Phronsie Pepper; The Youngest of the Five Little Peppers

June 18, 2007

I’m completely confused by Margaret Sidney’s Five Little Peppers books. It’s not about the contents of the books — they’re fairly straightforward. But the number and order of the books has always been a bit jumbled, and now, after reading Phronsie Pepper; The Youngest of the “Five Little Peppers,” I’m baffled.

See, there’s Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Five Little Peppers Midway, and Five Little Peppers Grown Up. That sounds like a straightforward trilogy, right? But then there’s Five Little Peppers Abroad, which seems to start exactly where Five Little Peppers Midway leaves off, and I know there’s one called The Five Little Peppers and Their Friends, and I’m pretty sure there’s one with Joel Pepper’s name in the title. And then, Margaret Sidney’s preface to Phronsie Pepper calls it the fourth and final Pepper book, which makes no sense. I mean, I guess she changed her mind, but she seemed pretty emphatic about this being the last book. Also, there are characters who seem to have a fair bit of history with the Peppers that I don’t remember from the first three books.

Maybe I’m just bothered by this because I’m still annoyed over Five Little Peppers Grown Up — mostly because Jasper’s proposal to Polly, which I’d been waiting for for ages, was so disappointing.

I continue to be annoyed with Jasper and Polly in this book, partially because they haven’t grown up or improved at all, and partly because they’ve named one of their children Elyot. I know it’s Jasper’s middle name, but still. Margaret Sidney has funny ideas about rich peoples’ names. Pickering Dodge and Alexia Rhys got married, which is nice, but then they named their son Algernon Rhys Dodge, which is awful, and Phronsie’s love interest is named Roslyn May. It reminds me of Anne of Green Gables — Anne’s earliest literary efforts are full of characters called Montmorency.
Phronsie actually has grown up a little, and she and Joel, who has become a minister, almost make this book’s existence worthwhile. Nothing, however, makes its being 450 pages okay, though, especially since so much of it is filler.

Basically, this is a story about how Mr. King, Jasper’s father, won’t let Phronsie marry this sculptor, Roslyn May, because he selfishly wants her to be his little girl forever. Eventually Roslyn falls ill in Rome, and Mr. King relents. He and Phronsie and Joel take the next boat to Europe, but the boat sets on fire, so it takes them a while to get there. Joel is very heroic — he works with the sailors for nine hours to try to put the fire out, and is the last person off the boat. But that plot takes up only twelve of the twenty-eight chapters. I wasn’t kidding when I said it was mostly filler.

In conclusion: Margaret Sidney ought to have quit while she was ahead.



  1. we r doing this play in school i am Dick Whitney

  2. Cool! Dick Whitney was always sort of one of my favorite characters.

  3. My mother read Phronsie Pepper to me when I had the measles in third grade. Since I wasn’t familiar with the earlier books, she provided backstory as we went along. I enjoyed the book and later read the first Pepper book myself. When Phronsie and Roslyn married, my mother had to stop every third sentence to dry her tears. I accused her of crying as much as the Peppers did. It was difficult for me to become emotional about a wedding when the groom was named Roslyn.

  4. Was it weird to read the first book after knowing how it all comes out? Because for me, it was strange seeing the characters in Phronsie Pepper — they didn’t always seem like the same people.

  5. Loved FLP and How They Grew when I was little. Had it in one of those upside-down hardcovers with one book on each cover (the other was Alice in Wonderland). Didn’t even realize it was a series until years later.

    I gather Sidney went back and filled in chronological gaps when the original books became popular, so the publication history doesn’t follow the internal timeline. See these two lists for reading order: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Little_Peppers#The_books

    Didn’t you find it weird that Joel, the most rambunctious, disobedient Pepper, grows up to be a manly yet gentle minister? I think I must have missed the book where he gets his “calling”, because it seems more likely that he would grow up to be a con artist or town layabout or something.

    • Yeah, I did eventually figure out what was going on with the order of the books. There is a book that centers on Joel, but I have an impression that it takes place in the little brown house days, and I’m pretty sure he’s still a troublemaker in the book that comes before this one. And you’re totally right — you would never, reading the books where they’re all kids, imagine that Joel would grow up to be a minister. At some point I should do a read-through of the entire series and see if I can figure out what’s up with that.

      I have never come across an upside down hardcover with one book on each side. That’s kind of awesome.

  6. Commenting on names: Dr. and Mamsie named their son”King Fisher” Oh My!

    • Yeah, that is a little ridiculous.

  7. I thought Elyot was superior to Jasper, even though I had a great-great-grandfather named Jasper. Margaret Sidney was married to her publisher. Maybe he encouraged her to keep on writing the series.

    • Jasper is a really good name.

      Yeah, I assume the series made her a lot of money, so it wasn’t unreasonable to keep writing them.

  8. Readers kept badgering Sidney for sequels and so she wrote them; the same with L.M. Montgomery and ANNE. She didn’t intend to write ANNE OF WINDY POPLARS or RAINBOW VALLEY; they were done later.

    I have a web page about the Five Little Peppers and all the books, including THE ADVENTURES OF JOEL PEPPER, which takes place in the Little Brown House days and no, doesn’t say when he got the Call. I think the closest they come is when he has the bad patch in school (THE FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AT SCHOOL) and is failing, and Mamsie gives him one of her talks and he gets on better.

    Victorian fiction is fully of harum-scarum boys like Joel who grow up to be ministers. If you recall, Jo Bhaer’s mischievous son, Teddy, also grows up to be a minister. The Victorians were greatly impressed by “muscular Christianity” and boys of strength who later receive the call to the ministry. They believed that inner strength better helped them serve God.

    • I knew that about Sidney but not about L.M. Montgomery. Huh. I wouldn’t feel bad about Rainbow Valley ceasing to exist, but I do like Anne of Windy Poplars.

      I’d love a link to your Five Little Peppers page–I looked at your website, but didn’t see it.

  9. As far as I’m concerned, Alexia and Pickering deserve each other. Polly had the patience of a saint to put up with Alexia. She was even worse than Mrs. Chatterton!

    • Really? I’ve always had a soft spot for both Alexia and Pickering, for some reason. I was pretty happy when they ended up together.

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