Five Little Peppers

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An illustration for The Five Little Peppers, 1887

The Five Little Peppers is a book series created by American author Margaret Sidney which was published 1881 to 1916. It covers the lives of the five children in their native state and develops with their rescue by a wealthy gentleman who takes an interest in the family.

Series overview[edit]

The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew tells how the Peppers live, learn, and play in their little brown house. They are poor, and Mamsie must work constantly to keep the wolf from the door, but their lives are unexpectedly happy.

When the youngest, Phronsie, is kidnapped by an organ grinder, she is rescued by young Jasper King and his dog Prince, both of whom soon become fast friends with the Peppers. The family so charms Jasper and his father that one by one they are invited to visit the Kings' home in the city and soon the entire family is living there. Mr. King makes Mrs. Pepper his housekeeper and does everything in his power to entertain and educate the children.

Though the Kings surround the Pepper children with luxury—in 5 years Phronsie collects 200 dolls—the values of hard work, humility, and togetherness are still firmly enforced by their mother. This puts them in a curious position in society. Though they live with an upper-class father and son, the older children are aware they’ll someday work for their livings. This makes them willing to befriend anyone, from street girls to grocers’ sons.

The stories continue with the Peppers' adventures in school, abroad, and even back in the little brown house where their thoughts and hearts will always turn. The series spans 17 years, beginning with Phronsie as a three-year-old and finishing with her as a 20-year-old young lady.


Mrs. Pepper (Later Mrs. Fisher): Called "Mamsie" by her children, Mrs. Pepper is a widow struggling to keep her five children healthy and educated. She is the family's moral backbone and her children are completely devoted to her. She eventually weds Dr. Adoniram Fisher with her brood's full approval.

Ben (Ebenezer): The eldest of the five. Ben is an avid scholar but willingly puts aside schooling in favor of providing for the family. With his sister he manages the younger children and will sacrifice anything for them. He is eleven at the start of “The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.”

Polly (Mary) The elder Pepper girl, aged 10 at the start of “The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.” Polly is a busy, bright, cheerful girl who makes the family's life as happy as possible. She loves music, flowers, and her baby sister with equal passion.

Joel: The middle Pepper, the middle boy, the most active. He is 8 in “The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.” Joel is an enthusiastic sportsman who loves treats, parties, and entertainment. He is the most troublesome, often getting himself into mischief or causing the others grief with the things he says. He settles down somewhat in college and becomes active in a student church group.

Davie (David): The youngest boy and the quietest sibling. Davie allows the world to go on around him as he calmly absorbs the family's doings. An obedient student, he's equally willing to give up anything to make Joel or Ben happy. Somewhat of a dandy in late adolescence, he is teasingly nicknamed "Davina" by other students.

Phronsie (Sophronia): The baby and pet of the family. The series opens with Phronsie as a wide-eyed blonde three-year-old who sees the good in nearly everyone and is anxious to aid anyone in need. She calls her dolls, Baby and Seraphina, her children and treats them as such. She is especially devoted to Polly and Mr. King.

Mr. J. Horatio King, Senior: The Pepper family’s benefactor. He is an older widower and in uncertain health at the beginning of the series. Bringing the Peppers into his household revitalizes him. Though quick of temper and firm of opinion, "Grandpapa" is a family man who seeks to ease every pain and concern in the lives of his children and the Peppers.

Jasper (Jasper, Junior, called "Jappy"): Mr. King’s son. Jasper is an eager boy who is just as willing to go sledding with Ben as to bake pies with Polly. Jasper and his dog Prince befriend the Peppers when he rescues Phronsie from an organ grinder, and his affection for them ultimately leads him to request their company permanently in the household by marrying Polly.

The Whitneys: Marian King Whitney, Mr. King’s adult daughter, and her boys Percy, Van, and Dick Whitney make up the rest of the King household. Mr. Whitney ultimately turns out to be Mrs. Pepper’s cousin, making the Peppers distant relatives of the family. Mrs. Whitney is a second mother to the Pepper children. The three boys, while infatuated with Polly, are frequently at odds both with one another and with Joel.


In order of publication, the Five Little Peppers books are as follows (publication dates follow in parentheses):

Margaret Sidney felt she had completed the books with the publication of the fourth book: Phronsie Pepper, and stated as much in her introduction to the book. Letters from readers around the world prompted her to continue writing about the Peppers, which she did for another nineteen years. All of the later books take place much before the third book in the original series. In chronological order, rather than by publication date, the six key books would be read approximately in this sequence:

The other six books are "background" and are set about the time of the first three books listed above chronologically. Since they were written many years later, some situations in them are at variance with those same situations as described in the earlier written books.


The Pepper books were the inspiration for a brief series of feature films produced by Columbia Pictures in 1939 and 1940. The four films were vehicles for Columbia's juvenile star Edith Fellows, who played Polly. The rest of the children were Charles Peck as Ben, Tommy Bond of Our Gang as Joey, Robert Boyce "Bobby" Larson as Davie, and Dorothy Ann Seese as Phronsie.

The first film was devoted mostly to Fellows as the senior member of the Pepper brood, and was not an exact reflection of the book. The other three films were homespun family stories with elements of comedy and drama. Edith Fellows carried the series, although by the time it lapsed, five-year-old Dorothy Ann Seese had become an audience favorite and was billed at the head of the cast, second only to Fellows.

The Pepper screenplays had little to do with the original books, but the four films were popular with moviegoers. The films remained in circulation for many years, and were frequently scheduled for children's film festivals and weekend matinees.

The Pepper books are referenced in the TV series Fargo—Season 2, Episode 1. Specifically, the character Lou Solverson is reading from Chapter 4 of Five Little Peppers and How They Grew. The chapter is entitled "Trouble for the Little Brown House." The chapter carries an epigram from the New Testament book of Matthew: "I was sick, and ye visited me."

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