Wednesday, August 11, 2010

1936 - Caddie Woodlawn

It’s hard to believe this book never crossed my field of reading when I was a kid. I suspect that at some time in the past it was a certain generation’s required reading in grammar school.

Caddie Woodlawn is a lovely book that covers a year in a pioneer child’s life in Wisconsin. For her health’s sake, she has been allowed to play the tomboy with her brothers; gathering nuts, wading creeks, plowing fields, playing and exploring. Twelve-year old Caddie loves this life; she doesn’t want to be a “lady” with restrictive clothes and boring activities. Another conflict running in the background is her mother’s undercurrent of dissatisfaction in being a pioneer mother and wife out on the frontier. She misses Boston terribly. When a dramatic choice is given to the family that could change their lifestyle forever, all have to examine their hearts to see what they really want.

Caddie Woodlawn was written in 1935 by Carol Ryrie Brink, the granddaughter of the real Caddie Woodlawn, Caddie Woodhouse. Brink was raised by her grandmother and her aunt and listened to Caddie tell stories of her childhood as a pioneer girl. When Brink wrote the book, Caddie was still alive and able to help fill in some of the details.

1935 was a long time ago, and time changes the terms we use. I believe in viewing literature relative to the culture and times it was conceived in. “Squaw” and “Half-Breed,” “Redskin” and “red savages” were accepted vocabulary then, though not considered correct today. And it’s a little jarring to follow the “You like him dog?” Indian dialog, though for all I know, it’s the way they really spoke and not just a caricature. The Indian encounters create a good opportunity to consider both the injustice done to those indigenous Americans, and to the very real danger that the settlers faced from them.

One part that touched me was Caddie’s gradual realization of how left out her little sister Hetty felt when the older siblings played and conspired together. She begins to understand that Hetty's annoying habits might be a result of that lack of attention, and that she could be a better sister to her.

Comparisons may be made with the Little House on the Prairie books, but after the first couple chapters, that feeling fades. Caddie’s family is different, her adventures are different, Brink’s writing style is different, and the time-frame is about 20 years earlier.

I enjoyed Caddie Woodlawn; it was a fun and interesting book. I found this copy at Goodwill Thrift Store.


Funder said...

Oooh, this is one I'd like to read. I love pioneer stories - it's so hard for me to imagine just how different their lives were.

Carolyn said...

Read it, and then let us know what you thought!

Mel said...

Sounds interesting! Can I borrow it? I wonder if my library has it or uf it has been "banned" for some of it's language?

Carolyn said...

Sure you can borrow it. I doubt it's been banned. The language is not that strong, just a little dated.
*If you want to see a banned book, see Little Black Sambo
or Epaminondas and his Auntie
As a kid I used to love these from the county library, but I'll bet you couldn't find them anymore!

I'd guess Caddie's just been replaced in the affections of teachers by other more modern books.