Caddie Woodlawn is a sweet coming-of-age story that takes place in the 1860s. Because she was a sickly baby, her father recommends that she get plenty of exercise and sunshine playing outdoors rather than staying at home to learn domestic duties. She and brothers have wonderful adventures, but as time goes on she must decide how to balance her wildness with her femaleness. Her father helps he to see that she can be true to her adventuresome spirit while at the same time developing womanly virtues. Certainly, a book that highlights the special contribution that women make to society would not be published today, but I appreciated Brink's careful handling of this subject.
The story has some similarities to the Little House books in that Caddie's mother is disdainful of Indians while her father is more open and trusting. I couldn't help comparing the books in my mind since I re-read all the Little House books last year and was so captivated by them. Although the Woodlawn family doesn't experience the same crises as the Ingalls' clan, they face their difficulties with the same no-nonsense attitude. When Caddie falls through the ice while skating, her brothers don't run for help. Instead they find a way to save her:
With cool presence of mind, Tom made Warren lie down on the ice, and, catching hold of Warren's feet, he pushed him out over the thin ice until he could reach Caddie's groping hands. "Hold tight, Warren,"he shouted. "I'll pull you both in!" And he did. Nobody made much fuss over it. Pioneer children were always having mishaps, but they were expected to know how to use their heads in emergencies. (p. 74)
The rapscallion escapades are balanced with tender stories of Father's childhood, Caddie's growing friendship with her pesky sister, and a neighbor boy's heroism during a prairie fire. Through it all Caddie learns that though the world is filled with painful challenges, it also offers delightful surprises. She concludes that "Whatever life is like, I like it." This would be an excellent read-aloud for children.