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I read Caddie Woodlawn years ago, as a child. I love frontier adventures which feature female heroines. The fact that this story takes place in the area I grew up in makes it that much more interesting to me. This is a 1936 Newbery Medal winner, too!
The story is about the life of Caddie Woodlawn and her family in the early Wisconsin frontier during the Civil War era. Her parents came to the Wisconsin wilderness from Boston to make a new life for themselves, settling in the area of Downsville. The story is rather like a memoir–sharing specific stories from Caddie’s life which she shared with her family. It was her granddaughter, Carol Ryrie Brink, who put the stories into book form.
The most enthralling thing about this book, for me personally, is that it took place in the area where I grew up. It’s fun to imagine Caddie and her brothers traipsing through the wilderness (which is now quite developed land). Have we walked along the same stretch of river? Where exactly was her family’s farm?
Caddie is such a fun tomboyish character. Her father is given charge of her upbringing, in the hopes that more vigorous activities (a.k.a. hanging out with her brothers), will help keep her healthy. (One of her older sisters became weak and died when she was coddled by their mother in the rough frontier land.) Caddie and her brothers engage in all sorts of shenanigans, and eventually Caddie matures and realizes that growing up isn’t quite the awful thing that she always thought it would be.
The one criticism I have for the book is its outdated language pertaining to Native Americans. For its time, this book is fairly forward-thinking, but it will still be offensive to today’s readers. There are a few instances where the terms “redskins,” “savages,” and “half-breeds” are used. I recommended the book to my son, but prefaced it with a discussion on terms referring to and attitudes towards Native Americans at that period in history.
There are a couple of circumstances relating to the Native American characters in the story which help teach kids a lesson in accepting others. Caddie’s friendship with Indian John, and her act of love for the Hankinson kids are two of my favorite scenes from the entire book. You’ll see why when you read them. Sometimes it takes a child to know what is right and to follow through, even when the adults around them would rather cling to suspicion and prejudice.
I recommend this book to older elementary-age children, up to teens. It’s a fun look into U.S. history which gives kids a good view into what everyday life may have looked like for white settlers.
- Some offensive/outdated racial language referring to Native Americans (“savages,” “redskins”)
Rating: 4 Stars
Until next time…