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Katy did what?
by Asa Butcher
Issue 10
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What Katy Did
Susan Coolidge
Upon naming our daughter Katie, I began to notice book, movie and song titles that featured her name. However, it took the suggestion of my mum to discover a book called What Katy Did. Ok, the spelling is slightly different, but that did not matter to me and I was especially glad the literary tip came my way.

It has been a long time since I read a novel-length children’s book and upon completion of What Katy Did it will not be long before I re-enter the genre again. One review believed that the book was ‘definitely not one for the boys’ and more suitable for young girls around the age of nine. I understand this comment, but I can easily add parents to those who will enjoy this book.

Written in 1872, What Katy Did was written by Susan Coolidge (born Sarah Chauncy Woolsey). Her editor was also the editor of Louisa M. Alcott, author of the classic Little Women (1868-9), and, with her editor’s encouragement, she began writing children’s fiction in the same style as Alcott and as successfully.

What Katy Did follows the adventures of twelve-year-old Katy Carr, who is the oldest of six children. They are looked after by their doctor father and his sister Aunt Izzie, to whom the Carr children continually give grief through their rowdy and imaginative games.

One day, Katy disobeys her Aunt’s order not to use the family’s new swing and she suffers serious consequences when the swing breaks. Katy is paralyzed by her accident and forced to remain confined to her room. Katy begins to learn patience and responsibility as she works to maintain her place in the hearts of her siblings and her connection with her family and friends.

To my memory, there are few children’s books that inflict such a harsh consequence upon a child, but it makes for such a heart-rending story that you occasionally come to forget her circumstances. The accident does not occur until halfway into the narrative, so we get to enjoy Katy getting into all sorts of trouble through her ingenuity and innocence. When I say ‘we’, I really did enjoy it as a twenty-something father because there were so many parts at which I laughed aloud.

The strength of the book is the perfection of all of the characters. Coolidge presents a book full of people who can’t help but like and believe are real. Her portrayal of Aunt Izzie does not descend into Dickens-esque evil aunt, but shows her caring and loving side for each of the children, each of whom have fantastic personalities.

There are many morals in the story and none of them are too preachy, which was one aspect I enjoyed. One particular part that amused me was Katy in charge of the Sunday school and her hypocritical statements that everybody must follow.

What Katy Did has one of the sweetest characters in the form of Cousin Helen and the ending is guaranteed to test the hardest of hearts. Try this book, it isn’t too old-fashioned and I can’t wait to read it to my daughter in a few years time.



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