Goodreads: Five Little Peppers and How They Grew
Series: Five Little Peppers #1
Polly, Ben, Joel, Davie, and Phronsie Pepper live with their mother, who can barely make ends meet. Still, the five continue to have good times, what with Ben and Polly conspiring to come up with clever ways to entertain the little ones or to give them a memorable Christmas. Things really start to look up, however, when Phronsie runs away and meets young Jasper King, a young rich boy who knows all too well that money cannot buy happiness and longs to join the good time at the Little Brown House.
I remember reading this as a child and though I did recall many particulars, I assumed I must have liked it. After all, I loved books like Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and enjoyed reading other children’s classics like Pollyanna. Even the most syrupy-sweet of sentimental fiction was not a problem. When I reread this book, however, I discovered I must have somewhat outgrown my sweet tooth.
Five Little Peppers and How They Grew is pretty much the nineteenth-century children’s book about impoverished children you would expect. Polly and Ben, the two eldest Peppers, live to support their mother (their father is dead) and to bring happiness to the younger children. Polly performs all the domestic tasks such as sewing and baking and she naturally possesses a maternal air. Ben works outside the home to bring in money. The younger boys are rambunctious little things who nevertheless adore Polly and even baby the youngest of the family, Phronsie. Phronsie is in danger of becoming a spoiled little thing due to the way everyone dotes on her. So far, no surprises.
The plot, too, follows a standard trajectory. The impoverished Peppers lament the lack of good things to eat and struggle to think of creative ways to celebrate birthdays and holidays without any money. Fortunately, after a few setbacks, they befriend a boy with a rich father. The rich father, much like Alcott’s Mr. Laurence, initially wants nothing to do with the Peppers. He is a crotchety elderly man who delights in nothing by the sensual pleasures of life left to him. Phronsie, however, steals his heart and soon he manages to have the entire Pepper family living in his house and off his money, despite Mrs. Pepper’s known aversion to accepting anything that looks like charity.
I probably could have accepted all of this–I have seen it enough before in other works and there is nothing wrong with a charming little Cinderella story where all the children can have their dreams come true. But the children simply were not realistic. Alcott’s protagonists struggle with faults like vanity and jealousy and rashness. The Peppers, however, are all apparently perfect. And the standard plot of their story is not content merely to repeat works that came before it, but must needs repeat itself as well! First the Peppers fall ill one after another. Fair enough–measles are catching. But then Phronsie, if I recall, wanders off three times and must be found three times. It was, I am afraid to admit, rather dull.
When I started this book, I thought about continuing into the other books in the series. I wanted to know what the Peppers would do once they were grown up. Now, however, I think I will wait on that project. Five Little Peppers and How They Grew simply failed to capture my interest.
*This post is part of the Year of Re-Reading Challenge being hosted by Lianne at Caffeinated Life.