After seeing Little Britches by Ralph Moody on many a recommended reading list as a family read-aloud, I decided to give it a shot. It is the story of the Moody family and their experiences as they become first-time ranchers in Colorado after leaving their home in New England for the sake of the father’s health. Ralph, a.k.a Little Britches, is the oldest son and second-oldest child in the family. Written from his perspective (actually, written by him, if you made the connection), this is the story of his coming of age. In Colorado they jump into ranch life with both feet, and Little Britches becomes a vital part of the workings both of his family’s ranch and neighboring ranches where he is hired out. The best part of the book, though, is Little Britches’ relationship with his father and the over all sense of respect and appreciation for family life that is in the very fiber of the story. Father is quiet and gentle, maybe even someone Little Britches might have felt he never had the chance to really know were it not for their years on the ranch. Since Little Britches becomes such an important part of the family’s livelihood, even earning desperately-needed money to help the family survive, his father guides him into manhood by recognizing his hard work and contributions to the family. I love that his father teaches him quietly and gently, and as Little Britches shows more maturity, Father loosens the reins more and more and encourages him to make the right decisions. Father’s teachings are always a part of Little Britches’ consciousness and conscience. Early on in the story, Father compares Little Britches’ character to a house that he is building, with the strength of his character ultimately being determined by the building materials he uses through the decisions he makes. This image never leaves Little Britches’ (or my) mind.
If this sounds like an overly pedantic tale, it’s really not. There is plenty of action and adventure and yes, misbehavior and trouble. Little Britches disobeys his parents and suffers the consequences. This is also not a sanitized tale of how we hope life will work out: there’s a tornado, wounded and dying animals and people, violence and lawlessness, and a good bit of foul language. I cleaned the language up for my read-aloud; it was somewhat easy to predict when the cursing would occur because it is done by a handful of characters. When I finished reading it, Lulu immediately wanted to take it and read it for herself, and the language is the only thing that kept me from letting her do it. (I’m not ready to turn her loose to deal with profanity –much of it God’s name taken lightly– at the tender age of seven.) There’s also lots and lots of vocabulary that was unfamiliar to us–words that relate to ranching and cowboys and horses. Although I really don’t think Ralph Moody wrote this as a children’s story way back in 1950, in 2012 it is a refreshing tale that emphasizes hard work and honesty and respect, all in a package that leaves the reader and listener of all ages wanting more at the end of every chapter. In this way it reminds me a bit of Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls or Rascal by Sterling North (linked to my review).
This post has been swirling around in my brain for about as long as it took us to read the book; it was a winner early on. It is a detailed story, though, so it isn’t a quick read. It’s definitely worth the time it takes to get through it, though. It made quite an impression on my girls. When I read the last syllable of the story, Louise responded by mentioning something Little Britches had said on the very first page of the novel. We were weeks reading this story, so that’s quite an impression on her six year old mind. According to Read Aloud.com, this story is the first in a lengthy series of novels. I’m sure we”ll visit with the Moody family again. (University of Nebraska Press, 1950)
Read any good books lately? 🙂