is the story of a young girl and her family living on the American frontier. It is told by Carol Ryrie Brink, the granddaughter of Caddie Woodlawn, and it is a rich account of daily life in Wisconsin in the 1860’s. While describing the adventures of Caddie and her six brothers and sisters, Brink brings to the reader a vivid picture of what existence on the frontier entailed. The book is separated into twenty-six short chapters, each one a distinct story in itself. The thread that ties them all together is the warm sense of family that the Woodlawns have. They are from Boston, and life in Wisconsin is distinctly different from what they knew. The children do not seem aware of this, however, and seldom do they wish for their former life. The book allows the children to explore their home now, and have adventures wherever they can find them. Their pioneer spirit makes every day exciting, and they waste no time wishing to go back.
Today’s students reading this book achieve a larger understanding of what it means to the children of pioneer families who moved westward. Because of a degree of mobility among our students, many of them will relate quickly to what it is like to go on to a new area, make new friends and conquer new obstacles. In
they discover through the eyes of children their own age what that experience was like 125 years ago. Caddie and her siblings encounter Indians, for example, and are fascinated with how they make canoes. Everything, it seems, is new to them, and nothing of their old lives is to be found. In a chapter called “The Circuit Rider”, we learn how pioneers practiced their religion, waiting for the traveling preacher. However, the circuit rider brings more than religion. He is also the carrier of news from around his circuit, and from back home. The paucity and utter slowness of news arriving will strike today’s students, many of whom seem to have telephones permanently implanted.
Political issues of the time are also brought up through visits of the circuit rider. For example, the Civil War had taken its toll on the country, and questions of slavery still inspire discussion among the adults in Wisconsin who hear about issues long after they have occurred. Caddie learns about these things by listening to the adults discuss their opinions. Many kinds of value judgment situations arise through the telling of the tales in this book, the treatment of Indians by the settlers, the fear toward Indians, the use of natural resources and the responsibility of the settlers to not abuse the land. The Woodlawns are subduers and they depend on the land for their survival.
The book may very well be at its best when it tells of everyday incidents that occur. For instance, when Caddie gets a silver dollar from her Uncle Edmund. Students today will be amused and amazed at how long it takes Caddie to spend it at the store. The extreme differences between life today and then in these ordinary encounters is interesting and fun for today’s children. The description of school and school lessons provides amusing comparisons. The Woodlawn children have to share one teacher with another town because neither community can afford to pay their own full-time teacher.
, one gets a sense of life coming from its pages. This should encourage many different reactions from students. Writing descriptions of scenes, drawing scenes, comparing and contrasting aspects of life then and now all would be valuable ways of getting students to understand the book and the time it tells about. It is an excellent source of discussion material for both the English and the Social Studies class. The stories truly let the reader delve into the kinds of details they are most interested in. In so doing, the book teaches in a painless manner what life on the frontier was like for the Woodlawns. One criticism of it may be that the picture drawn is sometimes too rosy. A book that I would recommend as a teachers, resource,
The Farmer’s Frontier
by Gilbert Fite would be valuable to have on hand to help with keeping matters in perspective.
is an historical work, covering the years 1865-1900. It will provide the teacher with background material, and some very enlightening photographs of farmers and their families. While this book may be too difficult for students to read, excerpts from it will provide useful information.
is a book to be enjoyed as literature it most effectively paints a picture of life on the frontier that should provide education about our country’s history in those times. Caddie’s attitudes, strengths and moral judgments demonstrate how the pioneer spirit developed among the youth of the era. Her stories are real and they will enlighten and enrich young people today.