Caddie Woodlawn once caused me serious humiliation. Picture it: elementary school, the mid 1990s. I was sitting in the cafeteria, innocently reading the Caddie Woodlawn sequel Magical Melons (yes, I used to read during lunch. Even then, I was incredibly cool). I’m going to give author Carol Ryrie Brink the benefit of a doubt and assume that when she wrote these books in the 1930′s, she wasn’t aware of double entendres. You know who was, though? The boy sitting across from me, who totally made fun of me and made sure everyone knew I was reading a book called Magical Melons. Admittedly, that title seems like it belongs more on an adult film than on a charming tale of frontier life, but I still wish I could see this kid again and be like, “Look what reading inappropriate-sounding young adult novels at lunch got me, Josh. My own HelloGiggles column!” I’m sure he would be impressed/not remember this incident or me at all.
Embarrassment aside, I still have fond memories of Caddie Woodlawn. Young Caddie is raised as an experiment, but I don’t mean she’s like Frankenstein’s monster or anything. I mean that her father decides to raise Caddie as a tomboy like her brothers instead of “learning to be a lady” like her sisters. Personally, I think raising children as experiments is less of a good idea and more of a way to breed resentment, but what do I know? I’m neither a pioneer nor a parent. And anyway, if Caddie Woodlawn wasn’t allowed to run free and cast aside typical lady-crafts like sewing and cooking, then we wouldn’t have this book.
Caddie spends most of her time getting dirty, getting into trouble and hanging out with Native Americans. Although, since this book was written in the 1930’s about the 1860’s, you can bet no one used the term “Native American.” Much like most children’s books written about pioneer times (like Little House on the Prairie), a significant number of pages are devoted to a theme I like to call Everyone’s Scared of an Indian Massacre. When a rumor gets around town that the Indians plan to attack, the townspeople gather at the Woodlawn household and Caddie overhears a few men discussing their plan to preemptively kill the Indians. Caddie (tomboy that she is) has no fear, and so she runs to the Indians to warn them. She ends up bringing everyone together, because Caddie Woodlawn is nothing if not a peacemaker. It’s really too bad she doesn’t become a diplomat later in life.
Caddie Woodlawn is actually based on the real life of Carol Ryrie Brink’s grandmother (whose real name was Caddie Woodhouse). Caddie raised Carol in Moscow, Idaho after both of her parents died. Carol loved hearing her grandmother’s stories so much that she decided to write them down for other children to enjoy, which is just about one of the sweetest things I’ve ever heard. As Carol wrote in the introduction about Caddie: “She lived to be almost eighty-six years of age. Like a true pioneer she had come all across the country from Boston to Wisconsin to Idaho to the Pacific Ocean. She had many troubles in her life, but she always looked out cheerfully at the world and found it a good place. She noticed people and the interesting things that happened to them, and she found these things worth retelling.”
While I might have been a little flippant about Caddie Woodlawn, what with my Magical Melons talk and my making fun of how she was raised, I really do have a deep affection for Caddie. This book was a big part of my childhood, just as it was for lots of other girls (and boys). Even today, you can visit the Caddie Woodlawn house in Wisconsin and hang out in the park named after her. We should all be so lucky as to be remembered this way.
-When Caddie’s Indian friend John (helpfully referred to as “Indian John”) has to leave town for awhile, he puts her in charge of his two most prized possessions: his dog and his scalp belt. It has ponytails hanging off of it and Caddie and her brothers charge neighborhood children to look at it. Everyone knows scalp belts are proven moneymakers.
-According to Wikipedia (the source of truth in all matters), the title of Magical Melons was changed to Caddie Woodlawn’s Family. Too little, too late, if you ask me.
What about you? Have you visited Caddie Woodlawn’s home? Have you seen the movie? Let me know in the comments! As always, I love to hear about the books you’d like to see in Young Adult Education. Leave a comment, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.
Image via Rea Berg