The Moffats - their widowed mother, teenaged Sylvie, Joe, Jane, and little Rufus - live in a little yellow house in the curve of New Dollar street. From that house, and only that house, one can see both ends of the street. But that might change, as the gentleman who owns the house has posted a sign to say the house is for sale.
This book, published as the US was in the midst of the first World War, illustrates a slice of life for children in an age before videogames, television, or even universal electricity. The Moffats build a Halloween ghost to frighten an obnoxious neighbor, get a surprisingly interesting trolley ride, take the wrong shortcut while driving someone else's horse, and suffer through a quarantine for scarlet fever. All the while, though it is hard to make ends meet ("Times are hard" is a recurring phrase), it is obvious that they are not suffering because of it.
Much as the book Betsy-Tacy illustrated turn-of-the-century Minnesota, these books do an excellent job of illustrating Depression-era Connecticut. Moreover, they illustrate how something simple can charm and captivate - a handy antidote to the fast pace that everyone seems to be beholden to today.
The Middle Moffat
The Moffat Museum
In The Middle Moffat, the follow-up to The Moffats, the focus is on Jane, the third child. In the Moffats' new home, she decides to get an identity for herself as the Mysterioius Middle Moffat, and introduces herself to Cranbury's Oldest Inhabitant as such, to her great mortification. However, the 99-year-old gentleman is very congenial, and a great friendship develops between the two. Her strategems for making sure the Oldest Inhabitant makes it to his hundreth birthday are amusing, as are the tales of family hijinks such as the organ recital with surprise moths.
Rufus M. features the youngest of the Moffats, off on his own expeditions. His quest to get a library card is a saga of overcome difficulties, with the side note of his teachers' attempts to break him of left-handedness. He also takes part in his sister Jane's baseball team, with the eternal hopes of cookies, and wonders about one neighbor's invisible piano player. His badly-knit washcloth takes center stage when a train of departing soldiers goes through town, and at the end of the book, the armistice is declared - twice.
The last book, The Moffat Museum, was written forty years after Rufus M. However, it is of a piece with the previous novels, and one would hardly guess that half a lifetime separated the two. (The pictures, though, are utterly horrible.) Peace has been declared, and times are looking up, when Jane decides that their collection of "artifacts" in the shed is worthy of being a museum. Word, of course, spreads quickly, and they soon get a group of visitors with the school superintendent. So the artifacts go on display, including Rufus with wax on his face playing a waxwork boy. Also featured in the book are tales of growing older, such as eldest Sylvie's wedding, and Joe's working papers, so he can get a job.
The writing in these books is anything but action-packed, though its accurate description of early-20th-century life is entertaining in itself. They are well worth a read.