The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, by Margaret Sydney, was a book that I read in fourth grade, while visiting my grandparents in Florida at Christmastime. I remember loving it because the story was so homey and old fashioned, the characters engaging, with their light escapades and cheerful family life. The pure and good Polly Pepper, her brothers Ben, Joel and Davie, little sister Phronsie, and their poor widowed mother. Although they went through trying times, they were a happy and grateful family.
After I discovered my Kindle capabilities last week (see my recent blog post: Virtually Unlimited), I skimmed the Kindle Store’s Popular Classics (pre-1923, free because they are no longer under copyright). When I saw The Five Little Peppers, I pushed the button and it became mine once again.
Re-reading the book as an adult, The Five Little Peppers still holds some of its early charms, but I was surprised at how archaic the writing style was. I don’t recall that from when I was little. I also noticed how Doctor Fisher (a grown man) “skipped” and “pranced about” when agitated, which I guess I vaguely remember, but at the time recognized that it was from an earlier, more innocent era, and it didn’t bother me.
When children read, they don’t have many of the preconceived notions that adults do. Children are more elastic in their view of the world and tend to take things as they come. They have not developed fixed expectations or become jaded, and care more about story than style. A book is what it is, and they will read without question. More fluid in their understanding than adults, kids find it relatively easy to shift their thinking to accommodate an old fashioned writing style.
When they read stories about the past, children assume that the settings and details are factual, whether reading fiction or non-fiction. They accept that things and people were different then. Values and ways of behaving in society weren’t the same either, with modesty, honesty and character being stressed rather than the independence, edginess and frequently antisocial behavior of today. Many characters from earlier time periods were written as examples of virtue, an ideal to aspire to, rather than someone readers would see themselves in.
Today I did some research on The Five Little Peppers series, and discovered that it was written from 1881 – 1916. The Five Little Peppers books were so popular that when the author finally completed her six book series, readers overwhelmed her with letters begging for more, and she wrote several additional books of background and side stories to keep her fans happy.
Our modern society values the new and disposable, getting rid of old books at library sales and replacing them with recent paperbacks and commercial fiction. One wonders these days, in an era of road rage, depression and isolation due to technological “advances,” if they didn’t have the right idea back then.
The six books in the original series, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Five Little Peppers Midway, Five Little Peppers Abroad, Five Little Peppers and Their Friends, Five Little Peppers Grown Up and Five Little Peppers: Phronsie Pepper can all be found and downloaded for free at the Kindle Store (Popular Classics) and Gutenberg.org
For more information on The Five Little Peppers, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Little_Peppers