Rufus M.

by Estes, Eleanor. (Dell, 1989 ISBN 0 440 40192 5) Novel. 320 pages. Grades 3+.
This book was reviewed by Carol Otis Hurst in Teaching K-8 Magazine.


This one in a series of books about the Moffats brings us a single parent family long on love and short on money, living near New Haven, Connecticut in 1916. Times are hard, and Rufus, the youngest member of the family, helps out as best he can with Rufus Beans, a vegetable that actually grows! He also discovers the invisible Piano Player, a flying horse named Jimmy, and the Cardboard Boy, his dearest friend and enemy, but first he gets a library card.

Although this book was written in1941, the irrepressible Rufus is a timeless character and many adults and children will recognize him as a familiar acquaintance -- perhaps even of themselves. He is cheerful, sensitve, enterprising and unconsciously funny and the book makes a good read-aloud.

It is also interesting to look at the entire Moffat series of books as successful historical novels. In many such books intended for young people, the characterization is not as well done -- the characters serve only as witnesses to events deemed to be of historical importance. In the Moffat books, Estes evokes the time of World War One as it was experienced by this fatherless family, living in anything but the finest area of a New England town, but coping quite well. We pick up incidental information about the time: the kind of medical care possible, the sources of heat and light, communication and transportation. We also get to care about the Moffats.


Related Areas of Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Site

  • Keeper of the Doves by Betsy Byars. Also set at the Turn of the Century. Featured book with activities, related books and links.
  • Stotts, Stuart. Books in a Box: Lutie Stearns and the Traveling Libraries of Wisconsin (Big Valley Press, 2005 ISBN 0976537206. Order Info.
    This is a quiet, fictionalized biography about the work of Lutie Stearns. Around the turn of the century she traveled throughout Wisconsin providing boxed sets of books which circulated from town to town. Funded by state taxes these were the first free libraries for many communities. This is a good nonfiction companion to novels and picture books set in the time period.


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