Books to Read Aloud – Caddie Woodlawn

Another of our recent read-alouds that could go into a family’s literary portfolio is Caddie Woodlawn. Somewhat in the vein of the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, this book is also loosely based on the life and experiences of a pioneer family (set about 20 years earlier than the time period of the Ingalls series). And it is also full of interesting adventures and characters. It, too, will appeal to the sort of children that enjoy feeling history come alive.

Many of the chapters are good old fashioned fun. But the characters are unique and are developed and explored with a more rapid, definitive narrative than the Ingalls books. (And no wonder, the author doesn’t spend 7 books developing them.) The emotions are more strongly expressed and less nuanced, and the characters are unique and their quirks and strengths are each explored – sometimes with humorous effect.

The book explores several worthwhile and thought provoking themes. It explores Caddies inner qualms about growing up from a girl to a lady. Also, family dynamics are lightly explored: the Woodlawn family has unique roots – a blend of English nobility, New England gentry, and Western pioneer hardiness. Tension among these allegiances leads to the most interesting parts of the story – bits of family drama, a major decision, a family vote, and ultimately a unified direction. I remember being fascinated by the idea of a family vote when I read this book as a child, and my kids were similarly interested. (Now if they could only convince us to make important decisions such as school attendance and what’s for dinner based on referendums! Fortunately they don’t quite out-number the adults.) As in the Laura Ingalls books, relations between the white settlers and the American Indians feature prominently; the author in Caddie Woodlawn is much quicker to make definitive moral judgments. An amusing contrast is also drawn between Eastern “respectability” and gritty frontier life. The book paints an honest portrait of both the virtues and evils of pioneer life; in the end, it is this pioneer culture with which the Woodlawn family chooses to permanently cast in their lot.

The differences in historical era cause a few sections to sound a bit strange to modern ears. But in general there is nothing offensive for young grade school children, and much to enjoy. Funny, unique, and at times touching, this is a great book for kids that like history and adventure.

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Tim Carr

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