Sunday, June 14, 2009

What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge

Published: 1872
Pages: 178
This book was my mother's when she was a young girl, passed on to me & enjoyed numerous times as a child and now re-read in adulthood for pure nostalgia. It's battered, the book jacket is torn & worn, the story is out-dated but I love this childhood favourite just because it was one my mum adored. Katy Carr was not a bad girl, but she was a very impulsive and thoughtless girl, and this led her, and the younger members of the Carr family who followed her lead, into many scrapes. Aunt Izzie who helped Dr Carr with his motherless children was very prim and proper and thoroughly disapproved of Katy's behaviour... Disobeying Aunt Izzie's order not to ride on the new swing, Katy did so and met with a bad accident. It was thought that she might never walk again. Then followed many miserable months of pain and inactivity before Katy, with the help of all the family and especially Cousin Helen, regained her courage and learned to be patient and thoughtful for others. - book jacket This is such a sweet story and while hideously out-dated, it certainly made me smile to think how many young girls given this book were encouraged to model themselves on Katy's reformed character. Set in a small town in the late 1800s the story begins with an introduction to the six Carr children, their kitten, and their best friend Ceci as they make a trip to 'Paradise' - "wild and endless and full of adventure as any forest of fairy-land" - the children's secret picnic place in the marshy thicket near their house. They argue over which path to take to Paradise; Pilgrim's Path & the Hill of Difficulty, the Path of Peace or Sassafrass Path and as usual Katy, the eldest of the Carr children has her way. The descriptions of the Carr children and their escapades are enchanting; Katy, Clover, Elsie, Dorrie, Joanna (John) & Phil are captivating characters & actually quite believable and I was kept entertained with the spats & pranks, recitals & games. One day Katy is late to school, in a terrible temper and a spate of trouble all because she hadn't bothered to sew in the string of her bonnet & her father quotes her this - (one I'd heard many times from my own grandpa!)
"For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail."
When 12 year old Katy falls from a swing & is bedridden for years, she is inspired by her invalid cousin Helen, to strive to be the sweet natured, uncomplaining, bed-bound "heart of the family."
While I know this story had a serious underlying moral tone in its time, I thought it very entertaining & found myself laughing at the quaint Victorian theme of self-sacrifice and humility helping little girls grow into good women.


  1. Loved your post and while I don't know this story (my childhood books are Danish), I recognize the themes from several of the children book's that my parents and grandparents had and which we (my siblings and cousins and I) read when we were on vacation at our grandparent's places:-) Fond memories!

  2. Oh, my God, I remember reading this. I'm off to google, because I remember other books in the series, 'What Katy did at School' was one of them, actually, 'What Katy did next' as well. I loved loved these books. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Thanks Louise, this one certainly did bring back fond memories.

    Jenny ~ I've got both What Katy Did and What Katy Did Next (both mum's old books) and such a fun read

  4. I can remember seeing this book in the library as a child, but I never actually read it. I wonder if our library has a copy. Great review.

  5. I have never read these, I think I missed out on something as a kid

  6. I recently re-read What Katy Did and was pleased to find the children as sweet and mischievous as I remembered!

    They are wonderful books and a great review, by the way!


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