Family: Born May 9, 1906, in West Haven, CT; died of complications after a stroke, July 15, 1988, in West Haven, CT; daughter of Louis and Caroline (Gewecke) Rosenfeld; married Rice Estes (a library administrator), December 8, 1932; children: Helena. Education: Attended Pratt Institute Library School, New York, 1931-32. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Episcopalian. Memberships: PEN, Authors Guild, Authors League of America.
Free Public Library, New Haven, CT, children's librarian, 1924-31; New York Public Library, New York, children's librarian, 1932-40; full-time writer and illustrator.
Herald Tribune Spring Book Festival Award, 1951, Newbery Medal for distinguished contribution to children's literature, 1952, both for Ginger Pye; Supervision and Curriculum Development Award for outstanding contribution to children's literature, New York State Association, 1961; alumni medal for distinguished service, Pratt Institute, 1968.
WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:
- The Moffats, Harcourt, 1941.
- The Middle Moffat, Harcourt, 1942.
- Rufus M., Harcourt, 1943.
- The Sun and the Wind and Mr. Todd, Harcourt, 1943.
- The Hundred Dresses, Harcourt, 1944.
- The Echoing Green (adult novel), Macmillan, 1947.
- The Sleeping Giant and Other Stories, Harcourt, 1948.
- Ginger Pye, Harcourt, 1951, illustrated by the author, Harcourt (San Diego), 1990.
- A Little Oven, Harcourt, 1955.
- Pinky Pye, Harcourt, 1958.
- The Witch Family, Harcourt, 1960, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone, 1990.
- The Alley, Harcourt, 1964.
- Miranda the Great, Harcourt, 1967.
- The Lollipop Princess, Harcourt, 1967.
- The Tunnel of Hugsy Goode, Harcourt, 1972.
- The Coat-Hanger Christmas Tree, Atheneum, 1973.
- The Lost Umbrella of Kim Chu, Atheneum, 1978.
- The Moffat Museum, Harcourt, 1983.
- The Curious Adventures of Jimmy McGee, Harcourt, 1987.
Also contributor to numerous magazines. Estes' books have been translated into many foreign languages.
Author's manuscript collection is housed at University of Minnesota, Minneapolis (Kerlan Collection).
Eleanor Estes' "emphasis on the positive, her celebration of the child's spirit, her faith in the family, her fondness for small daily events and details, her wonder over the miraculous tricks lifeplays" all combined to make her books enduring contributions tochildren's literature, wrote Virginia L. Wolf in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Estes' earliest books--those chronicling the lives of the Moffat family--remain her most popular. The Moffats, The Middle Moffat, Rufus M., and The Moffat Museum are a fictionalization of the author's own childhood, with the town of Cranbury, Connecticut, representing Estes' native West Haven in the early part of this century. Like her character Jane Moffat, Estes was the daughter of a widowed dressmaker, the middle child in a family of four.
Estes' novels are typically more episodic than tightly plotted. The Moffats, for example, is loosely structured by the passing of one year, from the time the family's house is put up for sale until their move to a new neighborhood. The individual chapters, however, each deal with a specific event in one of the children's lives--Jane's pleasure and guilt over finding a nickle and spending it all on herself, Joe's horror at having to perform in a dance recital--and can almost be read as short stories.
Some reviewers criticized the author for what they perceived as her weak plotting skills, while others maintained that this fault was more than compensated for by her rich characterizations, evocative prose, and deep insight into the perceptions of children. Estes' books "seem to be the product of some miracle child writing. . .with the skill and selectivity of the mature writer," declared Frances Clarke Sayers in a Horn Book article. Ellen Lewis Buell also commented in a New York Times Book Review piece on Estes' sensitive, yet unsentimental "feeling for childhood--its desperate earnestness, its melodramatic imaginings, its unconscious humor."
An ongoing theme in the Moffat stories is the family's financial difficulty; they are depicted as poorer than most of the residents of Cranbury. In spite of this, the tone of the series is generally humorous and bright. In Estes's only adult novel, The Echoing Green, she explored more seriously the implications of hardship in childhood. "The family constellation in The Echoing Green is similar to that of the Moffat books, . . . "observes Wolf. "But in The Echoing Green one sees the dark side of their personalities; in the Moffat books, the light." Although The Echoing Green was favorably reviewed, with Therese De Grace calling it in the New York Times Book Review "an acute, sustained study--a portrait in emotions," Estes never attempted another adult novel.
A new family--the Pyes, also residents of Cranbury--is featured in Estes' Newbery Award-winning novel Ginger Pye. Wolf contended that Ginger Pye "more effectively focuses on a problem and builds suspense than do any of the Moffat books." The problem is the disappearance of Jerry and Rachel Pye's dog, Ginger. Though the children often refer to Ginger's disappearance as a "mystery" and make attempts to solve it, the story does not really "offer the tightly constructed plot of a successful mystery, with a dramatic, logical progression to a climax." Instead, Ginger's disappearance and return (through what Wolf called "a rich mixture of strange coincidences and fortunate circumstances") serves as a springboard for Rachel's imaginative reveries, which are the substance of the book. Wolf explained: "Ginger Pye differs most markedly from Estes's earlier books in its use of Rachel Pye's point of view. . . . Free of Janey [Moffat]'s financial worries and other family problems, Rachel is a child whose imagination colors all of the details of daily life with radiance. And because Rachel's point of view so controls Ginger Pye, the reader participates in a child's world that is so big and so full of the exciting and the mysterious that every instant is loaded with possibilities."
In a publicity release for Harcourt Brace Jovanovich publishers, Estes once remarked: "In my writing I like to feel that I am holding up a mirror, and I hope that what is reflected in it is a true image of childhood and echoes the clear, profound, and unpremeditated thoughts and imageries of childhood." Her success in this goal was affirmed by Frances Clarke Sayers, who declared that "the vitality of Eleanor Estes derives from the fact that she sees childhood whole--its zest, its dilemmas, its cruelties and compassion."
- New York Times, July 19, 1988.
- Publisher's Weekly, August 26, 1988.*
FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
- Arbuthnot, May Hill, Children's Reading in the Home, Scott, Foresman, 1969.
- Arbuthnot, May Hill, and Zena Sutherland, Children and Books, 4th edition, Scott, Foresman, 1972.
- Cameron, Eleanor, The Green and Burning Tree: On the Writing and Enjoyment of Children's Books, Little, Brown, 1969.
- Children's Literature Review, Volume II, Gale, 1976.
- Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 22: American Writers for Children, 1900-1960, Gale, 1983.
- Ellis, Anne W., The Family Story in the 1960s, Clive Bingley, 1970.
- Fisher, Margery, Who's Who in Children's Books: A Treasury of the Familiar Characters of Childhood, Holt, 1975.
- Hopkins, Lee Bennett, More Books by More People, Citation, 1974.
- Meigs, Cornelia, editor, A Critical History of Children's Literature, Macmillan, 1953, revised edition, 1969.
- Something about the Author, Volume 56, 1989; Volume 91, 1997; Gale.
- Townsend, John Rowe, A Sense of Story: Essays on Contemporary Writers for Children, Lippincott, 1971.
- Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press, 1995.
- Christian Science Monitor, December 22, 1960; June 28, 1965.
- Growing Point, September, 1975.
- Horn Book, May, 1951; August, 1952; August, 1955; October, 1960; April, 1967; December, 1967; April, 1972; December, 1973.
- New York Times Book Review, November 30, 1947; April 22, 1951; November 1, 1964; April 23, 1972.
- Publishers Weekly, April 10, 1987, p. 96.
- Saturday Review, November 12, 1960; November 7, 1964; November 11, 1967.
- Times Literary Supplement, May 29, 1959; May 20, 1960; November 25, 1960; December 1, 1961; June 1, 1962.