Sunday, May 20, 2012

Book Review: Ten Kids, No Pets by Ann M. Martin (1988)

Abigail, Bainbridge, Calandra, Dagwood, Eberhard, Faustine, Gardenia, Hannah, Ira, and Janthina Rosso come from a family with a lot rules. There's the rule about naming kids that leads to them having so many unusual ones. There are the rules about shelving  books in alphabetical order, and always placing clean laundry on the bottom of a drawer to allow the clothes to wear out evenly. But the one rule every one of the kids wants to change is the "no pets" rule. Ten kids is enough, Mrs. Rosso says, but that doesn't stop her children from trying their hardest to infiltrate an animal - any animal - into the family.

I was drawn to this book in childhood because of my obsession with Ann M. Martin's Baby-sitters Club series, and my secret wish to have an army of brothers and sisters. I come back to it as an adult thanks to a friend of mine from work, who purchased a copy and then lent it to me. Interestingly, my childhood and adult reading experiences of this book differ greatly. I actually think the differences are greater for this book than for any other I've read for Old School Sunday.

The first thing I realized right off the bat is that I really wanted to diagnose Mrs. Rosso. Her various systems - especially the one for naming the kids - seemed quirky and fun to me as a kid, but now make me instantly fearful for her mental health. Maybe this is because I've read a few books about parents with mental health issues, so I was more likely to notice her odd patterns of behavior, but I definitely found myself wondering why her kids and husband don't have more concerns about the many rules and regulations that run the household. I understand the "no pets" thing - I myself fully intend to be a "no pets" parent when the time comes - but everything else seemed over the top. (Incidentally, Ann M. Martin does sort of have a tendency to write about parents with weird over the top quirks. Remember Dawn's mother in the BSC books (specifically Dawn and the Impossible Three)? She was constantly putting her keys in the fridge and losing shoes and whatever else. It's interesting to compare her with Mrs. Rosso. )

Another thing I apparently missed on my multiple childhood readings of this book was the now-obvious fact that every chapter involves an animal. What fascinated my child self was the size of the family, their freedom to wander the grounds of their new country home, and yes, their strange names and nicknames. Apparently, this fascination caused me to ignore completely the kids' quest for a pet. Quite frankly, both as a child and as an adult, I didn't care whether they ever got the pet. I was much more interested in their family dynamics.  I can't believe I missed the obvious attempts of the kids to find and keep a pet, since that is clearly the point of the story - but I can't say I'm surprised. I often missed the point of books I read in childhood.

The third surprise for me was the fact that the story is not told by the kids in descending age order. I was sure the kids appeared in the book in alphabetical order, but this is not even close to being true. Abbie is first, but the orderly progression ends there - and thank goodness! I'd hate to start diagnosing Ann Martin too.

This book is somewhat dated - mainly because of its references to record and tapes - but by no means completely irrelevant. Desire for a pet and schemes to acquire one occur in generation after generation, and today's kids are as likely to understand it as kids my own age were back when I first read it (1991 or so). It's also a great book for kids like me who have one sibling but wonder now and then what it would be like to have eight more. In that sense, it's a nice read-alike for The Penderwicks, Cheaper By the Dozen, The Sisters Club, and other sibling-oriented tales. Also, there is a sequel, Eleven Kids, One Summer, which I'm planning to read very soon. Both are out of print,  but not very hard to find in used book stores, in libraries, and online.


  1. I just checked, and my library has it! I shall check it out--it sounds pleasently diverting.

  2. Loved this as a kid! I especially liked the secret passage and saving the Thanksgiving turkey!