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What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge
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What Katy Did (1872)

by Susan Coolidge

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Series: Katy Did (1)

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Katy is an imaginative twelve year girl with three younger sisters, two younger brothers and a best friend called Cecy. When Katy was eight her mother died and she resolved to help to look after her siblings and to be a little mother to them, but her exuberant nature often stops her from being as good as she would like to be ……like all excitable people she seldom did mean to do wrong ….! However, even though the children frequently quarrel, they love the wonderful, adventurous games that Katy invents for them all to play – even if they don’t always like her bossiness! Her father is a doctor and encourages his children to lead active outdoor lives, much to the dismay of his sister, the children’s rather strict Aunt Izzie who now lives with them. She wishes that their activities would be rather more studious and genteel – and not involve so many torn and dirty clothes!
Katy imagines becoming a beautiful young woman and achieving all sorts of worthy things. However, she never quite manages to avoid getting into mischief so she often feels quite remorseful when she falls short of her ideal self. A visit from gentle, patient Cousin Helen, who following an accident is unable to walk, is a huge success with all the children and Katy decides to model herself on this kind, beautiful woman and, following Helen’s departure, Katy resolves to do better. However, within just twenty four hours she once again gets into mischief but this time her actions have devastating consequences, leaving her bed-ridden and in pain. She finds it impossible to be as good-natured as Cousin Helen and, feeling miserable and hard done by, she is in danger of becoming very isolated because her short-tempered behaviour drives her siblings away whenever they try to comfort her. It requires a second visit from Helen to help Katy to recognise that she needs to accept her fate and learn to become more accepting, tolerant and loving if she is to retain the love and support of her family and friends. Over a period of time she manages to do this and so becomes a positive focus for the family.
This is a story which has two distinct parts, the first is full of fun and is fast-moving as Katy and her siblings lurch from one adventure to another. The exploration of family dynamics is very convincing, especially in relation to the ways in which a child’s position in the family can influence personality development. This was particularly striking in relation to Elsie, the middle child who so desperately wanted to be allowed to join her two older sisters’ activities but was always rejected and told to play with the little ones! This led to her feeling rejected and marginalised. I thought that the author captured so many elements of the rough and tumble of family life in a totally credible way, the ambivalent feelings siblings have towards one another, as well as the fierce loyalties shown when family integrity is in any way threatened.
The second part of the story is rather darker, and far more reflective as it explores themes surrounding how to deal with the challenges which life throws at people. Katy has to learn that there is little to be gained from being self-pitying, that she needs to become more considerate of other people and to be more patient and tolerant – of herself and of other people. A thread of humour runs through the story-telling and, at times there are some very amusing passages – I loved Dorry’s attempts to keep a journal (or even, a “jurnal”!) The delightfully evocative illustrations in this Alma Classics edition really do capture the spirit of Katy and the story and added to my pleasure at re-reading this story.
As an eldest child, frequently expected to look after and amuse my younger siblings, when I first read this book I very much identified with Katy and her need to be the leader of childhood activities! As a tomboy I rather envied her the freedom she had to lead her siblings into mischief – I certainly had the inclination but, with an ever-observant mother, rarely had the opportunity, so I enjoyed a vicarious pleasure in Katy’s escapades! Even as a young child, with a very healthy appetite, I was amazed by the sheer volume of food the children took for their picnics and wondered how they could manage to eat it all – and then still wonder if there was more to come!
I was given this book as a Sunday school prize when I was eight years old – given its strong moral message I suppose it was viewed as being a worthy read! I can still (even after several decades!) recall how much I enjoyed and was inspired by it – although, even at that tender age, I did think it was a bit unfair that an invalid was expected to be rather saintly if she wasn’t to become a burden to others! Also, the concept of “God’s School of Pain” as a virtue sat no more easily with me then than it does now!
When I thought about re-reading it I did wonder about the rather archaic writing style and whether this would appeal to modern day children. However, I then reflected on the fact that it was already many decades old when I read it and I still enjoyed it. I do think that the underlying message about endeavouring to strive to improve one’s behaviour, to become a better version of oneself is surely an admirable and timeless goal. Some of the story’s recurring themes – the importance of setting oneself goals, of the need for personal integrity, taking responsibility for one’s own actions, the importance of and the value of friendships – remain as valid today as they were when the book was written. I think, therefore, that it is a story which will continue to have the power to delight new readers for generations to come – the sign of a true classic!

My thanks to Alma Classics for sending me a copy of this appealing story in exchange for an honest review –I have enjoyed rediscovering its delights and indulging in some childhood nostalgia! ( )
  linda.a. | Jan 1, 2017 |
It's... very moralistic. In a 19th-century, Christian fashion. HOWEVER, I still love it. It's such a ridiculous story and the bit about the School of Pain made me want to vomit (in fact, it reminded me of a stupendous article that appeared in Lupus UK about how chronic illness is really a "beautiful beast within" which is actually the most offensively stupid thing I have ever had the misfortune to see in my entire life, including that film where Jack Black is a luchador) but otherwise there is something so wonderfully compelling in the Katy character that will never make me able to hate this book despite me disagreeing with this whole moral construct. I don't actually think Katy is a less interesting character after she "grows up". There's nothing wrong with learning to be patient with others and to love your neighbour and try to see the best even in the worst situations. It just shouldn't be presented as a requirement of personhood. Anyway, compared to all the other turn-of-the-century sentimental crap that came out of American children's literature (Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna... VOMIT) this is a lot better, and I remember enjoying the sequels too! Good to read on a tiring journey. ( )
  thebookmagpie | Aug 7, 2016 |
Hm. Yes it's preachy. Of course we'd like Katy to be able to have fun, and not have to learn to be a little housewife while bedridden while still a young teen. But the thing is, in those days before antibiotics, people did die, and other people did have to step up. And apparently this series is as to a memoir - inspired at least by the author's childhood. So, given all the context, I'm glad I kept reading the series. In fact, I'll give this 2.5 stars. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
I know I read and re-read this as a kid and after reading Katy by Jacqueline Wilson I can see some of the problematic aspects to it. But also there are aspects that are period details, yes there were injuries that could happen to a back that are now treated with physio and injections (and I'm currently going through some of that myself, incidentally) but the best treatment of the time was rest and this is what Katy endures when she badly injures her spine after a stupid accident that is down to being a bit headstrong, which is, of course, disapproved of in this period. I had forgotten the neighbour with the counterfeiting husband that Katy befriends, but overall this is a story that in context is interesting. And I did enjoy the update I do think kids need to read stories from different periods to learn how life was and is different for different people in different places and times. The mild anti-Irish and anti-black sentiment is a discussion that would be useful for people too. Paternalism is another discussion that didn't come up in the afterwords though it was implied when Katy did some of the "good deeds". Cousin Helen does veer into preachy occasionally.

Interesting, worth re-reading but the enjoyment was somewhat spoilt by adult views. Though I did empathise with Katy and her getting lost in reading when I was younger, I still remember the resonance. ( )
  wyvernfriend | Mar 29, 2016 |
It's... very moralistic. In a 19th-century, Christian fashion. HOWEVER, I still love it. It's such a ridiculous story and the bit about the School of Pain made me want to vomit (in fact, it reminded me of a stupendous article that appeared in Lupus UK about how chronic illness is really a "beautiful beast within" which is actually the most offensively stupid thing I have ever had the misfortune to see in my entire life, including that film where Jack Black is a luchador) but otherwise there is something so wonderfully compelling in the Katy character that will never make me able to hate this book despite me disagreeing with this whole moral construct. I don't actually think Katy is a less interesting character after she "grows up". There's nothing wrong with learning to be patient with others and to love your neighbour and try to see the best even in the worst situations. It just shouldn't be presented as a requirement of personhood. Anyway, compared to all the other turn-of-the-century sentimental crap that came out of American children's literature (Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna... VOMIT) this is a lot better, and I remember enjoying the sequels too! Good to read on a tiring journey. ( )
  hoegbottom | Jan 30, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (26 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Coolidge, Susanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Coleman, Ralph PallenIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gill, MargeryIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rapola, SirkkaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Katy's name was Katy Carr.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 048644760X, Paperback)

Twelve-year-old Katy Carr wants to do so many things with her life, but her mischievous nature and quick temper make it difficult. When a serious accident puts all of Katy's dreams on hold, she learns gentle lessons in behavior from an invalid cousin. A wonderful story of a spunky heroine growing up in nineteenth-century America.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:52 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Twelve-year-old Katy always planned to do a great many wonderful things, but, in the end did something she never planned at all.

» see all 14 descriptions

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