Thursday, March 15, 2018

Reading Through History: Happy Little Family by Rebecca Caudill (1947)

Four-year-old Bonnie Fairchild and her older siblings Althy, Debby, Emmy, and Chris live in the Kentucky hills in the early 1900s. As the youngest child, Bonnie is often babied by her siblings, but now that she is four she feels big enough to start doing some of the things they do, including wearing fancy hats, going ice skating, walking a path alone, and attending school. Happy Little Family covers a year in the life of the Fairchilds, telling a story set during each season which highlights the family's daily living and Bonnie's quest for greater maturity and responsibility.

I read Happy Little Family aloud to my own four-year-old (Little Miss Muffet), and her two-year-old sister (Little Bo Peep) also listened in. While the characters have not quite made the impression that Mary, Laura, and Carrie Ingalls have made upon my girls, Miss Muffet was completely enamored of Bonnie. As a child who frequently laments how long it takes to grow up, my daughter related very strongly to Bonnie's desire to be big enough to have the privileges afforded to her older siblings.

As a read-aloud, this book works nicely. The chapters are short enough to be read in one sitting without having to break them into smaller chunks, and there is a good number of illustrations throughout the book that provide context and easily re-engage a distracted listener. The writing is also really pleasant to read aloud, with lots of fun dialogue and inner monologues from Bonnie's point of view.

There is also a true sweetness to this book that is endearing and not a bit saccharine. Bonnie and her family all feel like real people, and though their day-to-day lives are very different from ours, their concerns, desires, fears, and interests are very similar to those of contemporary kids. Parents looking for a first chapter book, or for a read-alike for Little House in the Big Woods or Betsy-Tacy will definitely find what they need in this book. There are also three sequels: Schoolhouse in the Woods, Up and Down the River, and Schoolhouse in the Parlor, which I plan to have Little Miss Muffet (a very early reader) read independently as we can get our hands on them.

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