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Carol Ryrie Brink – Caddie Woodlawn

July 23, 2010

81. Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (1935)

Length: 276 pages
Genre: Children’s Historical Fiction

Started / Finished: 12 July 2010

Where did it come from? The Friends of the Library booksale.
Why do I have it? I’d seen it mentioned as a children’s classic, so I thought I should probably read it.

How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 09 September 2006. (Another long-term resident of the pile! I’m knocking them off, one by one.)

I went to camp in
Wisconsin, but never seemed
to have this much fun.

Summary: It’s 1864, and the Civil War is little more than distant gossip for Caddie Woodlawn and her six siblings growing up in rural Wisconsin. At eleven, Caddie should be learning to be a proper little lady, but instead she’s still running wild with her brothers. As they have adventures, get into trouble, and tumble home to their large and loving family, Caddie must learn that growing up means more than learning embroidery and not getting her dresses dirty.

Review: I know full well that if someone had handed me Caddie Woodlawn when I was eight or nine, I would have absolutely loved it. It’s essentially a mixture of two of my other favorites from that time in my life: it’s got the setting and family life of Little House in the Big Woods, the spark and humor of The Great Brain, plus an irrepressible tomboy heroine. However, reading it for the first time as an adult was kind of a non-event. While it was a pioneer story in the sense that they were living far away from any major urban center, there was no sense of having to eke their survival out of the wilderness; looking at pictures of the actual house that Carol Ryrie Brink’s grandmother lived in as a child makes it clear that it’s not some little drafty log cabin. There was similarly never much urgency to the plot, either; I think the worst hardship the family had to suffer was getting tired of eating their overabundance of turkey. Still, it’s a charming little book, full of fun adventures and with some nice morals about freedom, what it means to be an American, and what it really means to grow up to be a woman. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: It’s deservedly a children’s classic, particularly for girls, but make sure they read it before they’re too old and jaded to properly enjoy it.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Caddie Woodlawn Historical Park

Other Reviews: An Adventure in Reading, The Written World
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: In 1864 Caddie Woodlawn was eleven, and as wild a little tomboy as ever ran the woods of western Wisconsin.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 59: “Sitting sedately among the billows of brown and blue denim and dotted challis, and stitching neat seams like her mother’s she looked shyly at the Woodlawn children from under her long lashes.” – a soft fabric of plain weave in wool, cotton, rayon, or other staple fiber, either in a solid color or, more often, a small print.
  • p. 178: “One day, when the three adventurers were in the woods hunting for arbutus to take to Teacher, they heard a roaring in the river.” – any of various broad-leaved evergreen trees or shrubs of the genus Arbutus, including the madroña and strawberry tree, that are native chiefly to warm regions in the Americas and Europe.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. July 23, 2010 1:30 am

    The faculty office at the University of Idaho when I attended was named after Brink. I think it was torn down. Any time I see her name anywhere now though, my reaction is “woo! someone from Idaho made it!”

    • July 23, 2010 9:45 am

      King Rat – Heh, that’s great… although you’re right, I can’t think of any other Idahoans off the top of my head.

  2. July 23, 2010 6:22 am

    I read this when I was eight or nine, and although I can see the parallels you’re drawing to The Great Brain and the Little House books, I did not care much for Caddie Woodlawn. I don’t even remember specifically why now, just that I found it boring. :/

    • July 23, 2010 9:46 am

      Jenny – I’m just assuming I would have loved it as a kid, but we’ll never know for sure. :) There are plenty of other books that I tried as a kid, hated, re-tried as an adult, liked, and thought: what the hell was wrong with me? I should have loved this!

  3. July 23, 2010 8:41 am

    I’ve never read this as an adult, but I did love it as a child.

    • July 23, 2010 9:47 am

      bermudaonion – I wonder how well it would stack up for you as an adult, and how much I’d still love some of my childhood favorites if I were reading them for the first time now.

  4. July 23, 2010 9:31 am

    I’m with Kathy on this one – I read it as a kid, maybe 7th grade, and I loved it. I thought Caddie was awesome, probably because I also liked the Little House books and the entire Great Brain series. Now I want to go read all of those again :)

    • July 23, 2010 9:49 am

      Kim – I’ve been trying to track down the entire Great Brain series so that I have them on hand when I get nostalgic, but there’s still a few books that I’m missing… My full set of Little House books is still on a shelf at my parents’ house, though. :)

      • July 23, 2010 10:03 am

        I read all of The Great Brain at my grandma’s house — she had a really, really old version of the entire series. I’m going to e-mail her today and see if she kept them, which would be cool. I think my whole Little House set (plus the Rose Wilder Lane books) are at my parents’ house too.

        Also, I got the book you sent a couple days ago — thanks! I can’t wait to read it.

      • August 3, 2010 9:17 am

        Kim – I always got the Great Brain books out of the library… I checked them out so often that I could still walk directly to the spot where they were shelved, even 20 years later.

  5. July 23, 2010 9:59 am

    I’ve never heard of this before. I’d probably really like it though, or at least I would have as a kid so I may give this a try since it’s a Newbery winner.

    • August 3, 2010 9:17 am

      Ladytink – It’s obviously a pretty fast read, so if you’re interested in reading your way through the Newberys, I’d definitely recommend it.

  6. July 23, 2010 2:35 pm

    I loved this book as a young girl. I’m sorry to hear that it didn’t translate as well to adulthood. I didn’t remember it as historical fiction, but it certainly was. I’ve been a fan of that genre longer than I thought!

    • August 3, 2010 9:19 am

      Literate Housewife – Yup! I think most people have been reading historical fiction (and probably fantasy) since they were kids!

  7. July 23, 2010 9:34 pm

    I read this book so long ago that the only thing I remember about it was that I liked it. Hmm. Maybe I should reread it.

    • August 3, 2010 9:19 am

      Nancy – If you do, I’d be curious to hear how well it holds up.

  8. July 25, 2010 9:21 am

    Cool. I am going to track this down. Great review.

  9. Allison permalink
    August 24, 2010 10:26 pm

    I read Caddie Woodlawn for the 1st time in 4th grade, and loved it. I read it several times; she became a “best friend.” As a teacher, I taught her to my 4th graders. Her adventures carried over well to my boys and my girls. I laugh out loud just thinking of the ‘trouble’ she got into. One of my all time favorite books. Never knew it was a classic…no one else I knew ever read it. I am going to go read it again and smile and laugh some more.

  10. Barbara permalink
    January 30, 2011 2:05 pm

    I just pulled this off my teenage boy’s bookshelf (I forgot I had bought it for him when he was younger) when searching for a historical fiction book for my 4th grade daughter. I also read this book in 4th grade and loved it. I adored Caddie and carried her with me long after reading the book. Think I liked her better than Laura Ingalls – perhaps because she was a little more adventurous.

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