Some books are magical portals, whisking you away to faraway lands as they spin tales of adventure and magic. These books tell of danger, courage, honor, valor, they smell of earth and sweat and the sweetness of wildflowers. The Middle Moffat by Eleanor Estes is most certainly not that kind of book. And yet… here we find a different flavor of magic. Here, there is no medieval garb, merely braids and bobby socks. Still, the magic is in the pleasant happiness of life: awkward snapshots of organ recitals and Christmas mornings, basketball games and best friends. The Middle Moffat is the story of Jane, an imaginative ten year old placed right in the middle of a family of five. Jane’s little family has just moved to Ashbellows Place, and Jane is beginning to get used to her new surroundings, making new friends, and having little adventures of her own as she learns that being in the middle is, sometimes, the most exciting place to be.
Jane has a unique way of looking at things. Sometimes, this gets her into trouble, as her imagination doesn’t always match up to reality. For example, when she tries to have an organ recital at her house, her romantic expectations of bellowing music at Woolsey Hall are sadly disappointed by a slow, simple plunking of “My Country Tis of Thee.” Nevertheless, Jane’s escapades always turn out to have unexpectedly pleasant results, though drastically different from those she had first envisioned. This book is a series of snapshots of these escapades, brilliantly portrayed in a way that draws readers in, and connects them to the lovable, clumsy ten-year old’s world.
I have long been a fan of Eleanor Estes. Her characters are real, and their stories, while unusual, are always flavored with hint of familiarity. The best thing about Estes’s novels is that she allows us to step into the minds of her characters, walking with them through little disappointments, little victories. The key is that the action is small. Here there are no dragons to overcome, merely the fear of going on stage with a piece of your costume missing, or the embarrassment of introducing yourself incorrectly to someone you admire.
This book is the type of book you read on a snow day, snuggled up with a warm blanket and a large mug of hot cocoa. It’s an easy read, although some of the language might be a bit proper (Jane’s favorite hobby is sewing, and some of the terms she uses may be a bit unfamiliar to some readers). The book flows, though each chapter contains a new adventure, we see a definite progression in Jane as she grows throughout the novel.
A child’s world is characterized by the importance of small things. What I love about Estes’s writing is that she grabs hold of those indescribable childlike emotions and impulses we all have experienced, masterfully putting them into words, capturing moments that allow us to re-live those happy Christmas mornings, those victories in an all-important sports competition, those moments when we make up with our best friend after a fight. This is essence at its finest. The Middle Moffat has something for everyone, a story, a word, or a feeling that will connect with readers of all ages and remind them of the intangible stuff of life that makes it so pleasantly worth living.