So....this book covers roughly a year in the life of the Rosso family; that would be mom, dad, and the ten kids. Mr. Rosso is an ad executive by day and an absentminded professor type when he's home, and Mrs. Rosso reminds me a bit of Kate Gosselin. She's got all sorts of neurotic rules for how things need to be done, and systems for EVERYTHING. How she named her children is a good example of that: Abbie, the oldest, got the first name on the A page of the girls' half of the baby names book. Bainbridge, the next kid in line, got the second name on the B page of the boys' half, and so on down the line. One of the Rossos' many house rules that no pets are allowed, because ten kids is enough, much to the dismay of the younger Rossos. They're especially upset about this when they leave their crowded apartment in New York City for a farm in New Jersey. Since each chapter in this book focuses on one of the kids and is more or less its own story, I'll recap chapter by chapter.
Abigail, or Abbie, is the oldest Rosso at 14. She's the only Rosso who DOESN'T want to move out to the farm. Abbie's entering high school in the fall, and she doesn't want to leave all her friends...and the boys. ;) She also feels responsible for her younger sibs, even though her family causes her embarrassment on a daily basis (she's totally Mallory). There are no major events in her chapter, other than the actual move to New Jersey.
Calandra (Candy) is twelve, and living in such a big family is tougher on her than it is on the others. She craves privacy, but even out on the farm, there isn't much of that to be found. One day, not long after the Rossos' move, Candy is putting sheets away in the family's big cedar linen closet. Candy happens to love the smell of cedar, so she leans against the back wall to enjoy it for a minute before finishing her chores. Much to her surprise, the wall gives way and Candy finds herself in a secret room! There's a chair in the room, along with a small table. In the table drawer, Candy finds a diary written at the turn of the 20th century by another 12 year old girl. Not only did Celia (the author of the diary) want a pet as badly as the Rosso kids do, she actually hid one in the secret room for a time. Candy decides to keep both the diary and the room to herself for the time being.
It's time for school to start for year, and Ira (7) is pretty nervous about starting second grade. He's worried about being teased for his huge family, some of whom have some pretty weird names thanks to his mother's little system. Sure enough, the kids think the whole idea of the Rossos is hilarious. Ira decides that he needs to do something to take their minds off of things, so when show and tell time comes around, he makes up all sorts of stuff about the exotic animals that his family keeps on their farm. Unfortunately, the kids all want to come over and see the animals, which worries Ira. What are they going to think of him when they find out the truth? Ira eventually confesses his lies to his parents, and then to his whole class. None of them really think any less of him because of it.
Halloween is 11-year-old Dagwood's (Woody's) favorite holiday. He usually goes all out, but this year, he's feeling down about the whole day. He and his sibs won't be able to go trick or treating like they have in the past, because there just aren't enough neighbors to make it worthwhile. Then, his siblings get the idea to have a Halloween party at their house for some of the other farm kids, which their parents quickly agree to. Woody decides to be a magician, but even though he's got a decent costume, he thinks it needs something more. Inspiration strikes when he finds out that one of the kids in his class has a rabbit who keeps having babies. Woody asks if he can borrow one for the party, and his costume is complete. The party itself goes well, but when the time comes to send the baby rabbit back where it came from, the owner can't take it (mama rabbit is pregnant yet again). The Rosso kids meet up to decide what to do, and Candy reluctantly tells everyone about the secret room. The kids hide the rabbit in there, but it becomes clear pretty fast that that arrangement is NOT going to work. The rabbit stops eating and hopping around, and the kids know that he won't be around much longer before they do something. They finally confess to their parents, who order them to find a new home for the bunny. Luckily (?), one of the kids in Woody's class lost his dog earlier in the school year, and is willing to take the rabbit on as his new pet.
Gardenia, or Dinnie, is one of the 9-year-old twins. It's almost Thanksgiving, and when Mrs. Rosso announces that the family will be having an old fashioned holiday this year, Dinnie is just as excited as the rest of her siblings. All the Rossos head out to a nearby turkey farm to pick out their Thanksgiving meal, and when they do, Dinnie promptly names him Goliath. Pretty soon, she and Dinnie (the other twin) are visiting him after school, and they eventually decide that they don't want him killed for their meal. The other kids agree with the twins, so they stop at the turkey farm after school one day and tell Mr. Pritchard that they won't be needing Goliath after all. When Mr. Pritchard tells them he plans to sell Goliath to someone else for THEIR dinner, the kids change their minds again: they'll take him after all, but they'll take him alive. No one tells the Rosso parents this little fact, so when Thanksgiving arrives, the only turkey they have is a living one. Their meal that year consists of side dishes only, and Goliath eventually is given to a petting zoo.
Janthina (Jan) is the baby of the family, at 6 years old. Like most kids, she loves Christmas, and she's excited about the old fashioned Christmas that her family is going to have. They're cutting down their own tree, making their own decorations, cards, and gifts, and doing lots of baking. The house is full of secrets, and the biggest one is something called "Project X" that Mr. Rosso is working on in his workshop. No one knows what it is...until Jan overhears her parents talking about how the kids will never guess that it's a doghouse. She tells her siblings, who are all super excited that they'll finally get the pet they've been wanting. They buy supplies for the puppy, and even start talking about names. When Christmas morning arrives and all the presents have been opened, the Rosso kids are surprised that the puppy still hasn't made its appearance. Then, Mr. and Mrs. Rosso announce that there is, in fact, one more present. To Jan's surprise, "Project X" is brought into the room and set right in front of her. Is the puppy Jan's? Not quite: when she opens the present, she finds a DOLLHOUSE, not a DOGHOUSE. Oooops.
Eberhard (Hardy) is ten, and an amateur detective. Like his siblings, he loves snow, and when the weather report calls for a blizzard, he can't wait. The family ends up pretty much snowed in...AND they end up with a mystery on their hands. One evening while the whole Rosso crew is eating popcorn, they hear a noise outside. They investigate, and find that the trash cans have been knocked over. The next day, Hardy goes into full detective mode, but doesn't find any clues. That night, though, they hear more noise outside; someone or something has been into their bird feeder. The morning after THAT, hardy finds some thin, slender tracks around the feeder. Rather than come to any sort of logical conclusion, Hardy assumes that the tracks were made by an escaped criminal on stilts. Not so much; the tracks turn out to have been made by a fawn.
Hannah is 8, and often feels kind of lonely in her family. All the other kids are either too old for her to play with, or they have a sibling buddy that's their own special friend. She's also having some trouble getting along in school, since she likes to tease and pull pranks. Hannah decides that she's going to make her Valentines that year, for her family AND for her class at school. The ones for her class are pretty rude, and the ones for her family are all hints about getting a pet. On the morning of Valentine's Day, Hannah grabs one of the piles on the way out the door to school. Too bad she grabs the wrong one, and her classmates all get cards with poems about getting dogs and cats and stuff. As if that wasn't bad enough, she now has nothing to give her family later that evening when they exchange their own cards. Then, she gets the idea to give each of them an IOU note, promising things like bed-making or hair-braiding. Her notes are a big hit.
Faustine is as big an animal lover as her twin, so when the two of them find an injured bird, they bring it back home to get well. Unfortunately, the bird dies. They give the bird a funeral, which keeps getting interrupted by a nest full of noisy baby sparrows. The family watches and watches, but no mother bird comes to the nest to take care of them. They take the baby birds in and care for them until they're old enough to be released. Faustine wants to keep one of them, but (of course) the no pets rule still applies.
Bainbridge (13) is looking forward to being out of school for the year (sort of). There just isn't much to do way out on the farm, so he decides to start a football team with some of the other farm kids. Bainbridge is making some progress with getting a team together when his mother drops a bomb on the family: she's pregnant. Everyone is excited, but the whole thing gives Bainbridge an idea. The family rule had always been no pets since ten kids were enough. Since there was going to be an 11th kid, shouldn't a pet be allowed? The Rosso parents agree, and the kids decide to get a dog.
The Rossos are just about to leave for the pound to get their dog when the twins find a kitten in the ditch by the mailbox. They unanimously decide to keep the kitten instead, and they also decide to use Mrs. Rosso's baby naming system to give the kitten a name. Since they really have no way of knowing how many kids they'll end up with, they choose the last names on the Z pages as possbilities. That would make the kitten Zsa Zsa or Zuriel; we never actually find out if it's a boy or girl.
Thoughts and Things
- This book doesn't hold up as well for me as some of the others I read as a kid. That being said, I LOVE the descriptions of the farm, and all the old-fashioned, holiday, crafty stuff the family does. It makes me want to go live on a farm! :)
- I think this may be one of Ann's only books that's not written in the first person.
- I so identified with Candy's need for privacy when I was growing up. My family wasn't nearly as big, but I shared a room in our tiny house with my sister, and there was NEVER anywhere I could go to be on my own.
- Speaking of Candy, why didn't she shorten her name to Callie instead? Candy=stripper name!
- Mr. Rosso was kind of a non-entity; it's pretty clear who wore the pants in that family.....
- My mom was the SAME way about pets when I was a kid! My siblings and I all loved animals, but because she didn't want one, we didn't get to have one, either.
- This cover picture is definitely not the one I grew up with. Did they come out with a new edition at some point?
- Are turkeys really friendly enough to be a part of a petting zoo? I would have guessed not....