Caddie Woodlawn



Caddie Woodlawn

by Carol Ryrie Brink

MacMillan: 1935

275 pages, 24 chapters

Age: 6+ (read to); 8+ (independent reading)

Interests: history, American history, farm life, pioneers, siblings, growing up

Also by this author: sequel Magical Melons (aka Caddie Woodlawn’s Family)

Next: picture books – They Were Strong and Good, Abraham Lincoln, Ox-Cart Manchapter books –  Sarah Plain and Tall, Little House on the Prairie series, Anne of Green Gables

Based on the real experiences and memories of the author’s grandmother, Caddie Woodhouse. Caddie is the third of seven children on a Wisconsin farm at the time of the Civil War. She is a headstrong tomboy, and spends all her time exploring and having adventures with her two brothers. Her mother and older sister despair of her ever becoming a “lady”, and Caddie lives in fear of being turned into one.

The Civil War is raging far away, but there is conflict closer to home, as the white settlers live in fear of an Indian “massacree”. The small tribe that lives close by, however, is peaceful and Caddie’s father, a very enlightened and fair-minded man, works hard to convince his neighbours to trust them. Caddie and her brothers come into contact with the Indians while rambling in the woods, and are on very good terms with them. When some settlers start talking about attacking the Indian settlement, Caddie bravely rides to warn her native friends.

Other events of pioneer life are related as well – a visit from the circuit preacher, hunting with uncle, skating on the river, schoolhouse battles, Valentine’s Day, a visit from a city cousin, and a prairie fire. Threaded throughout is the love affair Caddie and her family have with the land around their farm, the changing seasons, the animals and birds, the sunsets and the starry night sky.

I quite enjoyed this book. Written in 1935, the language is so direct and unadorned that it could have been written yesterday. The racism of the day is an issue in the plot, but Caddie’s father teaches them all to be free of prejudice and he stands tall against the irrational hatred of their settler neighbours. At school Caddie also shows great generosity and kindness toward three “half-breed” children. Throughout, Caddie is a terrific role model. She exhibits great personal bravery, but I think her very best moments are when she stops to consider the situation of others, and acts with great empathy and understanding.

Largely this is a book about a girl just at the brink of growing up. A little wild and disobedient, but always showing great courage, toward the end of the book Caddie softens a little and starts to act more responsibly: being nicer to an ignored little sister, and helping out with the quilting and cooking. The gender roles exist, as they did in those times, and although Mrs. Woodlawn is stern and old-fashioned in her views of how a girl should or shouldn’t act, Mr. Woodlawn is liberal-minded about the issue. It was he who allowed her to run wild with her brothers, knowing that fresh air and exercise would make her strong and healthy. And near the end he explains to Caddie the important role that women play in the taming of this great new country… making as palatable as possible the notion of womanly duty to husband and family.

Another historically interesting aspect of this book is the tremendous role that patriotism played in the lives of early settlers. It’s not overstated, but is still an ever-present, powerful force in their lives. When an unexpected letter arrives notifying her father of a rich inheritance in England, the family decides (by means of a very democratic vote) to stay in their beloved United States.

An appealing and lively book about early settler life in America, about farm life and living in nature, about working together as a family, and about tolerance and fairness for all people. And also about growing up and accepting responsibility. Enough detail is given to give a real sense about how people lived back then, and Caddie’s adventures are vivid and engaging.

(this title available at


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