The Middle Moffat by Eleanor Estes is Jane Moffat’s story. It more or less picks up where The Moffats leaves off, only with the focus, again, being not on the family but on Jane, the middle Moffat. she is the third child (and hence not the first–that would be Sylvie; and not the first son–that would be Joey; and not the baby–that would be Rufus). The Moffats have recently moved from New Dollar Street to Ashbellows Place (both in Cranbury, CT), and it is from there that Jane acquires her first best friend and takes on Cranbury’s “oldest occupant” as her personal, if secret, responsibility. The chapters in this fun book are episodic and thus would make a great read-aloud. I laughed aloud numerous times while reading this happy gem of story. My favorite chapter is the one in which all the Moffat children are involved in stage version of “The Three Bears” at their local parish house. Mama, being an accomplished seamstress, makes all the bear costumes. All is well until the head part of Jane’s costume turns up missing just before the play starts. Jane solves her problem very practically, and when the missing head shows up in the middle of the play, the results are hilarious. My second favorite chapter recounts Jane’s off-the-cuff joining of a local girls’ basketball team. She ends up scoring quite a few baskets and being the court hotshot without even really knowing how to play the game. Hilarious. I love the Moffats so much because in them Eleanor Estes has seemingly effortlessly provided a window into the oft-inscrutable thought processes of children. Who hasn’t wondered why a kid did what she did in a certain situation? I certainly have. The Moffats provide the insight we adults usually just shake our heads over.
Here’s a little taste of what makes The Middle Moffat so, so good. This is from the chapter entitled “The Organ Recital” in which the Moffats are given an old parlor organ and Jane holds a recital:
Jane, too, remained silent and motionless. Perhaps she was dreaming. But a glance through her lashes out of the corner of her eye convinced her there really were lots and lots of ladies all over the place. Organ recital! Music! Bach! Words that no longer had any meaning for her raced through her head. She finally raised her hands to the keyboard. She began pumping hard and desperately with her feet, hoping it would be like Julius Sampson at Woolsey Hall when the first powerful notes shook the audience. However, she was not really one bit surprised when she recognized the first few notes as those of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.” Each note was accented by a breathless wheeze from the tired pedal.
The first few notes, though, were all anyone was destined to hear. For, as Janey pumped down on the pedals with might and main, they gave one loud gasp, and then with a plaintive, whishing noise, like air going out of a rubber balloon, they slumped to the floor exhausted, defeated by a week of Rufus’s rapid one-foot pedaling, and by Janey’s own passionate outbursts. Anyway, there they were, flat on the ground, and though Janey conscientiously dug at them with her toes to bring them up again, it was useless. They would not rise again. To tell the truth, Jane was really relieved. However, she was too embarrassed to turn around.
“It’s broke,” she murmured.
“Oh, what a pity,” said Miss Buckle. “We shall. . . ” But what Miss Buckle was going to say, no one ever knew. All of a sudden from out of the open places over the sunken pedals fluttered a horde of moths. They had been hatching for some time in the felt linings within the organ, and now they all took flight. There seemed to be thousands of them. The ladies screamed. They covered their ears and held on to their heads, while the moths fluttered blindly about. The oldest inhabitant just sat and beamed, blowing them out of his whiskers now and then. Brud Pringle tottered around the room trying to catch them in his sticky hands. Catherine-the-cat, with a gleam in her eye, leaped from chair to table pursuing the fluttering moths. Jane didn’t know what to do. She wished she had a butterfly net. (38-9).
If that didn’t make you laugh, well, I think your sense of humor needs a tune-up. 🙂
I read The Middle Moffat for the Newbery Through the Decades Challenge here at Hope Is the Word. The Middle Moffat was a 1943 honor book. This makes the fifth book by Eleanor Estes I’ve read, the fourth I’ve reviewed:
It also made me once again think about this sort of book: a book about ordinary children, often siblings, and their ordinary adventures. I think I like these books best of all. Here’s a list of ones we’ve enjoyed, linked to my reviews when possible.
- The Melendy Quartet by Elizbeth Enright:
- Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright
- The Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace
- The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall
Can you think of others?