Mrs. Pepper struggles to earn enough money to support the family. Despite their poverty, they are a loving family, full of spirit and adventure. Ben and Polly do what they can to support the family, but a bout with measles threatens the well being of the entire Pepper clan, especially Joel and Polly. The family has other adventures and befriend Jasper King during one of them. This friendship will enrich their lives in ways they never thought would be possible.
It's always interesting as an adult to reread a book that I loved as a child. When I was young I thought how much fun the Peppers had and longed to belong to a large family. As an adult, I realize how poor the family really was and how quickly the children had to grow up. As a child I thought how terrible it was that Polly couldn't read for days on end because of the measles; as an adult I realize the Peppers couldn't even afford to buy books.
First published in 1881, "The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew" is old-fashioned (the doctor even makes house calls!), but still enjoyable. The Peppers are all delightful children, with Joel being the most honest of the bunch as he complains about having to eat the same food every day. Margaret Sidney was a talented author, who could make even inanimate objects, such as the stove, seem alive. The children's adventures may seem simple to today's young readers, who are used to Harry Potter and the like, but it's a refreshing change.
This book took me forever to finish and I finished it in starts and fits. I was supposed to read this a few months ago for Dead Writers Society genre challenge and never got back to it in time. So I don't count this book towards the genre challenge since I didn't finish it in the month I was supposed to, but dang I want something for finishing this.
"Five Little Peppers" is about Mrs. Pepper and her five children, Ben, Polly, Joel, Davie, and Phronsie. The family is not doing very well since Mr. Pepper has died. Mrs. Pepper is a seamstress of some sort and is doing what she can to keep her family fed and under one roof. Too bad her kids ask repeatedly for things that they have to know their mother can't afford and just at times act like jerks.
I really couldn't get a handle on everyone. The book really doesn't flow together very well. This whole thing felt like a collection that was than wrapped up into one book. Some chapters work well together, and others do not.
I didn't really care for the writing probably because Ms. Sidney chose to write the book in the way that some young kids speak at certain ages. It drove me crazy sometimes to work out what someone like Davie or Phronsie was trying to say.
The flow was not great because once again not all chapters flowed into each other naturally. And there was a bigger problem as I said that the book as a whole did not feel as cohesive as it should have.
Audible.com 6 hours 50 min. Narrated by Grace Conlin (A)
While looking for a short novel to read after listening to six biographies, this dear book from my childhood popped up for free. I wondered if it would stand the test of time. My mother also loved to read. A child of the Depression, she had the advantage of living in Washington, D.C. She didn't have much except free access to libraries, and this book had been one of her favorites. In her early teens she was given a number a books by a spinster who lived in their tenement, and this book was one of them. She saved these books and they were part of my first library. Unfortunately the books were later stored in a basement and were lost as the result of flooding in the late sixties. I'm sure I must have read the Peppers multiple times for me to remember as much as I did. When I came down with measles as a child, my mother kept me in a darkened room, and I know she was fearful for my eyesight just like Polly Pepper's mother was. Ah, the wonderful advantage of modern vaccines. I had no idea these books were still in print, much less available as recorded books. Are the stories dated? Yes. It was first published in 1881. Are the characters well-developed? Not really. Are the five Pepper children memorable? Yes! Did listening remind me of my mother's love and ministering care? Most definitely! For sentimental reasons I'd give this book 5 stars!
When I was little I was known as the kid who read. People in our town would give me books just because I was the kid who read. (I've read since I was three). This was one such book--a neighbor woman gave the book to me. I never liked it very much because it's like a honey, chocolate, and jam sandwich. Hooo-boy!
Great old-fashioned story of a widow and her five children growing up poor, but making the best of life anyway. One day, the youngest, a girl of about three or four, is enticed away by an organ grinder who is miffed that he is only offered black bread and water for his entertainment. The child is rescued by a boy named Jasper and his dog, who then become fast friends with the Pepper family. In the end, Jasper's friendship brings lots of love and joy and good fortune into the Pepper's lives. The story ends rather abruptly, but is part of a series, so on I go! Read numerous times over the years.
My grandmother gave me a copy of this when I was a girl, and it wasn't a complete edition. When I read the complete book to my children, I wondered why all children's literature isn't this sweet. We love it!
This is a real classic. The story of the Little Peppers was one of the first books I read as a child and made such an imprint on me. The story became alive at that age. I wish there were more stories like that written today.
This is one of those books my mom read out loud to us, probably over several school days while we sat at our large wooden table eating lunch. Such fond memories…
But those sweet moments get me wondering… when did she ever eat?! As a kid, I clearly didn’t pay attention and/or realize that in order for her to read aloud, she had to eat after us. Oh, the odes to a motherhood full of love, sweetness and sacrifice!
And such is the mother in this delightful tale too. She’s a poor widow who works hard, bringing in a little income from her sewing and mending, who wonders how she’ll ever give her children all that they need.
Luckily for her, she has caring and compassionate people in her life who enjoy her and her children so much, they want to be a blessing in return.
Thus we have scenes of children laughing, loving, planning surprises for each other; sometimes fighting, but always making up in the end. Stories of measles, a monkey, and mistletoe.
Add this one to your to-read-soon list!
Cleanliness: there is fighting and grumbling but it’s almost always addressed or resolved.
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Review of the Project Gutenberg Free eBook Edition of this nineteenth-century children's classic
I was delighted to discover I could instantly download to my Kindle what I presume is the Project Gutenberg free version of this nineteenth century children's classic. The formatting is not the most presentable I've ever seen in an ebook, due to missing tabs and hard returns to set off the paragraphs from each other. Fortunately, though, there are few typos, so this version of the book is readable enough that I donated my paper copy to the library as I am gradually moving almost entirely to ebooks since I got my Kindle a year and a half ago.
This book is about the Pepper family of five children and their widowed mother. "Mamsie" ekes out a bare living as a seamstress in a small New England town (the state isn't specified but perhaps is intended to be the author's native Connecticut). Though the story reads like an historical novel to modern readers, it was actually a contemporary novel when it was written in 1881. There are horse-drawn carriages instead of cars, candlelight instead of electric lamps, no running water, no refrigeration, and no central heating.
The Peppers live in a "little brown house" whose furnishings are only lightly described. Perhaps this is because the house is mostly bare due to their extreme poverty, but it would have been interesting to know how the family acquired water for cooking and bathing (and how the family bathed), if they had a fireplace or a Franklin stove, or simply used the kitchen stove to heat the house in the winter. (The Little House books are great for providing these historically accurate details, but not this series.)
Mrs. Pepper was widowed when her English husband died presumable shortly before or after her youngest child was born. We learn nothing about the children's father in this book as there is no attention at all to the family's "backstory." As the title of the book states, there are five siblings:
Ben (Ebenezer) is twelve years old. He had to be at least eight when the father died, but he has never gone to school--though somewhere along the way he and his sister Polly learned to read and write, probably taught by their mother since any school that the children might go to would cost tuition that Mrs. Pepper cannot afford. Throughout the story, Mrs. Pepper frequently frets over how she is ever going to get enough money to pay to educate her sons (there is no real concern about educating her daughters, perhaps because females of the working class were not commonly educated at this time). Ben augments Mamsie's income by doing odd jobs such as chopping wood. Ben has a placid, phlegmatic disposition, plodding along diligently through life, sure and steady in all he does. He is utterly loyal and would make any sacrifice for his family. He and Polly are particularly close.
Polly (Mary) is eleven years old. She and Ben act as second parents to their younger siblings whom they refer to as "the children." Polly has a nurturing disposition and is very motherly, but she also has a sensitive, imaginative disposition, which is a fascinating combination. She is the major focus of this book as she bustles about helping her mother with sewing, cooking meals for the family, cleaning the house, and caring for the younger children. She loves music and would give anything to be able to learn to play the piano. She adores any flowers that come her way, and the bane of her existence is the ancient wood stove she has to cook on which is full of holes that are stuffed with paper and leather from old shoes.
Joel is nine years old. He has a passionate, impulsive, choleric disposition. It is very hard for him to maintain the uncomplaining, sacrificial attitude Mamsie has worked hard to instill in her children which comes easily to all the Peppers except him. He wants what he wants this instant, and he's very loud about his disappointment if he doesn't get it--in short, he's a normal boy who constantly puts the house in an uproar. Fortunately for the training Mamsie wants to instill in him, he has a warm heart and is readily brought into line with a judicious application of maternal or sisterly guilt.
Davie (David) is seven years old. He has a placid, timid disposition. He is Joel's shadow and is ready to try anything Joel suggests.
Phronsie (Sophronia) is four at the time of this story and is the adored baby of the family. Though she is indulged by everyone, because she is a beautiful, blond girl, she has a remarkably unspoiled disposition. She is so angelically sweet and kind to everyone, she inspires instant love in every man, woman, child, and dog who meets her.
Though the family is barely scraping by, constantly on the verge of starvation (they live off whole-wheat bread, salted porridge, and potatoes), they have caring neighbors who try to help out when they can, which doesn't amount to a whole lot since everyone in the town is poor in their own way, and Mrs. Pepper is too proud to accept outright charity.
Two big crises lay the Peppers low during the course of this story: all the children get measles, which almost makes Polly go blind, and Phronsie runs off with an organ grinder and his monkey, terrifying the whole village for her safety.
It is this latter event which brings Jappy (Jasper) King into their lives, the thirteen-year-old son of the very rich Mr. King, a crotchety "old" man staying at a local hotel to improve his uncertain health. (Note that what was considered "old" in the latter part of the nineteenth century is not what we would consider "old" today. The average life expectancy at the turn of the twentieth century was little more than forty, and often people in their fifties in nineteenth century novels were labeled by authors as "old." Mr. King's age is never given, but I tried to figure it out this way: Mr. King is clearly a widower. Jasper has a much older sister with three sons, the oldest of which is ten at this time, meaning she is at least twenty-nine, making Mr. King very likely fifty-five or sixty years of age.) Mr. King's source of wealth isn't mentioned in the book, and we never hear of him going to work, so possibly he has inherited wealth rather than holding a job.
Margaret Sidney was the pseudonym of successful, American children's author, Harriett Mulford Stone Lothrop, who was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1844 and died in 1924, eight years after writing the last Pepper book. She began her writing career in 1878 at age thirty-four by publishing stories about Polly and Phronsie Pepper in a Boston children's magazine. She married the magazine's editor, Daniel Lothrop, who began a publishing company and published Harriett's "Five Little Peppers" series, starting in 1881. Here is a list of the twelve Pepper books by date written, which were produced over the course of thirty-five years:
Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (1881) Five Little Peppers Midway (1890) Five Little Peppers Grown Up (1892) Five Little Peppers: Phronsie Pepper (1897) Five Little Peppers: The Stories Polly Pepper Told (1899) Five Little Peppers: The Adventures of Joel Pepper (1900) Five Little Peppers Abroad (1902) Five Little Peppers At School (1903) Five Little Peppers and Their Friends (1904) Five Little Peppers: Ben Pepper (1905) Five Little Peppers in the Little Brown House (1907) Five Little Peppers: Our Davie Pepper (1916)
Margaret Sidney originally had no plans to write more Pepper books after the fourth book, "Phronsie Pepper", was published in 1897. She stated this firmly in her introduction to that book. However, over time the pleas of avid fans from all over the world caused her to give in and write eight more Pepper books. The events in the last eight books take place before the events of the third book in the original series of four books. If you would like to read the six main Pepper books in chronological order, rather than by publication date, this is the ideal sequence:
"Five Little Peppers and How They Grew" "Five Little Peppers Midway" "Five Little Peppers Abroad" "Five Little Peppers and Their Friends" "Five Little Peppers Grown Up" "Five Little Peppers: Phronsie Pepper"
If you read all the Pepper books, you will discover that the author did not take great care as to continuity in the later books, perhaps because so many years passed between writing these books. I am currently re-reading the series and have just finished this book and the second book, "Midway," and am currently reading "Abroad." In "Midway," the author states that five years have passed since the events of "How They Grew," but no ages are given for any of the children except Phronsie. We are told she is eight, which is one year younger than she ought to be if five years have passed. In "Abroad," whose events begin immediately after "Midway," Polly has her fifteenth birthday a few months into the events of the book, when it ought to be at least her sixteenth birthday given that she was eleven in the first book and presumably already fifteen or sixteen in the second book.
The Pepper books are not concerned with edge-of-the-seat action, which is one of the things I personally like about them. They are products of a much slower-paced era, and it is relaxing to experience that approach to children's fiction while being warmly enfolded into the loving Pepper family.
This book, and all the Pepper books, are strictly G-rated, and the values they show (not tell through preaching) are very useful ones for any child to be exposed to, including civility, kindness, consideration, keeping commitments, accepting difficult circumstances without complaint and forging through them, and so on.
There being no library in the nearest town, my early reading during summers with Mother and my paternal grandmother in the latter's cottage near Lake Michigan was severely limited by what was on hand, mostly books belonging to "Nanny", my grandmother. Fortunately, she was quite a reader.
Mikey Spillance novels not being of much interest yet, I picked up her old copy of the first Little Peppers novel because it was clearly a children's book. Indeed, the edition had been published when she was just about my age.
Unfortunately, it was really boring and really long, perhaps the longest books I'd read on my own by that time. The late Victorian sentimentality of the author struck me, even then, as cloying, as all-too-precious. Dark thoughts were evoked as I began imagining disasters escalating into absurdity rather than always being happily resolved.
Still, I finished the thing and do have one clear, rather pleasant memory of laying on my stomach on my parents' big bed downstairs on a particular sunny afternoon, book opened on their green corduroy spread.
The memory of that brings to mind another of the same bed in an earlier summer. It was custom going back as far as memory for me to run downstairs upon Nanny's daily announcement that she was intending to straighten up the rooms. There was just enough time for me to unzip their quilt cover and crawl in before she, with much advance warning, hobbled down the stairs to confront the notoriously lumpy bedclothes. One lump--me!--was always especially recalcitrant, requiring much poking and proding before breaking up into giggles and laughter.
I auppose I may have perservered through Nanny's kid book partly out of respect for her. She was a wonderful grandmother.
That old steel bedframe, said to have come from a hotel originally, is the one in my room to this day, Nanny and Mother being dead and the cottage in Michigan in ruins.
This is one of my favorite books from childhood and, in a fit of readerly nostalgia, I decided to re-read it for the first time in decades.
You can't go home again.
I could see why I loved this book as a child but, oh does it have some issues. There are two single-parent households with no explanation as to what happened to the missing parents. Characters drop into the story with no introduction, just all of a sudden "Bob" is there and you're wondering who the hell "Bob" is. My largest issue with this book, though, lies in the idea of the rich older man swooping in and "rescuing" the Peppers from their poor-but-happy existence because he has a deep affection for a four-year-old. (I'm not sure if he offers to marry Mrs. Pepper or hire her as his housekeeper. Maybe they're one and the same to him. And I really don't want to think too deeply about his deep, immediate affection for Phronsie.)
I'm not giving this a star rating because grade school me gives it five stars with sparkles and rainbows and adult me would be feeling generous to give it two stars.
2021 reread: I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the Pepper family! Yes, it's cliched, and maybe a little cheesy, but just such a happy and cozy story, even through all the hard times the family has.
I did notice this time through how much the Pepper children complain about what they don't have. It's totally understandable given some of the basics they have to do without (!), but also probably wasn't helpful to my own childhood habits of wishing I had nicer things that 'everyone else' seemed to have.
Otherwise, there's very little in the way of content concerns--passing references to the death of their father, and to war, and a few unwise choices (very normal and understandable for their age levels, and also generally corrected). Children who are very prone to repeating phrases may pick up some slang words from the era such as the exclamation 'whockety!'.
Original review: I know I really enjoyed and re-read this one quite a bit in my childhood. I should really re-read it again in my adulthood so I can give it proper review.
First in another great orphan series - Ben, Polly, Joel, Davie, and Phronsie actually have a mother, who is bravely bringing them up on virtually nothing. If only their deceased father's family hadn't turned their backs on the young Pepper family!