The 81st entry upon my Classics Club list is one which I probably should have read as a child but never got around to – Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney, which was published in 1881. The novel, the first in a series, follows a family named, funnily enough, the Peppers. Their situation is a sad one; their father has died, and their mother has to take to tailoring to make ends meet. There are five lively, hardworking children of varying ages – Ben, Polly, Phronsie, David and Joel.
Sidney immediately launches one into their family dynamic within the walls of their ‘little brown house’. We find out about their familial problems and their relationships with one another from the outset. As a unit, the Peppers are charmingly constructed, and the comfort which they feel with one another has been beautifully demonstrated. The young children look up to the older ones, and in many ways, I was reminded of Louisa May Alcott’s darling Little Women.
Sidney has placed more focus upon her characters and how they deal with their ever-present poverty than in creating a dramatic, adventurous tale; throughout, the children are beset by various problems which they need to overcome using their mental, and sometimes physical, strength – baking a surprise birthday cake for their mother when they have barely any ingredients, for example. A real sense of community spirit prevails throughout Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, and whilst some of the chapters lack in substance and plot, it is still a heartwarming and very sweet read.