Five Little Peppers and How they Grew

I have heard of this book nearly all my life. One of my favorite books growing up was Cheaper by the Dozen, by Franker Bunker Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, about their parents, Frank B. and Lillian Moller Gilbreth, and how they raised their twelve children. One of Mother’s favorite books to read aloud to the Gilbreth children was Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, and it is said that she “was particularly partial to a character named Phronsie, or something like that.”

The Pepper family lives in the little brown house located in Badgertown.

Mr. Pepper has died and the widowed mother was left to raise the children by herself. In order of age (descending), the children’s names were Ben (Ebenezer), Polly (Mary), Joel, David, and Phronsie (Sophronia). They have no money and little education, but they have lots of love and a good mother to guide them through good times and bad. Mrs. Pepper (Mamsie) works at tailoring things and especially sewing sacks for the local storekeeper. Polly, who is ten years old, helps her sew while making sure the children behave and preparing their dinner. Ben, who is a year older than Polly, works all day at a nearby farm chopping wood. (This was obviously before child labor laws!) They come in contact with Jasper King, a boy a little older than Ben, who is on vacation at nearby Hingham with his rich widowed father. Eventually, the Peppers come to stay with Jasper and his sister and nephews at his big house in the city where they finally unravel a very interesting mystery. Several sequels were written between 1890 and 1916. The Pepper books were also the inspiration for movies. The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew was released in 1939. The original movie had more of an “Our Gang” comedy approach and was not an exact reflection of the book.

Some people today might consider Five Little Peppers and How They Grew hopelessly out of date and completely irrelevant to the “real world” of modern society. So what? It undoubtedly represents the “real world” that many people faced back in the late 1800s. And I believe it represents what the “real world” should be in a family when there is genuine love. The Pepper children are not “ipsy-pipsy perfect.” They do complain about their hard lot from time to time and occasionally get into some mischief. However, they are being taught by their mother how to face their trials and problems with a thankful heart and a cheerful attitude, concepts that very little modern children’s literature portrays. Belief in God is mentioned, and the local minister and his family are very helpful. The language is a little old-fashioned and was probably intended to imitate the idiom of relatively uneducated people of the day, but it can easily be understood.

I liked this book and think that it is an interesting snapshot of what times were like in the 1880s.

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