The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall

(Suggested reading level: Grades 4-6)

This is one of the few books I have clear memories of from when I first read it. My copy has the cover on the right, but the newer versions just don’t have the same feel to me. I loved reading this out loud with Amber (10), seeing her get excited over the characters I fondly remember.

The Minnipins are a small people, sedate, somber and conforming.

Today Minnipins of all ages were scurrying about the market place, green cloaks flying in the breeze. Round, rosy housewives, their brown-weave dresses tucked up, were scrubbing their doorstones or polishing the silver doorknobs on their watercress-green doors, while children were watering the flowers that grew around the family trees. (pg. 19)

They live securely in an isolated mountain valley and never question the authority of the Periods, the leading families. There are a few rebels, though, referred to as “Them” – Curley Green a painter, Walter the Earl who digs for old manuscripts and treasures, and Gummy a poet. A couple of other folks, Muggles the museum curator and Mingy the treasurer, not really “Them” but not really standard Minnipins either join “Them” in challenging the wisdom of the Periods. The five are outlawed, forced to leave the town and establish a new home on the mountains. There they find the Minnipins’ ancient enemies, the Mushrooms, are preparing to attack the village. Of course, the outlaws are going to save the day, but how?

There’s a fantasy element here. Danger and adventure, spears flying and swords gleaming when the enemy is near, and jokes for the reader to catch, but it’s the characters that I love. One simple act, like painting the door of you home red instead of the standard green or wearing an orange sash or cloak, caused the neighbors to look at them askance. In the village, different is not acceptable. Even worse, their in competition with other villages for the coveted Gammage Cup, so everything and everyone must be perfect. “They” are not. Of course we learn that differences should be respected, that each person needs to be him or herself, even if that means they don’t always fit it. The ones who stay true to their individuality are, after all the heroes of  the story. It’s a nice lesson for kids, and adults for that matter.

“What I mean is, it’s no matter what color we paint our doors or what kind of clothes we wear, we’re . . . well, we’re those colors inside us. Instead of being green inside, you see, like other folk. So I don’t think maybe it would do any good if we just changed our outside color. We would still be . . .  be orange or scarlet inside, and, well, we would do orange and scarlet things all the time, and everybody would still—” (pg. 92)

The ending wraps everything up neatly and quickly but I do love this book. It’s one I’ve remember for 20 some odd years and will probably remember 20 years from now. One tidbit, the teacher who gave this to me for Christmas in ’86 is Amber’s Talented and Gifted teacher now, which is another reason it was nice to share with her.

When I remembered the book, for some reason the Minnipins in my head were more like hobbits. I’m not really sure why, since the book never gives that impression. They’re just normal people, although they are referred to as the “Small Ones.” What’s interesting to me though, is that this is the only middle school or YA fiction book that I’ve read recently that has only adult characters. I never really noticed before. Do authors think kids can’t relate to adults? Adults can do things for real, like go off and live in the woods or get paid to work in a museum, that kids can only dream of.

Amber loved this story; she kept wanting to stay up later to read more. And I think I’m going to add it to my list of books to get grade school kids as presents.  It’ll always be one of my favorites.

First published in 1959
Newberry Honor 1960

1st of the Minnipin books

221 pages

Challenges: 100+

I received our copy as a gift  over 20 years ago and the above is my honest opinion. I am an Amazon associate.