The simple and straightforward themes of Ginger Pye are exemplified in the three major characters: Rachel, her brother Jerry, and Ginger the dog. Estes convincingly portrays the deep love between the children and their pet. The children's affection for animals extends to their neighbors' pets and contrasts sharply with the bad treatment that Ginger receives at the hands of the villains. This central concern for pets first appears as Jerry wonders if Gracie the Cat would be jealous of a new puppy. His sister and mother reassure him, and the dog and cat establish a satisfactory friendship.
A related theme deals with loyalty, including the children's loyalty to their pets, Ginger's loyalty to the Pyes, and family members' loyalty to one another. Even though Ginger disappears for many months, the children never stop searching for him or thinking of him. They refuse to adopt another pet to take Ginger's place and never give up hope that he will be found. Even after his lengthy absence, the full-grown Ginger still longs to return to his owners, and his memories of the Pyes lead to a gratifying resolution. The relationship between Rachel and Jerry illustrates an important aspect of the loyalty theme. Although Estes portrays their small quarrels and frustrations very realistically and often humorously, sister and brother remain very close, and their supportive responses in the face of trouble are one of the main strengths of the book. Readers will be able to identify and laugh along with the typical sibling relationship, even as they are comforted by the children's loyalty to and consideration of one another.
As in the Moffat books, Estes presents a narrative driven by themes that may help readers face situations themselves. Ginger Pye shows likable, involving characters undergoing an ordeal that many children have experienced: the loss of a beloved pet. Yet Jerry and Rachel refuse to give way to despair or to let themselves be distracted from their search for Ginger, and in the end, their faith and determination pay off. Estes demonstrates that sincerity and perseverance can turn things around; her respect for children's abilities to set and pursue their own goals is inspiring even to adult readers. Furthermore, the change-of-seasons motif present throughout the story directly indicates that sadness and unhappiness do give way to hope and joy, that good times follow bad just as spring follows winter.
The author excels in her portrayal of characters and realistic family relationships. Rachel and Jerry are the most fully realized human characters, while the hugely entertaining Ginger Pye ranks as one of young adult literature's most memorable dogs. Ginger is loyal, mischievous, and smart. Nicknamed "the intellectual dog," Ginger tracks Jerry to school one day and suddenly appears in the classroom window with a pencil in his jaws.
Ginger Pye introduces a range of unique characters, including three-year-old Uncle Benny, renowned for being such a young uncle. Uncle Benny's pronouncements are as amusing as his attachment to his "Bubbah," a favorite old blanket. The children admire lanky, good-natured Sam Doody, an older boy whose friendliness to them plays an important role in the story. Estes provides entertaining sketches of the Cranbury personalities with whom the children interact. The accumulation of details makes each character real, such as their friend Dick Badger, known as the "perpendicular swimmer" because he swims up and down rather than on top of the water like other people. The weakest character is that of Wally Bullwinkle, a bigger boy in Jerry's class who plays a role in Ginger's disappearance. Estes portrays Wally's unalleviated surliness and his motives in a vague and...
(This entire section contains 799 words.)
unconvincing manner at odds with other depictions in the book.
The book focuses on Jerry and Rachel Pye, and the story is conveyed almost entirely through them. Jerry's perspective reflects his straightforward approach to problems, his more authoritative status as older brother, and his love for Ginger. Jerry's actions propel the plot. Rachel's feelings, fears, and reactions are more detailed. Sometimes intimidated by what she sees as Jerry's greater experience and spirit of adventure, she spends more time mulling over the implications of events. She exhibits thoughtfulness and curiosity about the people around her, and much of the book's richness derives from her memories and musings.
Such details about personality and anecdotes about even minor characters lend flavor to Estes' books. Each character in Ginger Pye stands out as a unique individual with an interesting quirk or attribute—a feature that may be of particular interest to younger readers learning to see themselves and others as recognizable, distinct individuals. The author's descriptions remind even older readers that everyone is special and that children can be particularly perceptive about the people around them. Inarguably, her talent lies in recreating the world of childhood in all its immediacy and fascinating detail.