Author: Eleanor Estes
Illustrator: Louis Slobodkin
Series: The Moffats
Length: 234 pages
Genre: Middle Reader; Short Stories, Historical, Slice-of-life
Publisher: Odyssey/Harcourt Young Classic / 2001
Orig. Publisher: ?? / 1942
Cover Design: Tricia Tusa
Reason to Read: Shauna (an avid reader and a cousin o' mine) discovered this book via LibraryThing and recommended it to me, largely because I fit the profile so flawlessly.
Two things readers ought to know about me:
- I am a Moffatt (with two T's instead of a single T).
- I am the middle child.
In short, I am the ideal reader of Eleanor Estes's classic, endearing novel about ten-year-old Jane, the self-proclaimed middle Moffat. In truth, Jane is one of four Moffat children, meaning she shares her middle child status with an older brother; however, she coins her title after noticing her mother simply introduces her as just Jane. Sylvie is the eldest child; Rufus, the youngest; and Joey is the oldest son. But what about Jane? I would argue her stance in this matter exemplifies a middle-child mindset, so I'll let the the four-child status slide this time.
What follows in this second novel from The Moffats series is a collection of short stories profiling one year in the life of the feisty, fun-loving Jane after she and her family moves across town to a house on Ashbellows Place. In a new setting with a host of neighbours to meet, Jane wants to greet the world with a new persona—and the mysterious middle Moffat seems an excellent place to start. But being in the middle is a lot harder than it looks…
Jane's adventurous spirit and her endless search for fun leads her to befriend and secretly protect Mr. Buckle, Cranbury's oldest inhabitant, to hold her first disastrous organ recital, to help the girls' basketball team win their championship, to stand up to the frightful mechanical wizard Wallie Bangs, to learn about losing and finding best friends across town, and so much more. Throughout her travels, Jane dedicates herself to upholding the honour of the Moffats, and helps her mother and siblings as best as she can.
I had a definite bias when it came to selecting a favourite tale—one bright winter's day, the residents of Cranbury are treated to a complete solar eclipse (hmm, space nerd? Anyone?) Jane laments all the previous important events she's missed for one reason or another, from the earthquake she hadn't noticed while watching a moving picture with Nancy to the impressive geyser that erupted on the corner of Pleasant Street. As she and Nancy head to Gooseneck Point for the best view of the eclipse, Jane must be vigilant in keeping her best friend on track. Nancy's quite soft-hearted when it comes to stray dogs, and her insistence on bringing the animals home to bathe and feed is the precise reason the girls have missed countless events around town. Jane's determined to watch the eclipse, but where are all these random puppies coming from…?
I found this book intriguing from a historical standpoint as well—The Middle Moffat was written and published during the Second World War, and Estes makes the occasional reference to "the war in Europe". For instance, little Rufus insists he wants a real live pony for Christmas. Jane knows her brother will never get what he desires, and she decides to leave a letter for him (from Santa Claus) in his stocking on Christmas morning. Her response: Santa cannot bring him a pony because all the ponies are needed in Europe to fight in the war. Both endearing and dark in a single moment.
Estes doesn't make the war a focal point of the work, especially since the narrative focuses on young children who are far removed from the actual battlefields of the period. Though, along with the quick nods to the Second World War, Estes also focuses on the Civil War veterans who are often seen at official events (e.g. the oldest inhabitant's one-hundreth birthday celebration). I wonder sometimes if a teacher or parent could incorporate a text like this into an intro lesson on World War Two and the importance of remembering our veterans. Estes describes a rather tense political era in terms a child could understand, and she also captures the ways in which life continues as per usual in a place not directly affected by the war. In addition, she includes Joey and Rufus's excitement (and subsequent obsession) over their new wireless set that transmits actual radio signals. Cutting-edge technology here, folks.
Last, Louis Slobodkin adds a great bit of life to the work with his simple black-and-white sketches of Jane and her closest family and friends. He's got a knack for depicting the balance between the quiet life of the town and Jane's energetic capers. As well, Slobodkin's illustrations themselves could be studied for historical purposes as he often elaborates on Estes's settings and includes period details that many young readers wouldn't be familiar with. Look at me getting all teacher-like with this review here…
Overall, a lovely book for middle Moffats and non-Moffats alike.
Ideal for: Middle readers who like episodic, small-town adventures; Educators looking to capture a child's life in the Second World War for their classes; Older readers looking to reconnect with the classics of their childhood; Members of the Moffat clan.