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Margaret Sidney's Five Little Peppers
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The Five Little Peppers

"When I used to ask my mother which we were, rich or poor, she refused to tell me. I was then nine years old and of course what I was dying to hear was that we were poor. I was reading a book called Five Little Peppers and my heart was set on baking a cake for my mother in a stove with a hole in it. Some version of rich, crusty old Mr. King—up till that time not living on our street—was sure to come down the hill in his wheelchair and rescue me if anything went wrong. But before I could start a cake at all I had to find out if we were poor, and poor enough; and my mother wouldn't tell me, she said she was too busy. I couldn't wait too long; I had to go on reading and soon Polly Pepper got into more trouble, some that was a little harder on her and easier on me."

-- "A Sweet Devouring," Eudora Welty

The Five Little Peppers and Mamsie

Warning! This page contains spoilers for all the books.

Polly Pepper's Chicken Pie

The Five Little Peppers are the creation of Harriett Mulford Stone, who later married her publisher, Daniel Lothrop, and wrote the novels under the pseudonym Margaret Sidney. The Peppers first saw light of day in two stories contributed to Lothrop's children's magazine, Wide Awake (later bought out by St. Nicholas), "Polly Pepper's Chicken Pie" and "Phronsie Pepper's New Shoes." Lothrop asked her for more stories of the Pepper family and the 12-book series was born.

One day on a trip into the country, when she was a little girl in the 1840's, Harriett Stone saw a little brown house that she fell in love with, and she began to make up elaborate stories about the house and the poor family, consisting of a mother and five children, who lived there, but it wasn't until 1878 that she set down the first Pepper tale, "Polly Pepper's Chicken Pie." The Lothrops went on to own and preserve "The Wayside" in Concord, Massachusetts, which had been once owned by Louisa May Alcott's family and later by Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife.

Phronsie Pepper's New Shoes

The Peppers are the archtype of the poor-in-money but rich-in-values family very typical of Victorian times. A widow, Mrs. Pepper struggles to make ends meet by sewing "jackets and sacks," helped by daughter Polly (real name Mary, after her mother), who helps her with basting and sewing as well as already being an accomplished cook at age ten. Eleven year old Ben (Ebenezer) helps support the family by chopping wood and doing other chores for Deacon Blodgett, helped occasionally by nine year old Joel and eight year old David. The youngest child, Phronsie (short for Sophronia) is just a cute child who the Peppers pet and cuddle as much as possible. Her age is not given in the first story, but she's apparently about four.

The Peppers are barely making ends meet as the first book opens. Ben and Polly have learned how to read, but Joel and David cannot and Mrs. Pepper is determined to get some schooling for them all somehow. One wonders how the jolly Pepper children grow up so healthy (they are always described as being "chubby" and active) when their diet seems to consist mainly of potatoes, cornmeal mush and molasses, and brown bread; vegetables don't ever seem to cross their table, unless a kindly neighbor sends some over or the boys earn them by picking stones from the farmers' fields. They can't afford eggs or white flour and have raisins only once in a while as a treat.

However, despite the hardships, the children seem to thrive simply on their mother's love and each other. Both Ben and Polly tell marvelous stories that keep the younger children occupied at night and Ben sometimes draws pictures for their amusement. When the younger boys are not occupied with helping Ben, they play games in "the orchard" (a lone apple tree in the back yard).

The Peppers' "Little Brown House" (this is always how their home is described) in Badgertown is almost as much a character as the children. Even after their fortunes change, the Little Brown House remains in the family for them to visit and in every book, the Peppers reminisce about their times there with much joy. The "Little Brown House" is on Primrose Lane. Badgertown is near Hingham (it is assumed that's Hingham, Massachusetts, and that the Kings live in Boston, but it's never actually said); other towns in the area are Boxville, Cherryville, and Toad Hollow. There is a brook not far from the Little Brown House called the Cherry Brook.

Little Phronsie Pepper must be one of the most remembered typically Victorian children in literature. Even as the series progresses, she keeps her childish innocence. Polly at ten is already a capable housewife from having to help her mother. Phronsie at nine (in Five Little Peppers Midway) is still a sweet innocent who has a family of dozens of dolls and still cuddles with her adopted grandfather. She's not developmentally challenged; she's just been brought up so simply that she remains a wide-eyed waif for much of the series. Phronsie cries—not in temper tantrums or selfish pursuits, but for her family and friends and her beloved "Grandpapa"—more than any child ever written about (perhaps except for Elsie Dinsmore); in fact the whole Pepper clan is liable to indulge in an emotional outburst or two every other chapter—they "roar," "blubber," and "wail" with unnerving frequency, except for sensible Ben, but even he has had the occasional lachrymose moment.

Halfway through the first book, the Pepper children and their mother have a change of fortune. Phronsie's rescue (there she is again) by wealthy Jasper King and his dog Prince set in motion a series of events that finally have the entire family adopted by the wealthy King family. But success does not spoil the Peppers and they love their old friends in Badgertown as much as ever.

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More About the Characters

The Pepper Family

Polly

Polly (Mary) is ten when Five Little Peppers and How They Grew opens and turns 11 in what is probably late spring halfway through the book. She has brown hair and eyes. Polly is Mrs. Pepper's mainstay. While her mother is sewing, Polly takes care of the housework, cares for Phronsie, cooks what little food the family has, and amuses the children with her stories. She is already a capable housewife and can bake cakes, bread, and biscuits. Polly is musically inclined and when she goes to live with the Kings, she studies music (specifically piano) and eventually becomes a piano teacher, and becomes the leader of the group of schoolgirls she is part of because she is both so loveable and so sensible. She later marries Jasper and they have two children, Elyot (Jasper's middle name) and Barby (Barbara, named after Jasper's mother).


 

Ben

Ben (Ebenezer) is eleven when the story opens and has blue eyes and brown hair. Even at his tender age, he is the alternative breadwinner for the Pepper family: he chops wood for Deacon Blodgett and Deacon Brown, and does other errands and chores. He also has a talent for drawing amusing or exciting pictures that his brothers and sisters love. When the family goes to live with the Kings he attends school, but astounds many people when he decides not to go on to college as Joel and David do but instead becomes an office boy at Cabot and Van Meter and works his way up in the business. As an adult he has become a valuable member of the firm and is apparently romantically interested in Charlotte Chatterton, the grand-niece of Mr. King's cousin Eunice.


 

Joel

Joel is age nine as the book opens and has black hair and eyes like his mother. Joel is the "harum-scarum" member of the Pepper brood, lively and mischievous, and if there's some sort of trouble for the children to get into, Joel is usually in the center of it. While he has been known to get into fights with other boys and has a hot temper, he is in general a good-hearted soul who will fight for what he believes in or for anyone being abused or mistreated. He is not much of a student, but studies "for Mamsie's sake," loving sports and hi-jinks more. Once in the first book he jokingly says he is going to be a minister (because ministers get good things to eat). He later attends Harvard, actually does become a minister in a large New York church, and appears to become involved with one of Polly's music students, Amy Loughead, whom he originally saw as a featherheaded girl.


 

David

David, age eight (or perhaps seven, because it's never mentioned) when the first book opens, is the quiet, thoughtful boy of the family. He is Joel's shadow and Joel will not go anywhere without him, so he gets involved in many of Joel's "scrapes" without meaning to. He and Joel perform many small chores like picking out crooked nails, picking rocks from farmers' fields, and other tasks to earn small amounts of money. His trustworthiness endears him to Mr. Atkins, the Badgertown grocer, who sometimes allows him to work in the store. Once able to go to school, he's an excellent student and wins honors, also attends Harvard (where he's nicknamed "Davina," to Joel's disapproval, because he's so gentle) and later becomes a college instructor at a large Midwestern university where he soon is considered for a professorship. "Davie" is rather the "lost" Pepper as his character is overwhelmed by the other children. He's not really even described like the other four are and it is only presumed he has brown hair like Polly, although it's described in later books as "light." His eyes are blue.


 

Phronsie

Phronsie, christened Sophronia, is age four as the series opens, with blond hair and brown eyes, and is cute and quaint and remains so for most of the series. It is telling to compare her to Polly, who at ten could take care of a house; Phronsie at ten is still sheltered and petted and still plays with dolls. As a poor child she has two beloved dolls, Seraphina and Baby, and later her adopted "Grandpapa," the former imperious Mr. King, spoils her by purchasing her dolls all the time until she has a closet full of them (she once good-heartedly gives up all but a few of them to some orphaned girls). When she is eight years old, she is willed Dunraven Lodge, the estate of Eunice Chatterton, which, after Mrs. Chatterton's death, she turns into a home for orphan girls. Phronsie eventually falls in love with a young man named Roslyn May, despite Mr. King's efforts to keep her a child with him always.


 

'Mamsie' Pepper

Mamsie, Mary Bartlett Pepper, has black eyes and dark hair. She married the children's father, an Englishman, when young and was widowed soon after Phronsie "was small." To support her family, she chiefly sews jackets and "sacks" and other clothing for Mr. Atkins at the general store, but she can be found anywhere there is work to do: repairing the parlor carpeting at the parsonage, helping her neighbors make soap or preserves in exchange for a few cents which will buy the family cornmeal and potatoes. It turns out she is a cousin of wealthy Mason Whitney, who married Jasper King's sister Marian, but was too proud to contact her family after her husband's death. After she and the children have been taken in by the Kings, she marries Dr. Adoniram Fisher, the "little doctor" who so many times treated the Pepper children without charge and who saved Polly's eyesight when she had the measles. Later they have a child of their own named King.


 

We don't learn much more about Mr. Pepper in the four "main" books besides that he was English; since several of the children have blue eyes I presume Mr. Pepper did as well, possibly he was fair-haired. Ben remembers his father slightly but the rest of the children do not. We find out in The Stories Polly Pepper Told that his name was Samuel and that the pretty china cup kept in a place of honor in the cabinet of the Little Brown House was his as a boy, handed down from his father who was also named Samuel, handed down from his father named Samuel, et. al.

The Little Brown House (for Sidney makes the house as much of a character as the people) is the small home where the Peppers live. Despite their hard times there, they love their home and even after the family is "adopted" by Jasper King and his family, the Peppers keep the Little Brown House and visit it occasionally, most memorably in Five Little Peppers Midway, and later Phronsie and her husband take possession of it. The house has a big kitchen, large enough to have a corner where Mary Pepper and Polly do the sewing (the window faces west so they will have the maximum light to do their work without artificial light), Mrs. Pepper's bedroom, where Phronsie still sleeps in her old crib and Polly sleeps in a "shake-down" on the floor, and a loft where the boys sleep. There is also "the Provision Room," as Polly calls it, where the Peppers' meager food supply is kept, a shed that is tacked onto the house and is reached by a short flight of stairs. The front doorstep is of stone and the front door is painted green. (Green doors seem popular in Badgertown; the Beebes also have a green door.)

Other Badgertown Folks

Mr. Samuel & Mrs. Sarah (referred to as "Almira" in Five Little Peppers and Their Friends) Henderson are the Peppers' kindly minister and his wife. They help the family frequently when they are poor. They have two sons, Peletiah and Ezekiel, and for a time care for Rachel, an orphan girl the Peppers have taken in. The Hendersons later go to Europe with the Peppers/Fishers/Kings and then become instructors at Dunraven, Phronsie's home for orphan girls. Jerusha Henderson is the minister's spinster sister, who can quail Polly with a glance; she's a large, peppery, no-nonsense woman who says what she thinks.

Grandma Bascom is not related to the Peppers; she's just called that by all the neighbors. She's an elderly (obviously) woman, hard of hearing, but loving and a repository of "receipts" for cakes and herbs.

Mr. and Mrs. Beebe, an elderly couple, own the Badgertown shoe store and sold Phronsie her first pair of new shoes. Mr. Beebe's first initial is J. They help the Peppers when the children get the measles and many years later assist Polly and Jasper's children as well. Their home is in the rear and upstairs of the shoe store.

Dr. Adoniram Fisher is the Badgertown physician who treats the Pepper children during their bout with the measles without taking a fee. He's a small, quick-moving man who is devoted to his patients and medicine in general. When the Pepper children were growing up, he had two sisters to support, but when that obligation was fulfilled he marries Mary Pepper, whom he has always loved, and they have a son, King. He's short, kindly, wears glasses, and is interested in improving medical treatment.

Mr. Atkins is the Badgertown postman and runs the general store (his name is Abiah or Silas or Seth, and his wife is Jane—or Sarah, depending on which story you read <g>), and John Tisbett drives the stagecoach that goes through town.

Miss Judith Parrott is an elderly recluse, the only wealthy person in the Badgertown area. In later books, she takes a shine to the Pepper children, as most people do, and does them several kindnesses.

The Kings and Family, and Servants

Jasper Elyot King is about twelve when the Peppers first meet him. He has "honest grey eyes" and brown hair and owns a "big black dog" named Prince. (Prince is drawn as a Labrador Retriever in one of the Pepper books, but I suspect he is a Newfoundland, as they were very popular dogs in that day; again, however, we are not told Prince's breed. Prince lives to be a very old dog; he is still living with the Kings ten years later in Five Little Peppers Grown Up.) Jasper is visiting Hingham with his father for the summer when he meets the Peppers. Initially Phronsie cannot pronounce his name correctly and calls him "Japser", which his nephews find very funny. Jasper attends the Pemberton School at the time he meets the Peppers. He later goes into the publishing business and marries Polly.

Jasper Horatio King, known as Horatio King, is Jasper's father. He seems to be somewhat of an older man, very irascible, does not like to be taken away from his home and business. Initially, he gives Jasper permission to visit the Peppers with reluctance, but is charmed by the well-bred family and especially by little Phronsie, who becomes his pet. She adores him equally and is always ready to listen to or go somewhere with her "Grandpapa." Other members of society think his change after the Peppers move into the house is remarkable; previously they had thought him cold and unfeeling.

Marian King Whitney is Jasper's sister, who is quite a bit older than he is, married to John Mason Whitney (known as Mason). She has light hair and blue eyes. When we meet her, the couple have three boys, Percy, age ten; Van, age nine; and "little Dick," age four. The Pepper children call her "Aunty Whitney." Joel and David later go to Dr. Marks' boarding school with Percy and Van, then Percy goes to Harvard along with the Pepper boys while Van goes into his father's business. Dick is last seen in Phronsie Pepper as a college student and Percy becomes a lawyer.

Eunice Chatterton, a thin, unpleasant woman who married the Kings' cousin Algernon (his name is Fletcher in the story as originally serialized in Wide Awake), becomes a houseguest at the Kings a few years after the Peppers arrive. The snooty woman cannot believe her family has taken in this "countrified" family not of their social class and "cuts" the Peppers at every opportunity. However, in the end she wills Phronsie her family home, Dunraven Lodge.

Thomas is the Kings' coachman, Jane one of the maids, "Old Turner" the gardener, who shares Polly's love of flowers and sends her a bouquet every morning, and Jefferson is the family's "colored" butler. Candace, the widow of "an old colored servant of Mr. King's," also appears in some books; in Five Little Peppers Midway and Ben Pepper, she owns a shop and makes "notions" and baked treats, but subsequently works on the staff at Dunraven. Sarah is one of the Kings' black maids. There are also other maids, Joanna, who is supposed to take care of Phronsie, and Jane. (Unfortunately, all the black characters are presented in a very stereotypical manner, as was common then.) There is also another butler named Hudson, as well as Monsieur Tourtelotte, Polly's music tutor when she first moves in with the Kings, but he is not part of the staff.

Polly attends Miss Amelia Salisbury's school (Miss Salisbury is helped by her sister, Miss Anstice) and makes many friends including Cathie Harrison, Silvia Horne, and Clem Forsyth; the chief amongst them, however, is Alexia Rhys, who lives with her dull, frequently annoying (even to adults) aunt. Polly apparently has the patience of a saint, as, personally, I don't understand how she puts up with Alexia, who is possessive, selfish, and highly excitable. Alexia has "light" hair and blue eyes.

Male friends of the household include Hamilton Dyce, an older gentleman who later marries Mary Taylor, one of the girls' teachers; Pickering Dodge, whose uncle Richard Cabot (his wife is Felicia) is Ben's employer, and who falls in love with Polly; Clare (his last name is never mentioned), and Livingston Bayley, who also has a crush on Polly in the later books.

Alexia Rhys later marries Pickering Dodge and they have a son, Algernon Rhys Dodge, who Alexia dotes upon.

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The Books

FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AND HOW THEY GREW (1881) Phronsie and PollyDavid Joel and Phronsie

Mary Pepper, known to her children as "Mamsie," struggles to raise her fatherless brood by doing sewing, which Polly helps her with, as well as taking care of the children, while Ben (occasionally assisted by Joel and David) chops wood and does other errands for Deacon Blodgett. Young Phronsie is the pet of the entire family and even of the neighbors. When almost all of the children get the measles (David, described as the "most sickly" of the children, apparently skips them completely based on the narrative), Mrs. Pepper is put to the test when the disease almost blinds Polly and then seriously effects Joel. Polly is delighted on her first day using "her new eyes" (they are bandaged for weeks to keep light from damaging them further) when Dr. Fisher presents her with a new stove. Soon after, Phronsie is kidnapped by one of the innumerable dishonest Italian organ grinders found in Victorian fiction. She is rescued by Jasper King, the son of a rich railroad magnate, and his dog Prince, who are staying in Hingham for the summer, and the children become fast friends. After the Kings go home, Jasper persuades his father to ask Mrs. Pepper to have Polly come to stay with them and study music. Eventually Phronsie also comes to stay at the house to assauge Polly's homesickness and she becomes a great pet of old Mr. King, who buys her innumerable dolls. Finally, after Mrs. Pepper and the boys come to visit, Mr. King decides he wants them all to stay and finds a way around Mrs. Pepper's pride to keep them there. At the end, Mason Whitney, husband of Jasper's sister Marian and father to their three boys, Percy, Van and Dick, returns home and discovers that Mary Pepper is his cousin, whom he lost track of after she was married.

Read Five Little Peppers and How They Grew online.

FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS MIDWAY (1890)

The Peppers have been comfortably living in the Kings' home for four years and are excitedly putting on a Christmas play which Polly and Jasper have written when Mr. King's haughty cousin Eunice Chatterton comes to visit. Mrs. Chatterton is aghast that the Kings have taken some lowly little family "out of a ditch" (so to speak) and treats the family meanly, even later attempting to train Polly to be her maid. When proud Polly rebels, Mrs. Chatterton works her wiles on Phronsie instead. After Christmas, the Peppers and the Whitneys visit the Little Brown House for a few days and the boys enjoy coasting until Dick breaks his leg. He remains at the parsonage with his mother while Dr. Fisher tends his leg. Soon the children find that Dr. Fisher has proposed to Mrs. Pepper and the children joyfully plan her wedding, while Polly contends with her schoolfriends, including the excitable and possessive Alexia Rhys. At the end of the story, even Mrs. Chatterton's heart has been melted by the influence of little Phronsie and when she leaves the King house at the request (read: demand) of Mr. King, she gives him a note stating that she has made Phronsie her heir. As the story concludes, Joel and David go back to school and Ben remains at Cabot and Van Meter, but Polly and Phronsie accompany the Kings and their mother and stepfather to Europe. (That story is not told until 1902.) Joel is thirteen in the novel and Phronsie is eight (making Polly fourteen, Ben fifteen, and David either eleven or twelve).

Read Five Little Peppers Midway online.

FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS GROWN UP (1892)

Polly, now age 20, continues teaching music at Miss Salisbury's school, which she formerly attended as a student, and mentors Amy Loughead, a rather flutter-headed girl whose only other family is a brother, Jack, who has set his eye on Polly. Polly is later offered an improper marriage proposal by Livingston Bayley, and Pickering Dodge also declares his love for her. Meanwhile, Ben works his way up at Cabot and Van Meter, the boys go to school and Phronsie (now fourteen and as naïve as ever) is privately tutored while supervising the orphans at Dunraven, the school she has set up using her inheritance from Mrs. Chatterton, and the Kings entertain proud Charlotte Chatterton, who is a beautiful singer and the grand-niece of Eunice Chatterton. Phronsie also does her best to help Charlotte feel at home, seeking something to occupy herself after her best friend Helen Fargo dies of diphtheria. Later family and friends are involved in a train wreck while on their way to visit Jasper, and Polly becomes guardian of Johnny, a baby whose mother was killed in the wreck. Helen Fargo's mother later adopts Johnny. Polly is also instrumental in talking Mr. King out of taking Jasper away from his publishing job. After Polly refuses both Jack Loughead and Pickering Dodge, Jasper proposes to Polly (and she has been so gently reared that "Mamsie" has to interpret Jasper's marriage proposal to her!). "Mamsie" and Dr. Fisher have also become the parents of a little boy, King, who is a baby in the story.

Read Five Little Peppers Grown Up online.

PHRONSIE PEPPER (1897)

King, Elyot, Barby Phronsie and Royal

According to the introduction, Margaret Sidney intended this to be the last of the Pepper books, but the series continued on for eight more volumes. Phronsie, now twenty, is living with Polly and Jasper and their two children, Elyot and Barby, plus their houseguest, younger half-brother King (King must be about seven), who is staying with them while "Mamsie" and Dr. Fisher are in Europe. They have built an estate called The Oaks, which is close to the Little Brown House, which the Peppers have kept and which is occasionally let to friends, including Mrs. Fargo and Johnny. A headstrong girl named Grace Turner disguises herself to attend one of Polly's musicales, makes a fool of herself, but is forgiven and embraced by Polly and her family. Phronsie is in love with Roslyn May, a sculptor she met in Europe while there with her "Grandpapa" King, but will not marry him because Mr. King disapproves (in reality, he selfishly wants to keep her for himself). However, Mr. King relents and just as he tells Phronsie she may marry Roslyn, the artist comes down with low fever (typhoid) in Rome, under the care of "Mamsie" and Dr. Fisher. Mr. King and Phronsie go there at once, accompanied by Joel, who is now a minister and who helps save the ship they are on after it catches fire. The rest of the family also goes to Rome to see Roslyn and Phronsie finally married. At the end of the story, Phronsie and her husband decide to live in the Little Brown House. It is implied that Joel is romantically interested in one of Polly's former music students, Amy Loughead.

Read Phronsie Pepper online

THE STORIES POLLY PEPPER TOLD [TO THE FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS IN THE LITTLE BROWN HOUSE] (1899) (a.k.a. POLLY PEPPER'S BOOK)

Polly telling stories

If you remember all the situations in The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew and The Five Little Peppers Midway where Polly settles the children down to tell a story, well, these are the stories she told, complete with framing sequences about either the Pepper children or the children along with Jasper and the Whitney boys (the stories involving Jasper and the Whitneys begin in Chapter 14). Polly makes the near-starvation days of the Little Brown House sound so appealing that the Whitney boys, brought up in pampered luxury, wish they had been brought up there. We have the story that is told after Phronsie's toe has been "pounded" ("The Little White Chicken"), the story Polly tells Phronsie when she is fretful with the measles ("Mr. Father Kangaroo"), the story Polly had to tell to keep the children from guessing about the Christmas preparations ("The Mince-Pie Boy"), and the story Polly tells to Dick the day he falls down the stairs ("The China Mug," about the china figures on her father's mug), plus others invented for the volume. Polly retells Sidney's first two Five Little Peppers short stories, and, while her stories are usually of the fairy tale or fantasy sort, there are also other stories of the Peppers' lives, including the time they were snow- bound in the Little Brown House and about a play they put on in the "orchard."

Read The Stories Polly Pepper Told online.

THE ADVENTURES OF JOEL PEPPER (1900)

This is a story about the Peppers before they meet Jasper—in fact, judging by this story it apparently became obvious to Margaret Sidney that the Peppers poor and beset by problems are much more interesting than the Peppers rich, because although this story takes place after the children have suffered through the measles, nothing else that occurs in The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew is mentioned in this book; it's almost like an alternate universe Pepper story (either that, or some of these tales take place during interstices between Jasper's visit and then in the fall after he leaves). In the original book the new stove is delivered just as Polly's eyes are recovering after her having the measles and a few weeks later the Peppers meet Jasper. In this book the Peppers are recovered from the measles, but the crack in the old stove still needs to be stuffed and the year proceeds without them encountering the Kings! The book is a series of narratives mostly about Joel and his exploits, with David tagging along most of the time. The children make their own circus and the boys get to ride with Mr. Tisbet on his stage to a neighboring town, where they are horrified to see a boy their own age being beaten by his father. At the end the children go on a sleigh ride.

Sidney's original Pepper story, "Polly Pepper's Chicken Pie," is referenced in this book. The other short story, "Phronsie Pepper's New Shoes," is referenced in several of the books, including this one and Five Little Peppers Midway.

Read The Adventures of Joel Pepper online.

FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS ABROAD (1902)

This takes place directly after Five Little Peppers Midway, as Polly, Jasper, Phronsie, Mr. King, and the Fishers go to Europe along with Mr. and Mrs. Henderson from Badgertown. Aboard ship they meet Tom Selwyn, a boy who is rude to his elderly grandfather until the Peppers patch up things between them, and Fanny Vanderburgh, a schoolmate of Polly's (not a bad girl, but easily led) and her snobbish mother, who snub the Selwyns until Mrs. Vanderburgh discovers old Mr. Selwyn is the Earl of Cavendish. Social climbing Mrs. Vanderburgh keeps trying to ingraciate herself and Fanny in with the Selwyns, until she unintentionally insults Mrs. Selwyn and poor Fanny is then "dragged" back to Paris instead of getting to stay with Polly. The party visits Holland (while Dr. Fisher investigates the hospitals wherever they go), where they escape a hotel fire and befriend Adela Grey and her grandmother, celebrate Polly's 15th birthday, go on to Belgium and Germany, then to the Alps and Paris and end up in England visiting the Selwyns before the Hendersons head home and the children go to school in Dresden during the winter.

Read Five Little Peppers Abroad online.

FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AT SCHOOL (1903)

Joel and David attend the Marks School for Boys along with Van and Percy, where Joel, a mediocre student at best, tries to govern his temper and cope with Jenkins, the school bully. Meanwhile, Polly and her classmates, on the way home from an excursion via the railroad, are involved in a train accident where the brakeman is killed and Alexia is hurt, and Polly's club starts a fund to help the man's family (his widow and six children, including a girl who would love to play piano). Back at Dr. Mark's school, Joel adopts a mongrel dog he names Sinbad, and Miss Salisbury's girls go on their long-awaited picnic, after which they must take refuge from a thunderstorm in an old mansion owned by the Clemcys, a reclusive brother and sister. Later, Polly helps Jasper talk to Pickering Dodge about doing better in school so he doesn't get expelled. The clubs get up recitations and a concert to help the brakeman's family and enlist Joel's friend Tom Beresford, whom Joel has brought home from school with him, and Tom is able to ease the pain when Phronsie is accidentally stabbed by Joel in the arm when she startles him while he is making tickets for the event. Once back to school, Joel receives a punishment that becomes a reward, and the Salisbury girls find out Miss Anstice has become engaged to Mr. John Clemcy.

This is a "midquel" to Five Little Peppers Midway, taking place after the "Princess Clotilde" play is performed, but while Mrs. Chatterton is away (she returns near the end of the book) and Joel also reminsces about the circus he had at the Little Brown House, as told in The Adventures of Joel Pepper.

Read Five Little Peppers at School online.

FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AND THEIR FRIENDS (1904)

It's summer and Phronsie is "kidnapped" (again) but more benevolently by a beggar girl called "Rag" and all the children as well as their friends are participating in a garden party charity fair as the book opens. When "Rag" returns to visit Phronsie with welts on her arm, the Peppers take her in, give her the name "Rachel," and send her to live with the Hendersons in Badgertown. The undisciplined child shakes up the quiet Henderson boys but it is discovered that she can sing beautifully. Rich elderly Miss Parrott takes a fancy to Rachel after allowing the girl to visit for the weekend and is eventually allowed to take her in. Meanwhile, Larry Keep, one of Joel's friends is struck and hurt by a tallyho coach, and Joel himself befriends a poor boy named Jack, a grocer's son, while Polly and Jasper and their friends form a Comfort Committee and start a cooking school for both sexes. When Rachel returns home, she discovers the missing ten dollar bill, a contribution that Joel lost at the charity fair.

Read Five Little Peppers and Their Friends online.

BEN PEPPER (1905)

A week before Christmas, Ben and Polly take the younger children shopping. Joel speaks rudely to a large woman who jostles Phronsie; a few minutes later the woman has an accident and the Peppers help her to get home. The woman, Henrietta Van Ruypen, takes a fancy to the children and asks them to help her get gifts together for poor children. Ben persuades her that the poor children need clothing as well as toys, so she has him help her shop for them. She finally decides to send the gifts and clothing to a poor widow in the mountains who used to do her laundry during the summer and who has seven children. Christmas is postponed when a telegram arrives from Jasper's school: he's been hurt saving another boy in a dormitory fire. Mr. King takes Ben with him when he travels to the school and Ben befriends the boy—Cornelius Leffingwell, called "Pip"—an orphan being cared for by the headmaster, who is not well-liked by his classmates. When Jasper can finally go home, Pip comes with him. In the meantime, Mrs. Van Ruypen's box arrives at the home of Mrs. Hansell, the widow, who is in such desperate straits that she was about to have her children taken to the poorhouse. The contents of the box not only relieve her cares, but she is requested by Mrs. Van Ruypen to send three of the children to visit her. Matthew, Mark, and mischievous Elvira (the others are Luke, Matilda, Jane, and baby Susan) are dispatched to Mrs. Van Ruypen's and the Peppers help to make them feel welcome, although their arrival quite cuts into the late Christmas celebration they are holding in honor of Jasper's homecoming. Mr. King's business associate, Mr. Cabot, sends them the gift of a monkey from India; Jacko makes a shambles of the bathroom at one point and is finally given to old Candace, who wants him for company. While they are celebrating Christmas, Mrs. Van Ruypen becomes curious about Pip and asks Mr. King about him. It turns out he is her grandson, the son of her daughter Emily, who married "badly" and ran away to South America. As the book ends, Ben tells his mother he does not want to go on to college; he wishes to go into business immediately to help pay Mr. King back for the kindnesses he has shown them. Mr. King, who does not like it, but does it for Ben's sake, asks Mr. Cabot if he will take Ben in his company, Cabot and Van Meter, as an office boy, to work his way up in the company.

This book would appear to take place between Five Little Peppers and How They Grew and Five Little Peppers Midway, since in the latter book, Mr. Cabot comments that Ben has been working for him for two years. However, Mrs. Pepper is already married to Dr. Fisher in this book and their child, King, has been born.

Read Ben Pepper online.

FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS IN THE LITTLE BROWN HOUSE (1907)

This is twelve short stories about the Peppers before their "adoption" by the Kings. The first two are Sidney's original stories for Wide Awake introducing the family, rather than the retold versions in The Stories Polly Pepper Told. In "Polly Pepper's Chicken Pie," Ben (the only one of the children to ever have tasted a chicken pie, when he was visiting a neighboring farm with his father) finds a chicken during the summer and the children eagerly wait as it is fattened up for Thanksgiving, only to have it run away the Sunday before. The Peppers instead bake their only livestock, an ill-tempered old gray goose, in the pie. In "Phronsie Pepper's New Shoes," Phronsie receives her first pair of new shoes ever after cutting her thumb with the bread knife. In the others, Joel and David ride with the ragman on his rounds, then help Ben at Deacon Blodgett's and are treated to dinner, Jasper is featured in "Baking Day" (in which a prophetic Phronsie says she will live in the Little Brown House "forever"), Dr. Fisher brings Phronsie a white kitten (which is promptly forgotten for the rest of the series), the Beebes entertain the younger children for the day, Joel does work for wealthy skinflint Eli Peters, the children care for an ill Grandma Bascom instead of riding in Miss Parrott's coach to Cherryville, Joel and David ride Mr. Tisbett's stage to Cherryville and contend with an escaped cat, the children receive a visit from the Beebes after Joel eats Phronsie's treat, Polly and Phronsie spend the day at the parsonage helping Mrs. Henderson clean out a trunk in the garret (Mr. Henderson is referred to as "Adoniram" in this story!), the children must miss the circus but in pretending to have "company" have a real visitor in the form of a monkey, and Polly and Phronsie's excursion in Dr. Fisher's gig results in the family taking care of a baby for a few days. In most of the stories, you see some of the Peppers' neighbors, most of whom try to sharp Mr. Beebe or Mr. Atkins out of money! Not a polite reflection on the Badgertown folks.

Read Five Little Peppers in the Little Brown House online.

OUR DAVIE PEPPER (1916)

This is another Badgertown "midquel," which begins with Ben's measles ("Trouble for the Little Brown House") and ends just after Polly's soujourn to the Kings ("Education Ahead"). While carrying mending home, David is abused by skinflint Eli Peters; Mamsie stops other townsfolk from confronting the man and does so herself. David is terrified as each member of the family sickens, then tries to help as all get well. One day Phronsie is hurt when she follows him to the woodpile, so he runs to Polly for help, but Phronsie is picked up on the road by the motherless Browns, a farm couple. A neighbor who has seen Phronsie in their wagon takes David to find her. Once all are home, Mrs. Pepper is summoned to help nurse an injured neighbor. The children are so desolate without her that Polly allows them to play a game called "Old Father Dubbin" (the game is never explained, just that it's saved to distract the children when things are particularly hard). The Hendersons try to help them, including asking David to help Mrs. Henderson clean the attic. Finally Dr. Fisher and Mrs. Henderson persuade wealthy and reclusive Miss Parrott to have her servant Mary Pote nurse the neighbor so Mrs. Pepper can come home. In an effort to help the family, Mr. Atkins gives David a job sweeping and tidying at the store. One day when he is out buying meat, a man tries to rob the till, but David stops him. Miss Parrott hears about the event and takes David and Polly to her home to find out exactly what happened. She feeds the two lunch, tells them stories about two of her old playthings, and gives Polly a primrose plant and David her old slate. David later helps Grandma Bascom while she is sick and then goes on a fishing expedition with Joel and the two Henderson boys, Peletiah (who is rather slow) and Ezekiel. Later Mr. Atkins is surprised when Dr. Fisher buys Polly a stove. One day Mrs. Pepper takes Phronsie and David to the Brown farm while Joel and Polly stay home. The two youngest children enjoy their day (but are troubled when the Browns hint about their staying there permanently) while Joel and Polly must contend with their guests, sulky Peletiah, and Ezekiel. While the ministers' boys are being entertained, a neighbor boy, Jimmy Skinner, sneaks into Mrs. Pepper's bedroom and steals a string of gold beads that belonged to Mr. Pepper's grandmother so he can sell them to attend the circus, but later recants and returns it to Mrs. Pepper. When Miss Parrott sends all the Peppers to the circus for the day, Mrs. Pepper requests Jimmy be allowed to come along, so that he may know some kindness that will "turn him around." They all enjoy the show and menagerie, and Jimmy gives up his share of cake in the copious luncheon Miss Parrott has provided to a hungry boy and then later finds a job that he had previously spurned. When David's shoe needs repair, he visits Mr. Beebe's, and frightens a customer by racing home when an organ grinder and his monkey come appear, so Mr. Beebe tells the woman about Phronsie's near-kidnapping. David is already upset by Mr. King's letter asking Polly to come stay with them, but they decide it is best for her to go. As the book ends, a letter from Polly cheers the family, knowing that their decision has been a wise one.

Again, the timeline of this book shows differences from Five Little Peppers and How They Grew although it runs concurrently. In the original iteration, the children get the measles, and it is the day Polly gets to take the bandages from her eyes that the stove is delivered. After they get the new stove, they meet Jasper. In this story, Polly is already well, having helped search for Phronsie after she is taken away by the Browns and then taking care of the family while Mrs. Pepper is away, through the fishing trip, before Mr. Atkins tells the story of Dr. Fisher buying the stove. It's also mentioned that Jasper baked with the Pepper children while they still had the old stove, which was not the case in the original book.

Mr. Henderson is called "Adoniram" again. Miss Parrott's name is Judith.

Read Our Davie Pepper online.

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Five Little Peppers Movies

Columbia Pictures made four short (all about one hour) black-and-white films about the Peppers. The films updated the story to "modern" times (1939) and considerably changed the storyline. The first film resembles the original story only superficially and then goes off onto its own tangent; the remainder of the films continue the trend. Dorothy Ann Seese plays Phronsie with the "cute meter" turned up full blast, almost a junior Shirley Temple—she even says "Oh, my goo'ness!" The Peppers look pretty prosperous for a family barely making ends meet, too!

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (1939)

In the first film, Polly cares for her brothers and sisters while her mother does factory work in the small town of Gusty Corners. The childrens' father, John Pepper, a mining engineer, was killed while surveying a copper mine. He left Polly fifty percent of the shares in the mine. Coincidentally, both Mr. J.H. King and his business rival are looking for the shares in this particular mine. The kids befriend Jasper when Polly and Joey deliver a dress to a woman who works at the country home of old Mr. King, and Jasper persuades his grandfather (!!!!) to visit the family. Mr. King begins to like the family and even buys Polly a new stove to help her. Then, while Mrs. Pepper is away, Phronsie comes down with the measles and all quarantined in one house. Polly then collapses from a combination of measles and overwork, losing her sight, and Mr. King moves the Peppers into his mansion. After she recovers, Polly overhears Mr. King and Mr. Decker talking about the mine and thinks Mr. King was nice to them just to get the mine shares. He finally makes them understand, but instead of selling him her mine shares, Polly asks to be taken into partnership. and Mr. King agrees. (58 minutes)

The Five Little Peppers at Home (1940)

Mr. King has sunk all his savings into the copper mine that he shares with Polly. Now the note has come due on the mine, but he cannot pay it because the mine still has not produced copper. He plans to sell to his business rival, Mr. Decker, but the canny businessman wants to wait until King goes into bankruptcy so he can buy it for a song. Faced with losing the house, the Peppers and Mr. King and Jasper (and Martin, the butler, who doesn't want to leave the children!) move back to Gusty Corners. The children cannot understand why they are moving and, once back at the old house, there are numerous humorous scenes of nine people sharing the small house (and one bathroom!). Jasper finally proposes that he and Polly ask his Aunt Martha for the needed money, but the old woman shows up at the house demanding Jasper go with her, which he does hoping to persuade her to lend his father the money. Meanwhile, Martin reveals he once wanted to be a mining engineer. He and the children take Mr. Pepper's old equipment and go to inspect the mine, which is about two miles from the Pepper home. Predictably, all are trapped in a mine cave-in except Ben, who is able to go for help; the children are rescued and a large copper deposit is found in the mine, but instead of going back to the old mansion, Mr. King decides to use his money to build a new house in Gusty Corners instead.(65 minutes)

To modern eyes, there is an absolutely incredible sequence where Martin the butler shares a bed with Joey and Davie (he also does so in the next two movies)! Can you imagine filming such a scene today?

Out West With the Peppers (1940)

The Peppers and the Kings return from an aborted trip to Europe because Mrs. Pepper was taken ill; her doctor says she needs a rest at a higher elevation, so mother and children travel to Oregon to stay with Mrs. Pepper's sister Alice and her humorless husband Jim, who drinks on the sly after telling Alice he has quit, at their boardinghouse. Jim hates having the children there and reacts with anger to everything they do. Ben finds a job doing deliveries for the local store, but the younger children are at odds and create mischief which only increases Jim's anger. Finally, enraged, he lets Phronsie's little bird out of its cage; in searching for the bird and leaving it a bread trail, the children lead a skunk into the house. Ole, one of the boarders who works at the nearby lumber camp, and Uncle Jim, later take the children on an outing into the woods, where Ole builds a raft for the three youngest to play on. The raft gets loose from its moorings with Phronsie, Joey and Davie aboard, and is swept downstream, in the path of the oncoming logs let loose from the flume. Ole is trapped trying to save them. Uncle Jim redeems himself by saving Ole and swimming out to the raft to save the little ones. He gets Phronsie a new bird and gives up drinking for good. (63 minutes)

The Five Little Peppers in Trouble (1940)

Snooty Martha Wilcox, Jasper's aunt, shows up wanting custody of Jasper because she sniffs at the conditions he is living in, since the new, larger house is still being built. Before Mrs. Wilcox can serve Mr. King with a warrant, he and Mrs. Pepper bundle all six children off to the Landsdowne Private School. (Joey and Davie try unsuccessfully to get this information about where they are going from Martin by playing a number of tricks on him.) The wealthy children snub the Peppers and make fun of them and the children are unhappy. One of the teachers talks Polly into attending school play tryouts, where she performs beautifully despite a classmate's attempt to sabotage her. One girl at least becomes Polly's friend. Then the three most snobbish girls drain the pool, knowing their classmates are going for a late-night swim, and plant Polly's scarf near the release valve. Two of the late-night swimmers fall in the empty pool but escape serious injury, and on the evidence of the scarf the headmistress expels the Peppers and Jasper, but not before Polly tells off the snobs. When the family returns home, Mr. King is served his warrant, but he manages to convince the judge that he can give Jasper everything that his aunt thinks he should have, so the entire family is going to Paris! (65 minutes)

This movie is listed as coming after the Western feature, but since the Kings and Peppers are returning from Paris in that film, perhaps it is possible that it was made, if not released, first?

Cast of movies:
Ben Pepper: Charles Peck
Polly Pepper: Edith Fellows
Joel Pepper: Tommy Bond
David Pepper: Jimmy Leake (first film only)/Bobby Larson
Phronsie Pepper: Dorothy Ann Seese
Mrs. Pepper: Dorothy Peterson
J.H. King: Clarence Kolb (first two movies)/Pierre Watkin (remaining movies)
Jasper King: Ronald Sinclair
Martin: Rex Evans
Martha Wilcox: Laura Treadwell (At Home)/Kathleen Howard (In Trouble)

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Links

• Book News Monthly Article About Margaret Sidney

• National Park Service Wayside Entry

• All About the Wayside

• Online Literature Bio

 

  Send me an e-mail

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