1952 Newbery Medal: Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes

Ginger Pye, by Eleanor Estes, was published in 1951 by Harcourt.

Rating: 4/5

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.

Ginger Pye 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.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2K4rsLN