HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Middle Moffat
Author: Eleanor Estes
Illustrator: Louis Slobodkin
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers, republished 2001
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 7 – 10
Rating: ***** 5 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Estes, Eleanor. The Middle Moffat (published in 1942 by Harcourt Brace and World Inc., New York City, NY). Who is Jane Moffat, anyway? She lives with her widowed mother, who makes a living by sewing, three siblings, and Catharine-the-cat in a new house on Ashbellows Place in Cranbury, CT. Sister Sylvia at sixteen is the oldest. Brother Joey at thirteen is the oldest son. Brother Rufus at six is the youngest. So Jane decides to become the mysterious “Middle Moffat.” Her best friend is Nancy Stokes. Their near neighbor is “the oldest inhabitant” of Cranbury, Mr. Hannibal B. Buckle who is 99. Jane is secretly looking after him so that he can live to be one hundred. And Jane is the only person in town with enough courage to stand up to the frightful mechanical wizard, Wallie Bangs.
During the year of her life covered in the book, Jane helps the girls’ basketball team win the championship and gets to see a total solar eclipse. But can she survive the embarrassment of losing the head to her costume for the pageant? When she and Nancy have a falling out, will they ever make up? And does “the oldest inhabitant” make it to 100? The Middle Moffat is one of five books about the Moffat family written by author Eleanor Estes (1906-1988), who grew up in West Haven, Connecticut, which she renamed Cranbury for her classic stories about the Moffat and Pye families. A children’s librarian for many years, she launched her writing career with the publication of The Moffats in 1941. Two of her outstanding books about the Moffats— The Middle Moffat and Rufus M.—were Newbery Honor books, as was her short novel The Hundred Dresses. She won the Newbery Medal for Ginger Pye.
The euphemism “gee” appears several times, but this gentle story is humorous and entertaining as Jane, who is brutally honest and rather naïve, gets involved in some mild difficulties and enjoys simple adventures in an early twentieth century American small town. The “War” is mentioned briefly but isn’t remotely central to any of the story’s events. Is it World War II? Radio is discussed as being a new invention. Janey has ridden in automobile only three times in her life, and some people still travel by horse drawn vehicles. So perhaps the setting is World War I. One reviewer had a criticism. “As amusing as the stories are, they tend to drag on. The novel is over 300 pages long and it’s too much of a good thing.” Of course, the book was written at a time when children actually enjoyed reading and had attention spans that were not shortened by television sitcoms and video games.