There are a lot of dog books out there, but Ginger Pye is probably one of my favorites. It has the sadness you might expect from a dog book, but without the heartbreak. It has humor, charm, memorability, and a nice sense of oomph and depth. It deals with difficult topics without getting into crying-lots-of-tears-at-the-end territory, like Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Grows, and so is a much better vehicle for communicating those topics to younger children.
is about, of course, Ginger Pye, the dog that Jerry buys for a dollar. The
story, though, is more than just about Ginger—it’s about Jerry, and his sister
Rachel, and their Uncle Bennie (who is only three years old—this book also is a
great vehicle for communicating different family dynamics, such as a girl who
marries young, who has young parents who have another child ten years (thus
becoming “old’ parents) after their daughter gave birth to two of her own.).
It’s a much more daring book than The
Moffats in several regards: the aforementioned family dynamic, the whole
idea of “unsavory characters,” and, of course, kidnapping and animal
abuse—because it can’t be a dog book without something happening to the dog.
In this case, Ginger is kidnapped. This happens about
halfway through the book, and so the rest of the book is Jerry and Rachel
searching for him and wondering where he is. Estes also portrays this quite
realistically: time passes, and even as Jerry and Rachel continue to hope
Ginger will return, life goes on for them. They go to school, they hike, they
camp, they play with friends. Yet they never stop thinking about Ginger, or
thinking up ways to find him, so of course at the end of the novel, they are
reunited, though not without some trauma on Ginger’s side.
I think that’s probably what I liked most about this
book: the way Estes handles these difficult topics, the way she includes
stories and asides everywhere, the way she communicates danger and abuse
without being graphic or overly angsty or even losing a bit of the charm and
simplicity that’s in the book. In fact, really the only complaint I have is
that this book is massively long because Estes takes her time building
everything up, as well as telling lots of stories to establish the characters.
It maybe takes too long to get to the climax—two chapters too long—but it’s an
adventure worth taking.