Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink, was published in 1935 by Macmillan.
Caddie Woodlawn is a real adventurer. She’d rather hunt than sew, plow than bake, and beat her brothers’ dares every chance she gets. Caddie is friends with Indians, who scare most of the neighbors—neighbors who, like her mother and sisters, don’t understand her at all. Caddie is brave, and her story is special—because it’s true, based on the life and memories of Carol Ryrie Brink’s grandmother, the real Caddie Woodlawn.
If you were to think of a typical Newbery Medal book, you’d probably think of many of the tropes and techniques in Caddie Woodlawn, which seems to me to be the earliest of what I can only call the “Newbery Medal” formula, or perhaps, more simply, the “coming of age” formula.
That’s not to say all Newbery Medals follow along with Caddie Woodlawn—clearly they don’t—but a lot of them do have the same type of formula to them: girl/boy is in the process of growing up, has adventures, learns lessons, does brave things, etc. They’re also fairly episodic in plot, with each chapter (perhaps two) being one particular episode in the protagonist’s life. There’s usually some sort of arc connecting them all together, whether it’s plot or a particular character. All these things are present in Caddie Woodlawn and, though it makes for a disjointed pace, it’s effective at communicating the coming-of-age aspect.
I’ve actually read Caddie Woodlawn before, 15 or more years ago, and the thing I remembered most of the book was the part where Caddie gets her friend to “cross her heart” and the friend freaks out because she doesn’t think she can tell anyone where Caddie is. This event takes place much earlier in the book than I expected—there’s a whole part with the settlers being afraid that they were going to be massacred and one would expect this to be the crowning moment of the book, the place for the protagonist to truly show off her bravery and end the book in a spectacular fashion. However, it happens about halfway through and, to be honest, the rest of the book falls a little flat after that particular escapade.
In fact, it’s after the “cross your heart” and the fear of massacre part where the book starts to feel very episodic and choppy. I mean, I enjoyed it for the most part, but I got a little bit tired of Caddie’s shenanigans towards the end. Brink includes some historical events and things, which are nice, but the book feels a trifle long and gets tiring by the end.
Caddie Woodlawn reminds me of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, but much more choppy in terms of pace and a little bit less endearing and enduring. It’s definitely a step-up from much of the 1920s Newbery Medals I read, but the clear “coming of age” formula (not old when it was written, but very predictable and tired now) detracts a bit from it, and Caddie’s adventures get tiring, especially after the halfway point when the Big Event happens and the book keeps going on as if that wasn’t the biggest moment in the book.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
“Well, I guess we’re even, Uncle Edmund,” said Caddie, gravely smiling. She held out her small, brown hand.
Uncle Edmund shook it hearty, but he said: “No, Caddie, we’re not even yet. I promised you a silver dollar.”
“You said if I beat you to the end of the lake on the raft, or if I wouldn’t tell Mother. But I didn’t beat you and I am going to tell Mother.”
You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2ufC6I5