7

Carol Ryrie Brink’s “Caddie Woodlawn”

by Rebecca Ripperton
June 4, 2019

Caddie Woodlawn is a chapter book for high-spirited and adventure-loving children. The book is uproariously funny at times, but also contains its fair share of tender moments. It centers on a large pioneering family living in Western Wisconsin at the time of the Civil War. Caddie is 11 years old in the story, and has six other siblings, both older and younger.

The story is one that boys and girls will enjoy equally. Caddie herself is a tomboy, and runs rampant with her brothers, Tom and Warren, taking equal part in their adventures and often leading them. Of all the children, she is the one her Uncle Edmund selects to take pigeon hunting, and it is also Caddie who becomes an apprentice clock smith under her father’s direction.

Caddie’s upbringing is unusual in that her parents elected to raise her “as a boy.” When the family first moved west from Boston, both she and her sister Mary were frail and of a delicate constitution. After Mary died, Caddie’s father – John – begged Caddie’s mother to let him raise Caddie as a boy in order to make her strong enough to survive the brutal conditions of rural Wisconsin. Caddie’s mother agreed, and so Caddie was not raised “to be a lady” like her older sister Clara; she was instead given license to run out of doors, hunt with her brothers, and compete with them in all their games.

Becoming a lady

As Caddie grows older, she faces increasing pressure from her mother and from others outside the family to begin behaving like a little lady – a prospect Caddie dreads. She is through and through her father’s daughter and loves the independence afforded to her. This issue of becoming a lady is brought up continually throughout the entire story, with Caddie eventually realizing that there are aspects of being a lady that are more advantageous than she realized. She also discovers that she need not give up all her freedom, but that women have additional strengths that many men do not.

But, by the time that Caddie decides she is ready to learn more about quilting and housework, she and brothers have become so intertwined, that they decide they want to learn to do housework, too!

Relationships with Native Americans

As settlers, the Woodlawn family and their pioneer neighbors have frequent encounters with Native Americans. One Native American in particular – Indian John – develops a strong relationship with the Woodlawn family, and with Caddie especially.  When he goes away for a time, Caddie is given charge of his dog and his father’s scalp belt – a relic that the Woodlawn children present to their peers in an enterprising and financially rewarding scheme.

Parents should be aware, however, that Native Americans are frequently referred to as “savages” in the story, and that the interracial children of a white man and Native American woman are sometimes called “half-breeds.” The issue of irrational fear of Native Americans by white settlers is addressed in the book, with the author clearly defending the position that the settlers were wrongly xenophobic, but the language used to describe Native Americans is still reflective of older attitudes and prejudices. Accordingly, parents may want to read these sections of the book in advance in order to be prepared to discuss them with their children.

Memorable vignettes

This book is filled with memorable episodes that set our family howling when we read it aloud together, years ago. Poor Warren’s struggle to memorize his poem of “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” had us all in tears and left us a very unusual aphorism about chicken fricassee that I don’t think any of us will ever be able to forget. Cousin Annabelle from Boston’s visit to the Woodlawn family is similarly memorable, with all 88 of her buttons befalling an unfortunate fate at the hands of the Woodlawn’s sheep. Caddie herself has quite a temper and incites a stand off at the schoolhouse between the school teacher and the oafish Obadiah Jones by bringing a ruler down on Obadiah’s legs which he had ungraciously propped upon a desk.

The takeaway

This book is set earlier than Little Britches, but young readers who enjoyed that series will likely enjoy Caddie Woodlawn as well (and vice versa). It is intended for children ages 8-12 and makes for a boisterous family read-aloud. Young readers will also be glad to discover that Carol Ryrie Brink followed Caddie Woodlawn with a similarly delightful sequel – Caddie Woodlawn’s Family (originally published as Magical Melons).

Share your experience!

Have you ever read Caddie Woodlawn or any other book by Carol Ryrie Brink? What did you or your children think of it? Do you remember any of the comedic episodes that we mentioned here, or have another favorite episode that we omitted? Please let us know in a comment below! We always enjoy hearing from readers.

Purchase Books at Amazon

Caddie Woodlawn
by Carol Ryrie Brink

Caddie Woodlawn's Family
by Carol Ryrie Brink

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com.

1

Every Word Counts

by Lisa Ripperton
​May 30, 2019

A couple of weeks ago I happened on a copy of Every Word Counts at the local Friends of the Library book sale. I was much taken with the story of the authors, Caroline J. Blakemore and Barbara Weston Ramirez, who as elementary school reading specialists regularly encountered kindergarten and first grade students who had not been exposed to "enough words in their first years of life and thus lack the basic language building blocks necessary to learn how to read."  Once they learned of Risley and Hart's research showing that future academic success is contingent on the number of words heard per hour before the age of two, they set out to write the book Every Word Counts to persuade parents to bathe their children in words from their earliest days, and to present them with a well-laid out path for doing so. 

Parents, they say, have it in their power to give their baby the gift of words. And they can do that, not just by reading to him, but by engaging in conversation with him, hour after hour and day after day.

Wonder why you should read to your baby?

Here are ten benefits the authors list for reading aloud to your baby from day one:

  1. 1
    ​ Read-alouds promote listening skills.
  2. 2
     ​Read-alouds increase the number of vocabulary words babies hear.
  3. 3
     ​Read-alouds develop attention span and memory.
  4. 4
     ​Read-alouds help babies learn uncommon words.
  5. 5
     ​Read-alouds help babies learn to understand the meanings of words.
  6. 6
     ​Read-alouds help babies learn concepts about print.
  7. 7
     ​Read-alouds help babies learn how to get information from illustrations.
  8. 8
     ​Read-alouds promote bonding and calmness for both baby and parent.
  9. 9
     Read-alouds stimulate the imagination and all the senses.
  10. 10
     ​Read-alouds instill the love of books and learning.

​Still not sure that babies are ready for books?

For those who think children below the age of two are not interested in books, the authors demonstrate otherwise, both in pictures and in words. Throughout the book there are dozens of illustrations depicting fathers and mothers reading to their ​offspring with the children obviously engaged. Other illustrations show young children interacting with books on their own, deeply absorbed in the experience. In videotaping one read aloud session with a mother reading several books in succession, the authors noted afterward in reviewing the videotape that the 14-week-old baby was attentive for the entire 25 minutes, an attention span much longer than their kindergartners and first graders who had never been read to.

Setting the stage for reading aloud to an infant

​The authors make a number of helpful suggestions for getting started with reading aloud to an infant, including casting aside the notion that books must be read from start to finish, with no omissions and no interruptions!

  1. 1
    ​Newborns need a quiet reading environment.
  2. 2
    ​Newborns are comforted by the sound of your voice.
  3. 3
    ​Hold and cuddle your baby when you read.
  4. 4
    ​When choosing a book, allow your baby to be your guide.
  5. 5
    ​Start reading at any page.
  6. 6
    ​You don't have to read all the words in the book.
  7. 7
    ​Repeated readings are good for baby's language development.
  8. 8
    ​Use "parentese" when reading and talking to your baby.

What is "parentese," you might ask?

​Parentese is a time-honored way of speaking to infants​ that involves speaking more slowly, articulating clearly, using shorter sentences and longer pauses, often in a melodious tone with variation in loudness and pitch. It differs from baby talk in that in "parentese" all words are pronounced correctly.

​Introducing the stages of ​baby read-alouds

​The authors divide the ages from birth to twenty-four months into six stages based on developmental milestones. Each stage gets its own chapter, with all chapters following a similar pattern. As you might expect, each chapter includes the types of books appropriate for each stage and a list of recommended selections. Although the section on recommended books comes last in the individual chapters, I ​include two titles for each stage here by way of introducing the various stages.

​The Six Stages

​STAGE ONE: The Listener 
                       (Birth to Two Months)

​STAGE TWO: The ​Observer  
​                       (​Two to ​Four Months)

​STAGE THREE: The ​Cooer  
​                           (​Four to ​Eight Months)

​STAGE FOUR: The ​Babbler  
​                         (​Eight to Twelve Months)

​STAGE FIVE: The ​Word Maker  
​                       (​Twelve to ​Eighteen Months)

​STAGE ​SIX: The ​Phrase Maker
​                     (​Eighteen to Twenty-Four Months)

​Specific suggestions on how to proceed

What distinguishes Every Word Counts from other ​titles about books for young children is that for each of the ten or more books recommended for each stage, there are helpful tips for using the books, including what to talk about.

And for one of the recommended titles in each stage there is a transcription of an actual read aloud session. You can see in the sample Stage 3 session below all  the words the mother spoke. The ones she reads from the book are in italics, the language she improvises is in plain text. The reactions and gestures of both the child and the parent are included in parentheses.

On the top of the left-hand page you can read a bit about how the mother prepared for the read aloud experience. On the bottom of the right-hand page are four things to notice in this read-aloud demonstration. Believe it or not, the list of things to notice continues on the following page with 11 more items!

The six sample read aloud sessions, one for each stage, with points to notice immediately following, seem to me to be the most valuable part of Every Word Counts, modeling for parents, who may not be familiar with babies, exactly how to conduct a read aloud session.

Other information in each of the stage chapters

Each stage chapter begins with a lengthy descriptive snapshot of a child in that stage. Then follows a catalog of expected developmental milestones: their listening abilities, their ways of vocalizing, their visual capacities, as well as their ability to move in various ways.

Practical matters come next, with step by step instructions for getting baby ready for the read-aloud session, interacting with him during the reading, and handling the inevitable challenges that arise during the course of the reading. Since babies change so rapidly, the parent's role does too! But the step by step instructions for each stage will help to prepare you.

​Frequently asked questions

​A whole chapter is devoted to frequently asked questions. Discussion of challenges that arise while reading aloud continues. Some examples of reading aloud with special needs children are offered. But the greater part of the chapter is devoted to two topics: how to handle TV and other screen media, and what to do if more than one language is spoken in the home. With this last topic, all sorts of situations are considered: what to do when parents speak different languages, what to do when the language used at home is different from the language used at school, what to do when the caregiver speaks a different language than the one used in the home, and so on. The answers the authors provide are grounded in research, and seem both sensible and practical.

The Takeaway

Jim Trelease, author of the million-copy bestseller The Read-Aloud Handbook, says of Every Word Counts: "If I were in charge of American parents, my first law would be that all new parents had to read (or listen) to this book. It's not only soundly researched, but also filled with practical strategies that any parent can use."

I concur wholeheartedly. In fact, I am going to make it a practice to give it as a shower gift to all expectant parents in my neighborhood, along with a basket of read-alouds recommended for the early months.

​How about you?

​Will you join me in putting a copy of Every Word Counts into the hands of as many prospective parents as possible? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Purchase book
at Amazon

​We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com.
1 4 5 6 7 8 29
>