Monday, November 18, 2013

Book Review: Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

I remember my dad reading this book to us when my brother and I were young--young enough to share a bedroom. Suffice it to say that it was a long time ago. I fought with, and adored, my brother in those years. I was something of a tomboy, and proud of it too. So when my dad read Caddie Woodlawn, it delighted me so much that I remembered my delight years and years later, even when I couldn't remember anything of the story. 

I bought the book at a sale not long ago on the strength of that memory, and only in the last few days have I accomplished the re-reading that has been waiting the last twenty years. And I was not disappointed! 

Caddie Woodlawn is a book that will certainly delight both boys and girls. It has everything in its favor. For one, it is based off of a true story--the story of the author's grandmother, Caddie Woodhouse Watkins. And that fact alone makes many elements of the tale even more exciting, even though we don't know which parts of the story were "true" or "embellished". The exciting escapades of the children are more daring; their friendship with the Indians is more unusual; their favorite dog walking from St. Louis to the wilds of Wisconsin is more incredible; and the surprising truth about their father's past is more astonishing, simply because of the possibility that they might actually have happened to the author's grandmother. 

Then, there's the delightful character of Caddie. She's a tomboy for sure. With her, Tom and Warren, the two brothers on either side of her in age-rank, formed such an inseparable triumvirate that when Caddie (finally) started being interested in house work, the boys followed suite. They learned to quilt and cook and keep house with her, assuming that nothing Caddie did was too "girly" for them! She was quick, vivacious, and full of daring. But it's clear that she is compassionate as well, which is just as winsome as her courage. On one occasion, she has a silver dollar all to herself and spends it all on the lonely half-Indian children who lost their mother. Through the story she also gradually notices and has more sympathy with her younger sister, Hattie, whom she had always previously regarded as nothing more than a nuisance.  

Throughout the book, there are many good episodes to provoke thought or conversation about right and wrong, bravery versus disobedience, generosity versus "wisdom", and in general, what it means to be part of an American family. Without being preachy, the themes of hard work, learning, independence, sacrifice, and camaraderie are apparent in each chapter. It's a great book. I heartily recommend it, and I definitely won't be waiting another twenty years for the next re-read! 

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