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Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Eleven-year-old Caddie Woodlawn lives on the Wisconsin frontier in the 1860s. The Civil War rages, but Father has paid a man to fight in his place so he can stay home and care for his wife and seven children. Although most girls Caddie’s age are expected to learn proper behavior and ladylike skills in the home, Caddie’s father allows her to run and play freely with her brothers.
The Civil War seems far away, but the prospect of Indian massacres terrifies the people in Caddie’s area. Caddie and her brothers have befriended an Indian named John, who lives nearby with his tribe. Their father also knows John and doesn’t feel threatened, as many of his neighbors do, by the Native Americans.
A traveling minister, known as a circuit rider, frequently visits town and stays with the Woodlawns. On one trip, he leaves a clock for Caddie’s father to fix. After Caddie tries, unsuccessfully, to repair it herself, Father teachers her the fine art of clock repair. The Woodlawns also receive a visit from Caddie’s Uncle Edmond, a practical joker. He unties the planks on Caddie’s raft for fun, but she almost drowns. Uncle Edmond gives Caddie a silver dollar so she won’t tell Mother that he put Caddie in danger. Caddie’s father reveals to the children that he came from a wealthy English family. His father married a seamstress and was disinherited for it.
Someone at a local tavern starts rumors about an impending Indian massacre. The settlers in Caddie’s area come to the Woodlawn home to prepare for battle. When Caddie overhears some of the men planning to surprise the Indians first, she rides off in the rain to warn her Native American friend. John, whose tribe has no intention of attacking the white men, brings Caddie back and speaks with her father. The settlers return to their homes, but the tension between them and the Indians remains.
John visits soon after to tell Caddie that his tribe is leaving. He asks her to keep his scalp belt and his dog for him while he’s gone. An Indian woman, who married a white man but no longer feels accepted by him, leaves with the tribe. Her “half-breed” children remain with their white father, and Caddie feels sorry for them. She uses her silver dollar to buy the kids candy and other items, and she experiences the joy of helping those in need.
The Woodlawn kids attend school and work their land by plowing the field and picking berries. Once, Caddie falls through thin ice on a frozen pond. Another time, the boys at school save the schoolhouse from a prairie fire. The Woodlawns’ refined city cousin, Annabelle, visits. The kids play tricks on her when they grow annoyed by her snobbery. Mother punishes Caddie for her pranks, and Father gives her a speech about the importance of becoming a wise woman. Annabelle teaches the children to quilt, and they begin to enjoy her company.
Father receives a letter informing him he has inherited an estate if he will agree to live in England. The family ponders whether they would prefer riches in England or life on the untamed prairie in America. Everyone in the family votes, and they decide to stay in Wisconsin.
The circuit rider, a traveling minister, comes to town to hold church services. He often visits the Woodlawns because he feels at home with them. He is a powerful speaker who knows his Bible well and leads the Woodlawns in evening prayers when he comes. On one visit, he tells them he’s planning to spend some time in a new settlement where no one has brought the Word of God. The Woodlawns thank God for the end of the war and pray President Lincoln will lead the country back to peace and security.
Other Belief Systems
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Prejudice: Many still believe slavery is acceptable, though Mr. Woodlawn firmly contends God made all men equal. Many frontiersmen fear and vilify Native Americans. One white man marries an Indian woman but becomes ashamed of her and his “half-breed” children. Some of the settlers demonstrate their fear and prejudice by planning a raid on the Indians.
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Readability Age Range
8 to 12
Carol Ryrie Brink
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, a trademark of Simon & Schuster
Newbery Medal, 1936; Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, 1958