1952: Ginger Pye (A Boy, A Girl, and Their Dog)

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 3.5

Ginger Pye, the 1952 Newbery Medal Winner, is the charming story of the Pye siblings, Jerry and Rachel, and the dog they name Ginger. Jerry loves one of the neighbour woman’s puppies and is determined to earn the money to buy him. He does so just in the nick of time; Rachel suggests “Ginger” as his name, and it sticks. The children and dog are inseparable, going off to swim in the reservoir and explore Cranbury. However, the presence of the Unsavory Character mars their happiness. The Unsavory Character had wanted to buy Ginger Pye, but the neighbour woman saved him for Jerry. Thus, the man in the yellow hat haunts the area, threatening the dog by his mere presence. The children never see his face. Meanwhile, Ginger proves himself incredibly intelligent, following Gerry’s scent trail to school and climbing the fire escape into the classroom. He becomes something of a local celebrity. On Thanksgiving, Ginger is dog-napped. Rachel and Jerry spend most of the remainder of the book searching for him and exploring Cranbury. In the last chapter, Ginger breaks away from his captor (one of Jerry’s school mates who was training the dog to assist in a vaudeville act) and returns home. He immediately proves himself compassionate and intelligent, as he carries the finicky cat across freshly tarred streets when she demonstrates a wish to be on the other side of the road. The children are ecstatic at his return, although sorrowful about the abuse he received.

The plot is decent, but not the main attraction of the book. Rather, the author’s rich, rambling descriptions of the characters and their explorations are what kept me reading (ok, well, I’m not really allowed to abandon these Newbery books since I committed to read all of them, but I didn’t want to ditch this one, either). I shared a few over on our Tumblr, including this incident from the day Ginger disappeared.The tangents, and they are legion, capture how real people’s minds work but are restrained enough not to overwhelm the plot, adding colour and back-story to the book. We learn all about Rachel, who hopes to be a bird-man like her father and who tries to be brave even when something like heights scares her. Gerry wants to be a rock-man, so interesting bits of local rocks fall into the descriptions. The author creates very authentic interactions between the characters, from little in-jokes and stories passed between the siblings to the benign tolerance with which they regard their 3-year-old Uncle Bennie. Ginger Pye has that special something that is hard to put your finger on. This would be an entertaining read for pet lovers in middle to late elementary school or early middle school. It would also make an excellent read-together or “story” book for younger readers.

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