the best friends you’ll never have

Ten Kids, No Pets is a book that I had high hopes for. It is the only one out of these books that Scholastic has chosen to bring back into print (well, ebook form). They released it last April, so I figure that this spoke to its a)demand and b)quality.

Did it live up to the hype I created in my own mind? Well, no. I felt like it had some major weaknesses.

This book, I think, was solely written to satisfy one’s of Ann’s major obsessions/fascinations, which is big families. (Do you think Ann watches repeats of 19 Kids and Counting whenever they’re on?) Like the Pikes, the Rossos are a “stair-step” family: with the exception of a pair of twins, each kid was born one year after the other. This happened because Mrs. Rosso wanted ten kids and she wanted them all born a year apart. Which, what. I guess the Pikes felt the same way, but it seems like a pretty strange thing to want. Big families, okay, but to be continuously be pregnant while your two kids before that aren’t even really out of diaper or doing things for themselves seems a little nuts. What also seems nuts is the way that she has decided to NAME her kids. It is far worse than the “J” naming scheme the Duggars have going for them, even if they ended up with a Joy-Anna and a Johannah, not to mention a Jinger.

Her method is to take the first name in the “A” section of the baby name book, the second name in the “B” section, and so on. So she has Abbie, Bainbridge, Calandra (Candy), Dagwood (Woody), Eberhard (Hardy, because he loves the Hardy Boys), Faustine, Gardenia (Dinnie), Hannah, Ira and Janthina (Jan). Now, this is a fine way to go about naming, if you’re naming hamsters. But for a human? You can stick to the alphabet thing to be cute, but don’t saddle your kid with a name for life to satisfy some weird organizational impulse.

I also think the book suffers because of Ann’s decision to have each chapter be told from the perspective of one kid, and they each have only one. So you only get a short chapter to learn their story, and then they become a background character. For instance, Abbie’s chapter is the first one, and it’s about moving from New York and it is kind of boring. It would have been better to go with one Rosso kid and tell a cohesive story from their perspective, rather than jumping around so much. Plus, the wide variety of ages in the book makes it hard to figure out who the book is aimed toward. You have kids from 8-14 telling their stories, and that’s a big gap. I am not entirely opposed to books constructed in vignettes rather than one large story with a plot and subplots–Astrid Lindgren’s The Children of Noisy Village, Eleanor Estes’ Moffats books, and other childhood favorites are constructed this way–but the individual stories in this book are just not strong enough to make it work, I think. Like, if the major conflict was them adjusting to rural life, rather than just getting a freaking pet, I think it would have worked better.

I can see this book being enjoyable and fun for kids, especially kids who feel deeply about animals, or who would very much like to find a secret room in their house and are just generally interested in rural adventures. As an adult reading it, I think it suffers from jumping around so much, with the only real connection between the stories being animals and the fact that all of the kids are in the same family. I just don’t get a good sense of any of the characters, and I think it would have been a stronger story if it had focused on, say, Hannah feeling like she lacked a best friend in the family. The main conflict at the foundation of the book is that Mrs. Rosso is anti-pet, and that just doesn’t do much for me.

Random thoughts:

  • I wonder if Woody Jefferson‘s real name is also Dagwood.
  • Candy finds a secret room off the linen closet. It has a window to the outside that she said that they saw on the outside, but couldn’t find it any of the rooms in the house. Wouldn’t something like this have come up during the inspection when they were buying the house?
  • I know they move to the country for a reason, but ten kids in Manhattan is something I can’t even imagine.
  • Mr. Rosso is an advertising executive, or basically the only non-lawyer job parents have in Ann’s world.

    External links:
    The Dairi Burger liked this book.
    Secrets and Sharing Soda also thinks Mrs. Rosso is nuts.
    BSC Chronologically recapped it.
    In 1988, Kirkus Reviews felt much the same I do.

    Next week, I am going to read Yours Turly, Shirley.

  • 5 Responses To This Post

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    jessdvd said, June 2nd, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    My take-away from this book 20 years later: about 6-7 years ago, some friends had a baby whom they named Calista, and call her Callie. Somewhere during the course of that name choice, it hit me that Calandra in this book only being able to come up with Candy as a nickname, really could have used Callie as a much better option.

    I’m not sure if I as a kid would have ever come up with this idea, but I would advise now a kid in the situation of names with no nicknames, when moving to a new town, to just introduce oneself as whatever name you’ve always wanted, or at least a middle name, and go with it.

    And, the book totally suffers from the narration thing because as a 10yo girl reading this (aka, AMM’s target audience), the one I cared the most about was Abbie, who only got the first and boring chapter. I remember being bummed about that then.

    greer said, June 2nd, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    @jessdvd: Yeah, Candy is not exactly a logical takeaway from Calandra. I think the kids who have nicknames are more or less okay with their names, but still a teacher is going to read your name aloud the first time they call roll, even if you go by “Woody” and not “Dagwood.”

    I’d also like to make it clear that I don’t have anything against unusual name in principles; if you like a name and truly want to give it to your child, that’s cool. It’s just this system of giving your kid the name “Faustina” based on some weird alphabet fixation, rather than a love for Roman culture or Goethe, that makes me roll my eyes hard.

    Yeah, I think a book based on Abbie (aimed at the same age group as the BSC was) or one of the younger kids (Little Sister reading level?) would have worked. I also might have liked a book entirely from one of the brother’s perspectives, since Ann did surprisingly well with Inside Out and having a male narrator in that book.

    Elizabeth said, June 8th, 2014 at 10:21 am

    The naming system also makes me roll my eyes hard. Really, I think the only reason to write about such a big family is to pick fun names for them, and why take all the fun out of it? Though I admit, I’ve spent too much time wondering what the first two C names, the first three D names, etc. are. (I think “Bailey” could be the first B boys’ name.)

    I won’t spoil you for Eleven Kids, but I think that one does a better job of giving some of the kids more defined personalities. Hannah, for example, is AWFUL but I get a clear sense of why she is awful. Also, I think it is better about having certain narrative threads running through the whole book and passed from kid to kid. You’ll have to see what you think.

    greer said, June 8th, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    @Elizabeth I’m definitely looking forward to Eleven Kids, especially since we see the idiots from Just a Summer Romance again.

    » Early Ann Books Readalong, Week Twelve: Eleven Kids, One Summer Stoneybrookite: the best friends you’ll never have said, June 24th, 2014 at 9:48 am

    [...] like Ten Kids, No Pets, each chapter of the book is about a different Rosso kid. Once again, I think the book would have [...]

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