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Six Girls and Bob

March 19, 2015

I’ve been having a hard time putting together a review of Marion Ames Taggart’s Six Girls and Bob, and I’m not really sure why. It might be because it hasn’t finished growing on me yet.

This is one of those books where some siblings have fallen on at least moderately hard times and have to keep house on a budget. Books like this are sort of a cornerstone of children’s literature, right? The trope covers everything from Little Women to The Boxcar Children. And this is a pretty nice example of it.

We start with just five girls and Bob: Margery, Bob, Happie, Laura, Polly and Penny Scollard live in an apartment in Harlem with their mother, who supports them by supervising some company’s foreign correspondence. That was the first moment where I was like, hey, this is more interesting than I expected. And that’s the coolest thing about this book: that the details feel like they’re pulled from the possibilities available in real life, rather than the narrower selection found in children’s books. I mean, I think a lot of authors basically said to themselves, “what kind of job could the mom have?” and came up with (mostly) sewing. Whereas this seems like the job you think of because you know someone who has it.

Anyway, and less unusually, Mrs. Scollard isn’t really strong enough to keep doing her job, and she falls ill in that way people do in books where you’re not sure if they’re having a nervous breakdown or something more physical. That leaves the Scollards with only Bob’s part-time clerking income, and that’s not enough. Enter Miss Keren-happuch Bradbury, Happie’s namesake and Mrs. Scollard’s mother’s closest friend. Miss Keren says they weren’t “ordinary friends,” which I’m choosing to believe means they were lesbians. Miss Keren owns a farm in Pennsylvania, given to her in repayment of a debt, and she carries the entire family off to recuperate.

The farm is kind of a disaster, but they fix it up, and actually start farming, and eventually they all come to like it a lot. There’s a pretty moderate amount of house/farm makeover stuff, and usually I want about 200% more of that, but this time I found what was there satisfying. Also they find the sixth girl of the title, Gretta Engel, who lives on the neighboring farm with her mean cousins and is gradually incorporated into the Scollard-Bradbury ménage.

In most books like this one — the city kids moving to the country kind, not the siblings housekeeping kind — the country and countryfolk would be pretty nondescript, with maybe a regional accent for some variation. But the Scollards’ neighbors are all Pennsylvania Dutch, and Taggart is clearly making an effort to portray a specific culture, not just a generic city/country divide.

I just really like detail, you know? A lot of books — especially kids’ books — feel like they’re only drawing on other books, and not on real life at all. And this one — well, it’s not massively realistic or anything, but it feels like Taggart was at least thinking about real life.

It’s a pretty solid book, even without that. A lot of it reminded me of the Hildegarde series — most of all the way friendships operate, I think. And there’s a bit where Miss Keren explains why she knows how to carve a turkey that I like better than anything I’ve read in months. And it ends with a pretty compelling setup for a sequel, one that made me seek out the second book as soon as I was done with the first.

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6 comments

  1. This sounds like We Bought a Zoo to me for some reason.


    • I only ever saw a trailer for that.


  2. Apparently I downloaded it in December but haven’t read it yet. It sounds good!


    • It’s a fun one. I think Gutenberg just posted it in December, and I’d had it open in a tab ever since.


  3. this sounds right up my alley–of course, the Hildegarde nod is a big plus!


    • I had a couple of moments where I was like, am I sure I want to compare this to the Hildegarde books? That’s an awfully big compliment. But then I was like, yeah. Yeah, I do.



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