HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Rufus M.
Author: Eleanor Estes
Illustrator: Louis Slobodkin
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers, republished 2001
Related website(s): http://www.harcourt.com (publisher)
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. Rufus M. (published in 1943; republished in 2001 by First Harcourt Odyssey Classics, a division of Harcourt Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Dr., Orlando, FL 32887). Seven year old Rufus Moffat lives with his widowed Mama and older siblings Sylvie, Joey, and Jane, along with Catharine-the-Cat, in a house on Ashbellows Place in Cranbury, CT. Learning to write his name, which he signs Rufus M., so that he could get a library card even before he could read, he is a student in Miss Wells’s Room 3 at school. We follow Rufus over the next year as he knits washcloths for soldiers headed to World War I, encounters an invisible piano player, plays baseball with the “Fatal Four,” sees glowing eyes in the new sewer pipes to be installed along their street, finds money under the ice, plants beans in the victory garden for the war effort, digs for buried treasure, goes to the amusement park on an extremely foggy day, helps Jane pop tons of popcorn to sell for victory buttons, and attempts to learn ventriloquism.
Will the war ever end? When Rufus digs up his special beans every day to check on them, do they actually grow? And why is the new young minister, Mr. Abbot, spending so much time at the Moffat’s house? There are a few references to men rolling cigarettes, smoking pipes, and using tobacco, along with a couple of common euphemisms (gee, gosh), but Author Eleanor Estes transports the reader to another time when Rufus could take for granted the freedom to move about unsupervised in his neighborhood. One reviewer said that this charming story is warm, funny, and full of human failings, triumphs, frustrations, joys, selfless acts, solid family values, and good, old-fashioned imagination. Rufus is persistent and doesn’t let go of an idea until overwhelming evidence is presented to his very own eyes. He is also rather literal at times, and these qualities engender much humor, none of it intentional on his part.
Estes began her series about Rufus’s family with The Moffats. The next book is The Middle Moffat, a 1943 Newbery Honor Book in which Rufus’s sister Jane gets her due. Rufus M., which was a 1944 Newbery Honor Book, was next and is followed by The Moffat Museum. Her books about the Pye family, Ginger Pye and Pinky Pie, are also set in Cranbury. Another reviewer made the following observation. “The only negative side to this approach, and it’s a hallmark of nearly all her novels, is that they tend to be episodic with only the thinnest threads of continuity. No true narrative drives them. I doubt, though, that many readers would object – her characters are that funny and that true to life.” In these new editions, the original interior illustrations by Louis Slobodkin have been retained, but handsome new cover art by Tricia Tusa is supposed to give the books a fresh, timeless appeal for today’s readers. Personally, I happen to think that the older cover pictures are more “timeless.”