Friday, April 5, 2013

Book Review - Caddie Woodlawn

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink won the Newbery Medal in 1936 and was an inaugural recipient of the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1958. It is often compared to the Little House books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. This is unfair to both as the two heroines have a completely different approach to childhood.

Caddie is semi-biographical, based on Ms. Brink's grandmother's childhood in Wisconsin.

Our protagonist is 11 at the start of the novel in the summer of 1864. Caddie is a tomboy and most of the chapters deal with her adventures with her two brothers, Tom and Warren. There are historical events woven into the narrative - the Civil War rages far away and, closer to home, the Sioux uprising in Minnesota two years before inject tension between the local Native American (Indian) tribe and the settlers.

Two core themes drive through the book, from Caddie's perspective: she comes to terms with growing up and she realizes how precious being an American is.

Although Caddie will never be a "lady" she does come to value the traditional women's roles, and, in a twist unusual for the 1930s, her brothers take a turn at learning the "domestic arts". The other theme that is driven home is the egality of being an American; the idea that life is what you make of it not what is given to you by reason of birth.

Many of Caddie's adventures are typical frontier adventures, dealing mainly with the natural dangers that the pioneers had to deal with entirely with the resources at hand and their wits. Throughout the book we are given Caddie's perspective, realizing what motivates and causes the behaviors she notices in the people she cares about.

I really enjoyed the book both when I read it as an 11-year-old and as I re-read it now. It can be read as a simple adventure book but it can also be read as a relatively deep novel of realization; of growing-up and finding one's way in the world.

Do you have childhood favorites that you've reread as an adult? Leave me a note!

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