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by Eleanor Estes
Here is the first part of a popular series of four books about the Moffat family of Cranbury, CT–a widowed mother and her four children, Sylvie, Joe, Jane, and Rufus. In this first book they are aged 15, 12, 9, and 5, and the main point of view is Jane, though a chapter here and there is told from Joe or Rufus’ point of view.
It’s a pretty loosely constructed, episodic novel, without a tight plot or anything, but it’s full of wit and charm and warmth toward the characters and a kind of nostalgic look at growing up in a small Connecticut town at about the time when the horse and buggy was going out and automobiles were coming in. The economy is bad, so there’s a for-sale sign on the house the Moffats are living in, which is a situation I very much sympathized with! Rufus is starting school, Joe is trying to cope with being forced to take dance lessons, and Jane is afraid of the Police Chief who lives down the street. There is also a bit about losing the last $5 to the family’s name while going out to buy coal on a cold winter’s day, and a bit about scaring the tar out of the neighborhood bully on Halloween, and mayhem on a streetcar, and other fun in the sun.
The only sort of plot the story has is that it takes place in about a year’s time and it begins with the house going on sale and ends with the house sold and the family moving out. Nevertheless Estes magically creates an atmosphere where you understand and indeed love her characters, right down to Catherine the Cat.