Eleanor Estes is well-recognized for writing memorable family stories, among them the Pye stories. With Ginger Pye and Pinky Pye, Estes adds pets and mysteries to the mix. Although her unhurried style may not appeal to all, I’ve come to treasure these innocent stories of a close-knit family in a small town.
The Pye books appealed to me most of all the books by Estes due to their being about animals. In Ginger Pye, the family already has a pet cat. Gracie however belongs more to the mom than the children. For that reason, the idea of a buying a puppy from a neighbor proves attractive to Jerry and Rachel. Before this could happen, the two siblings first have to raise money to pay for the puppy. At first, nothing works and the deadline draws unbearably close. Then just when Jerry and Rachel finally have earned enough to pick up their puppy, they hear mysterious footsteps all the way home. Still, all seems well. Jerry even discovers that his puppy is smart enough to follow him to school. Except then during Thanksgiving Day, Ginger disappears. The only clue that the children have to the identity of the dog snatcher is that he wears a mustard yellow hat.
In Pinky Pye, the family set out for a summer of bird watching on Fire Island. At first, their adventures amount to exploring the beaches, dunes, and boardwalks. On their way home each day, poison ivy is their biggest concern. Then one morning the family wake up to the sound of news, thrashings, and beatings about of something. On the front door tangled in an old crab net is a tiny skinny kitten looking furious and bewildered. And so Pinky comes into the life of the Pyes. Like Ginger, she turns out to be remarkably clever in that Pinky learned how to type. Unlike Ginger, she doesn’t disappear. Yet something mysterious does capture the attention of the pets and the humans. That something is in the attic, where Uncle Bennie’s crickets and grasshoppers keep escaping or getting eaten. But the cats aren’t the guilty culprits. Some other mystery is afoot in the Pye household.
The humans in the Pye books also appealed to me. There is Mr. Pye, a famous bird man who is frequently called down to Washington for consultation. He’s married to Mrs. Pye, who has the notable distinction of being the youngest mother in the town of Cranbury. Then there are Mama’s grandparents along with her baby brother. The grandparents moved near to the family, so that none of them would be strangers to anyone. At three-years-old, Uncle Bennie is the youngest uncle. Finally, there are our hero and heroine, Jerry and Rachel, who are siblings and close friends. Even when the two disagree, they remain amicable.
In both books about the Pyes, the strong bond of family is clear not just through shared adventures mentioned above but also through anecdotal stories. These latter enrich our understanding of the Pyes and help to make the family memorable. For example, there is the most interesting way in which the parents were married. One day Papa decided to try to run up not down the escalator at a train station. As he reached the top, panting, he ran into a girl about to come down the escalator. Mama had seen her first opera and was almost floating in the air, she was so transported by the music. It was love at first sight. Then there are the grandparents. Grandpa didn’t mind the move to Cranbury, because he could tune pianos anywhere but could only own a boat in Cranbury. As for Grandma, she loved to feed her family. Also, if not for her and Uncle Bennie, a certain mystery might not have been solved. Uncle Bennie himself helps Jerry and Rachel raise money so that the two can buy a puppy. Later, when Uncle Bennie fails in his struggles to give up his blanket to prove that he is a big boy, the siblings encourage him to simply try again. As for Jerry and Rachel, there is much to learn about them too, such as the fact that at night they like to make up this one long story about a character who could turn himself into anything. They never go to bed without adding an episode.
Now that I’ve hopefully sold you on reading the Pye books, let me talk about the style. On the complimentary side, I would call it leisurely and relaxed. It’s this casualness that allowed Estes to sprinkle in details about every family member. We learn that Papa is always ten books behind in his writing, Mama hoped during her summer vacation to read past thirty-nine of War and Peace, Jerry loved rocks more than birds, and Rachel desired to sleep on a train. All these details help me feel as if I were right there with the Pye family in Cranbury and later Fire Island. Alas, I could also describe the style as meandering and slow-paced. It’s this laid-back style that results in her main characters rambling at length about minuscule topics such as whether New York or Boston is more important. For the latter reason, the books never made it to the top ten of my favorite childhood books. At the same time, the books appealed to me enough as a child that I named two of my plush toys after Ginger and Pinky. 🙂 I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed rereading them these fall months to our family pets.
My recommendation is that you pick up the Pye books when you have hours to spare. In this way, the Pye books will both delight and entertain you. The Pyes are a family you’ll love and remember. As are their unique pets.
Reprinted from Allison’s Book Bag. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2014.