26 Jun 2012

What Katy Did

Probably most homeschooling parents are aware of Ambleside Online's Free Reading List of age appropriate wholesome books, whether or not they utilise the rest of the curriculum. Certainly I have been impressed over and over again at their choices - both in what they have included in a list, but also in what they have chosen to exclude. I was surprised, for example, that Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time hadn't made the grade, and then I reread it and I understood perfectly. Other books are not there simply because of time constraints - so many good books; so little time. You know the old adage.

The Ambleside Online graded list is challenging, and each year builds on those that have come before. One of my great bugbears is when parents who follow the curriculum leave out a book because it is too difficult only to discover the same thing happening in subsequent years as well. You don't leave out the difficult topics in Maths and expect suddenly to be able to do the advanced topics that build on them the following year do you? Why, then, do parents do it with reading? Persevere more, that's what I say. More of this another time.

While I follow the Ambleside Curriculum in its entirety quite closely, substituting only in order to include some Australian content, there are some certain books that, although not included in the wonderful Booklist, figure highly in my list of nostalgic memories and which I would be sad not to introduce to my daughter, regardless of whether they make to grade or not. Some of the characters in these books are the most treasured friends of my childhood, and I love to introduce them to Jemimah and have her love them too.

Katy Carr and her siblings - Clover, Elsie, Dorry, Johnnie and little Phil are just the most wonderful family, and they get up to the most jolly fun. When Katy is disobedient and has a dreadful accident that leads to her becoming an invalid, then she also learns to be good as well.Some say that the story of What Katy Did is overly moralistic, but I adored these books. I loved the mischievous Katy at the beginning, I love the invalid Katy in the middle, and I loved what Katy becomes at the end. I wonder whether the books will hold up under a re-reading or whether I might find Cousin Helen saccharine sweet and the reformed Katy boring, but I am going to take the risk and read these books to Jemimah just because I loved them so.There are two scenes in the first book that stick in my memory, and as I looked them over today I discover that I have remembered them almost word perfectly. The first is where Katy takes over the housekeeping when Aunt Izzie contracts typhoid fever, and after poring over the recipe books demands that Debby cook some new dishes. Have a read:
As soon as breakfast was over, and the dishes were washed and put away, Debby would tie on a clean apron, and come up stairs for orders. At first Katy thought this great fun. But after ordering dinner a good many times, it began to grow tiresome. She never saw the dishes after they were cooked; and, being inexperienced, it seemed impossible to think of things enough to make a variety.

"Let me see – there is roast beef – leg of mutton – boiled chicken," she would say, counting on her fingers, "roast beef – leg of mutton – boiled chicken. Debby, you might roast the chickens. Dear! – I wish somebody would invent a new animal! Where all the things to eat are gone to, I can't imagine!"

Then Katy would send for every recipe-book in the house, and pore over them by the hour, till her appetite was as completely gone as if she had swallowed twenty dinners. Poor Debby learned to dread these books. She would stand by the door with her pleasant red face drawn up into a pucker, while Katy read aloud some impossible-sounding rule.

"This looks as if it were delicious, Debby, I wish you'd try it: Take a gallon of oysters, a pint of beef stock, sixteen soda crackers, the juice of two lemons, four cloves, a glass of white wine, a sprig of marjoram, a sprig of thyme, a sprig of bay, a sliced shalott –"

"Please, Miss Katy, what's them?"

"Oh, don't you know, Debby? It must be something quite common, for it's in almost all the recipes."

"No, Miss Katy, I never heard tell of it before. Miss Carr never gave me no shell-outs at all at all!"

"Dear me, how provoking!" Katy would cry, flapping over the leaves of her book; "then we must try something else."
To this day I smile when I read shallots listed in an ingredients list. "Miss Carr never gave me no shell-outs, at all, at all," I mutter to myself under my breath - quietly so I don't have to explain what I'm saying. Mostly when I read shallots nowadays I just substitute with onions anyhow. They taste pretty much the same, and we don't grow no shell-outs in the country where I live.

The other scene is this one:
A little later Papa and Aunt Izzie came in, and they filled the stockings. It was great fun. Each was brought to Katy, as she lay in bed, that she might arrange it as she liked.

The toes were stuffed with candy and oranges. Then came the parcels, all shapes and sizes, tied in white paper, with ribbons, and labelled.

"What's that?" asked Dr. Carr, as Aunt Izzie rammed a long, narrow package into Clover's stocking.

"A nail-brush," answered Aunt Izzie; "Clover needed a new one."

How Papa and Katy laughed! "I don't believe Santa Claus ever had such a thing before," said Dr. Carr.

"He's a very dirty old gentleman, then," observed Aunt Izzie, grimly.
I don't know why this one tickled my fancy, but it does. I remember it each Christmas when I shove some long thin package down the side of a stocking.

I had the series out this morning to cover with plastic before adding the first to the book bag. (Do you protect your precious old books with plastic? I always do.) Whilst they were out I scanned the covers of the set to share with you. Aren't they swoonworthily beautiful?

Here they are on the bookshelf. I just adore shelves filled with spines like these. They just don't make books like these nowadays, do they?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to reminisce a little. I have a date with an old friend.


  1. I loved the first book but found the next 2 rather dull. Must be something wrong with me. I find bad characters more interesting than good ones! :(

  2. I love that last photo of all the old books Jeanne. There are some wonderful treasures there!
    Despite plans to adhere more strictly to the AO curriculum this year we are still rather loosely applying it. It seems that I am destined to be an eclectic homeschooler, and well, it's a style that seems to suit us. We are following the book lists fairly closely though. I have found that many of the more difficult books are worth pursuing. For instance my 13 year old son (AO 8) is enjoying Pickwick Papers, despite his early reluctance to give it a go. He constantly tells me I must read it, and he often reads out to us funny little snippets. My 15 year old is also persisting with Schaeffer's 'How should We Then Live', and finding it very intense, but worthwhile.
    My girls have read the Katy series and enjoyed them.

  3. I was just thinking about these books the other day. I bought them when r was a tiny tot and put it away for later but now can't find it lol! Probably in a box in our garage. Anyway, ive never read them but going from your review I'd say I now have to - shell-outs lol! I think we will enjoy them. Thanks:)

  4. I love the first one to, not so much the second two. I have them all, so I might have to re-read them again.

  5. PS I have to agree with Ganeida - I do like the occasional bad character in a novel!!!

  6. Yes, it is comments like these that make me wonder whether the books will stand up to a re-read. I adored them as a child. It remains to be seen whether I will even like them as an adult.

  7. I remember reading the Katy books, not sure how many of my 3 girls read them! Can you tell what the title second from left is?We have had so much pleasure reading books with our children and it gives me great joy to see them reading now!

  8. I wrote a long and enthusiastic comment yesterday, which my iPad promptly ate. This is the second time it's happened. So sad, as it's so much easier to reply quickly on my iPad!

    So, here goes again.

    This was one of my favourite books growing up. I read it constantly. Really- in between other books I'd pick it up and just start again. I must've read it at least fifty times at a conservative estimate.

    I well remember those episodes. And the Arbor at the beginning; the letters flying up the chimney; tidying the drawers; pretending to be rivers at school and so many more.

    I loved What Katy Did at School almost as much: their words games and Rose and the tunnel made by taking out the drawers. I still love how her fine character won over the teachers when she was wrongly accused.

    And I still re-read What Katy Did Next every now and then. I haven't re-read Katy for a long time, though- except for snippets. I may find it harder going but I still think it would be worthwhile reading for girls.

    Did you own the others? Clover? In the High Valley? I was devasted when our library got rid of them. I think I was the only one who ever borrowed them.


  9. I saw this book ona book list and wondered what it was all about...thank you for sharing :)

  10. The two sets of books that I both loved as a child, and thought stood up well as an adult were, firstly, the Swallows and Amazons series, by Arthur Ransome. I'd call these educational fiction, because you also learn quite a bit about sailing from them, and secondly, of all things, the Asterix books :).

  11. Hah, Tim, Jemimah would agree with both your choices there!


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