July 25, 2004

Little Britches
Man of the Family
The Home Ranch
Mary Emma and Company
The Fields of Home,
by Ralph Moody

When I read kid books, I try to keep in mind the way the child would read them. Children, in my experience, read primarily for story line and dramatic telling. They donít pay attention to imagery, foreshadowing or any other of the many literary devices that can make books compelling. And that's OK. It's the way I read many books also. However, there are occasionally children's books with deeper themes that catch my attention and then I begin to pay attention to what I call the deliberateness of the author. Those are the books I talk about with my kids. And they are the books I give away as gifts at Christmas and birthday time. I have a feeling there are 3 or 4 kids who will be getting this series for Christmas this year.

Moody writes about his childhood in Colorado, Boston and Maine. When the series opens, his family has moved to Colorado to farm in hopes that the dryer climate will help cure his father's TB acquired from working in the textile mills of the East. Little Britches is a homesteading story told from the viewpoint of a 9 year old boy, Ralph, nicknamed "Little Britches" by the cowboys on a nearby ranch. The family struggles to make it on the farm with poor land and very little water. There are disasters and good times but through it all is a deep sense of the value of every member of the family. Ingenuity and hardwork are portrayed as positives in this book and although the family doesnít make it on the farm, it's not for lack of trying.

Man Of The Family picks up where Little Britches left off. Father has died of complications from pneumonia leaving Mother with 4 kids to feed and 4 months pregnant. They move to town and again pull together as a family working odd jobs, raising food and keeping body and soul together as best they can. Throughout the book, the emphasis is on hard work and the blessing of having enough to eat and a warm place to live.

The Home Ranch is a side story briefly mentioned in Man of the Family when Ralph takes a job, for a man's wage of a dollar a day, at a cattle ranch as a cowboy. It's a great story with horses and storms and cowboys who take him under their wing teaching him what he needs to do to work like a man. Part of what makes this book so much fun is the mentoring he gets from the older men.

Mary Emma and Company takes the family back to Boston. Mother has been subpoenaed in Colorado to give evidence against a horse thief that she knows is up to be hung based upon her testimony. Her principles won't allow her to send a man to the gallows so the whole family goes back to Boston to avoid the consequences of the trial. Here she must find a new way to support the family and Ralph must find his own place in a very different world than the one he is used to. Ralph gets a job after school and Mother and Grace, Ralph's older sister, take in laundry to keep food on the table. Unfortunately, what seemed normal activities in Colorado donít quite fly in the city and Ralph keeps finding himself in trouble both in school and out.

The Fields of Home has Ralph going to his grandfather's farm in Maine to keep him out of trouble. Here he has to deal with his crusty, cantankerous grandfather who cant seem to adjust to anything new and makes life miserable for Ralph. This book is about how both of them learn to get along and bridge the gap in the generations. And it's on the farm in Maine that Ralph finally realizes that he needs to work with the soil and animals to be content.

I loved these books. They celebrate values like pride in the quality of your work and perseverance in the face of hard times. The kids in these books know who they are and how important they are to the survival of the family. Moody could have made the books seem glum and grim but he rather emphasizes the joy in living and working and being with family. Mother sings as she works and Ralph is very proud of his reputation as a kid who can work like a man. It's refreshing to read. They'd make great read alouds for parents to share with their children.

Posted by Deb English at July 25, 2004 01:38 PM