CADDIE WOODLAWN (1935)
By Carol Ryrie Brink
When I mention my Newbery Medal project many people have remarked that they loved Caddie Woodlawn. It was the second book by Carol Ryrie Brink that I read, the first being The Pink Motel which was a Weekly Reader Book Club selection that I read and re-read (and that I think I should read again).
But, back to Caddie and her appeal. Brink based the book on her grandmother’s childhood stories. Caroline “Caddie” Woodhouse (1853-1939) grew up on a farm carved out of the woods in northwestern Wisconsin. Her father was from England and her mother was from Boston. The book is set in 1864 when Caddie is 11, a tomboy keeping up with older brother Tom and younger brother Warren. Life on the farm, long winters, and school days – getting into and out of scrapes – visits from a favorite uncle -- family secrets revealed – a sympathetic and memorable portrait of a loving and supportive family.
For many years I have remembered a funny couplet: “If at first you don’t fricassee / Fry, fry a hen!” I found out that I first read it in Caddie. At the end-of-term program the children make recitations. Caddie’s dramatic reading “went off perfectly, gestures, Boston accent, and everything.” Warren is not such a confident speaker. His pithy “If at first you don’t succeed / Try, try again” is sabotaged with “fricassee” by Tom and Caddie. Warren is humiliated and Tom and Caddie are suitably chagrined.
I was delighted to discover this episode:
Clara and Annabelle had set up the quilting frame and were busily at work on the quilt which Clara had been piecing all winter….Caddie came and looked. “Do you think I could learn how?” she asked. “I guess if I can mend clocks, I ought to be able to quilt,’ and nobody contradicted her. By noon she was quite as good as Clara or Annabelle.
When Tom and Warren came up from the barn she hailed them enthusiastically and began to exhibit her skill. “Golly, I could do that, too!” said Tom. “Girls think they’re so smart with their tiny stitches. Where’s a needle?” “Me, too!” said Warren, and before Clara knew what was happening to her precious quilt, the three erstwhile adventurers were making riotous scrolls and roses all over.
Clara protested to Mother, “You’ve got to make them stop. Their hands are all dirty!”
Mrs. Woodlawn replied, “Let it be, Clara. The quilt will wash, the quilt will wash.”
Riotous scrolls and roses! I wonder what the fictional Woodlawn quilt looked like. I doubt that a mid-1860’s quilt looked like the one in Trina Schart Hyman’s 1973 illustration.. (And if they were quilting, why is Warren holding an unpieced triangle?) I need to find a copy with Kate Seredy’s original illustrations.
|Original cover (Kate Seredy illus.)|