A lot of the problems I had with Ginger Pye are missing from this book. Unfortunately, a lot of new problems cropped up. The end result is about the same: a book I didn't mind reading that much, and that my kids really liked to listen to.
The most glaring issue from Ginger Pye, Estes's insistence on using the word "waked" until she breaks your spirit, is unfortunately still present. I seriously think she had characters going to bed just so a paragraph later she could say they "waked up." I'd be surprised if Estes hadn't written a novel with an insomniac main character in it.
First the good news: the Pye kids aren't as dumb. In Ginger Pye they were outright fools, walking past their dog and thinking, "Too bad my dog, who was a puppy when he went missing six months ago, is still a puppy, and therefore can't possibly be this grown dog that looks just like my dog." Did they think their dog was the Emmanuel Lewis of dogs? I wanted to shout "Dogs grow up, morons!" about ten times each chapter.
In this book, the "mystery" isn't something you could expect the kids to know, so it's much less irritating when they spend pages on end speculating about the mystery.
Estes got a legitimate illustrator for this book, too, so the pictures are much, much better. I don't want to speak ill of the dead, but I will regardless: Estes couldn't illustrate worth crap. Her publisher took care of that problem for her.
Unfortunately, the illustrator must have cost so much they couldn't afford an editor. The following sentences are just a few among the most egregious examples of her convoluted sentence structure.
Held captive in Papa's lap so she would not follow, as she often did, and with Papa murmuring enticing promises such as "string bean game" and "typing" in her ear to keep her satisfied (Papa didn't know that Pinky had a plan or he need not have bothered), Pinky yawned and stretched. (172)This is supposed to be a children's book. What child can follow that sentence? Don't even begin to tell me, "Well, back in Eleanor's day...", because no kid ever has been able to follow that sentence.
Through now with throwing people, whoever they might be, or onlookers of whatever sort, off guard, Pinky sauntered into the living room, skirting the wall, and she hopped onto the living-room table. (180-1)Two random clauses thrown in the middle of the phrase "to throw off guard." I've read Faulkner with less trouble than I had with Estes.
I usually try to get through a book without letting my kids know what parts of it are bothering me. I don't want them to dislike a book just because I do. They are kids, with kids' tastes, and it is only natural that I would find faults with books that they didn't understand. But even my kids knew Jerry was a moron when I read this exchange to them:
For a moment the children were speechless. Here was a man who had just come straight from their own town, Cranbury, from their own house, their very own tall house! "Did you see Dick Badger?" asked Jerry. "And Duke?" (138)Jerry asked a complete stranger if he'd seen his friend's dog, by name. My daughter muttered to herself, "Oh, Jerry."
But again, the test of a children's book is would I read any of the sequels. And yes, I would read Estes's Moffats books out loud to our kids. Books from the 1950s are the perfect level of difficulty. Older books have too much archaic language, but these books have just the right amount to broaden their vocabulary without breaking up the pace of the story.
Rating: four out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.