Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Book Review: Five Little Peppers Abroad by Margaret Sidney

Five Little Peppers Abroad Review of the Kindle Edition of this nineteenth-century children's classic

Five Little Peppers Abroad by Margaret Sidney

Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: 1902
Pages: 238
Source: Purchase
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

This is Book 3 (in terms of events, not when the author wrote it) in the Five Little Peppers series of nineteenth century children's books. (I've provided a complete list of the Pepper books below.)

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 what I'm coming to see as typical of these free versions. Though there are few typos, there are frequent missing tabs and/or hard returns to set off paragraphs from each other, which makes readability a bit difficult.

This book continues the adventures of the Pepper family of five children and their widowed mother, whom they call "Mamsie," and the millionaire, "old Mr. King," and his son Jasper King. Mrs. Pepper is Mr. King's housekeeper, but the Pepper children all call him Grandpapa, since he has informally adopted the Pepper children. Most especially Phronsie, whom he absolutely adores and endlessly showers with dolls.

The events of this book occur immediately after the end of Book 2. In this book, Mrs. Pepper is now married to kind Dr. Fisher of Book 1, who saved Polly's eyes when she got the measles. Mr. King decides to take Dr. and Mrs. Fisher, Polly, Phronsie, Jasper and Reverend and Mrs. Henderson (who were neighbors and friends of the Peppers in Book 1) on a tour of Europe.

The story is written in omniscient point of view, as are the other two books, so we get to experience the thoughts of many different characters, but Polly remains the key character in this book as in the others. Once again, everyone who meets her adores Polly for her bright smiles and kind nature--which we are, as always, made to understand that she owes to the influence of her down-to-earth, compassionate, hard-working mother.

Though the story reads like an historical novel to modern readers, it was actually a contemporary novel when it was written in 1902. There are horse-drawn carriages instead of cars, gaslight instead of electric lamps, no running water, no refrigeration, no central heating, and the traveling party gets to Europe on a "steamer," presumably an ocean liner run with a steam engine.

As the title of the book states, there are five siblings:

Polly (Mary) is 14, and midway through the book she turns 15.

Ben (Ebenezer) is now presumably 16, or nearly so, because he is a year older than Polly. Ben is one of my favorite characters, and I'm sorry to say that other than at the very beginning of the book, we don't see much of him in this book since he he has a job he doesn't want to leave to go to Europe.

Joel is now presumably 12 or 13, because he is two years younger than Polly. He, too, is not onstage except at the beginning of this book because he is left behind to go to boarding school.

Davie (David) is now presumably 10 or 11 years old, because he is two years younger than Joel. He, too, is left behind to go to school.

Phronsie (Sophronia) was four at the time of Book 1, but is listed as being only eight in this book as she was in Book 2, even though Book 2 says five years have passed since Book 1. She continues in the roll of the adored baby of the family. She is so beautiful, strangers stop on the street to stare at her, but she continues to have an angelic disposition to go with her celestial beauty.

Jappy (Jasper) King is now 17, since he is two years older than Polly, and he is not in school nor, unlike Ben, going to any kind of job. In this book Mrs. King's source of wealth still isn't mentioned, but it is clear by his actions and lofty attitude that he comes from "old money." (It is not until Book 4, Five Little Peppers Grown Up, that we learn for a fact that Mr. King has never worked a day in his life and believes, much like European aristocrats and nobility of that era, that soiling his hands with "trade" would be beneath him.)

A lot of this story reads like a fascinating travelogue of what it was like to take the Grand Tour of Europe at the end of the nineteenth century. However, there are plenty of fun adventures caused by the Pepper girls' taking under their wing many troubled fellow travelers. These include a sick old man who turns out to be an earl who is on their ocean liner incognito; the earl's incorrigible, teenage grandson; an artistic orphan girl age fourteen, and an impoverished father of starving children who mugs Mr. King and Phronsie in a Parisian park.

In this book as in the previous two, Mr. King's age is still never given, and he is constantly referred to by the author as "old Mr. King," but he's mighty spry. He loves having Phronsie sit on his lap (indeed, in the later books, she continues to sit on his lap even when she is an adult, which you would think would be very hard on an old man's body to bear that kind of weight).

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 34 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 12 Pepper books by date written, which were produced over the course of 35 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, which she states 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. The Pepper books 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, gratitude, consideration, keeping commitments, accepting difficult circumstances without complaint and forging through them with good cheer.

I highly recommend this book for all ages.

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