Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Book Review 2020 #4 - Carol Ryrie Brink's Caddie Woodlawn's Family

Caddie Woodlawn's Family by Carol Ryrie Brink
Published by: Aladdin
Publication Date: 1939
Format: Paperback, 208 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Growing up on a farm can be full of fun if you know how to play a good prank or keep a secret. The work day seems that much lighter when you magically find watermelons in the barn or when there's a little lamb all your own whom you have to care for or a very special doll that has to have the perfect handmade dress ready in time for Christmas. But the real excitement comes from visitors! Oh, when people gather for a celebration, a stranger comes to town, a new family moves in, or a long lost friend returns with stories of their travels, that is something to look forward to! The Circuit Rider told tales of Indian braves that he heard at his father's knee to the enraptured Woodlawn children! Such stories of their ferocity and their kindness that they could hardly believe their ears. The new neighbors brought children for the the Woodlawn's to play with, and their dutiful daughter Emma was going to miss the big show everyone was going to, Dr. Hearty's Marvelous Cure-All, until her duty and a twist of fate intervened. Dr. Hearty's wagon had trouble and Emma, due to her kindness, got a show all her own. But life also has it's hardships and heartaches, what if you have to stand up in front of the entire school and do a recitation!?! Or what if your beau is riding out in a sled with some other girl? And worst yet, what if at an auction what you think is the height of fashion turns out to be mourning wear and you end up buying your mother widow's weeds!?! But at the end of the day family is family and full of love and a gathering to celebrate Independence Day is just the tonic everyone needed, no offense to Dr. Hearty, even if Caddie does end up ruining her new dress. That's just Caddie for you!

If you're a girl who grew up in the Midwest you were raised on Laura Ingalls Wilder. It's just part of the Midwestern package. But if you're a girl who grew up in Wisconsin you were raised on Laura Ingalls Wilder and Carol Ryrie Brink. Carol Ryrie Brink wrote Caddie Woodlawn, a seminal classic about her maternal grandmother growing up in Northern Wisconsin around Dunnville. In fact, during Caddie's adventures Laura Ingalls Wilder was being born about only twenty miles away. I remember in sixth grade my teacher really focused on regional literature and was very encouraging of my reading. In fact sixth grade was one of the better grades in school learning all about Wisconsin from the glaciers and grit to the literature of place. While I thankfully didn't decide to go live a rural life with a raccoon as my best friend Caddie Woodlawn quickly became a favorite book. I connected to Caddie's family on a more personal level than I ever did with the Ingalls clan. I'm not sure why but Caddie was it for me. Perhaps it's because Wisconsin is my home and the Ingalls did roam. This past summer I decided to re-read Caddie Woodlawn for a sense of nostalgia, a more pleasant past to retreat into than the current horrible present, and that's when a friend of mine asked if I had read the sequel. What!?! Yes people, I know I have astonished some of you with this fact as it astonished me, but there is a sequel. Caddie Woodlawn's Family, originally published as Magical Melons, consists of fourteen short stories, the first titled "Magical Melons." While there isn't a through line with the plot like the first book, the structure of interconnected short stories allows us to move away from Caddie and see more of her family. In fact my favorite story, "The Christmas Costume," a continuation of the prior story "Mrs. Nightingale's House," concerns Caddie's younger sister, Hetty, and a kindness to a friend that keeps a tradition alive. The story just warmed my heart and made it grow larger than the story of the Grinch ever did.


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