Thursday, April 02, 2015

All Over Town, by Carol Ryrie Brink

This review brought to you by a vacation that was canceled due to sickness. Our family was scheduled to go to Moscow, Idaho for a week but, in the end, we stayed home and were sick instead. (Fun choice.)

Now, I can't stand traveling anywhere without reading books about the area or stories by authors who lived in the location prior to our visit. With the trip to Moscow in mind, I wanted to read the kids an additional Carol Ryrie Brink title, seeing as how she was raised in Moscow by her maternal grandmother. I was looking up information about her books and discovered that All Over Town was a story about three children who live in the fictionalized town of Warsaw Junction which is based on the actual town of Moscow, Idaho.

If you poke around online trying to find information about this book, you won't find much. The few remarks I did find indicated that a few readers found this book to be "good, clean fun." In some ways it is that, I suppose. Goodreads raters tend to give it 4 to 5 stars with only one person giving it a one star rating. I'd tend towards the 1 star rating myself and I'll explain why in a minute.

Just in case any of you are scratching your heads about why the name Carol Ryrie Brink sounds familiar, I'll clue you in. It was she who also wrote the much-loved Caddie Woodlawn (linked to my review from 2013 when I shared the book with my children). I talked a little bit about her history with Moscow in my 2013 post but with this upcoming trip I tried to dig a little deeper and learn a little more. (For the record, I'm still annoyed that after all of that effort to education myself and the children we couldn't go. I have zero personal pictures to use for this post. Ahem. I'll not be bitter forever but I might be just a little bit right now!)

Back to All Over Town, shall we? Right.

We read the entire book in a little over a week (it arrived in the mail late so we had to bust through it). At first the kids and I were delighted with it. This book tells us the story of Ardeth, the town doctor's daughter, and her escapades with the minister's sons, Martin and Henry Dawlish. The Dawlish family has just recently moved to town and into the parsonage. Martin and Henry are rather a handful with overactive imaginations and a willingness to throw themselves headlong into any situation without stopping to think. They quickly make friends of calm, serene and beautiful young Ardeth who can't see anything malicious about the boys and instead just finds their idea of how to have a good a rather fascinating thing. Despite what might be the best of intentions to be good, the children are really quite naughty and are always in trouble.

As you follow along with Martin, Henry and Ardeth's adventures you meet the rest of Brink's cast of characters. There is Wild Davey who lives up in the mountains and keeps a pack of dogs, Charlie Toy the Chinese vegetable man (who goes door-to-door selling his produce), Mr. Sarinoff the kind but gruff blacksmith, and Oliver Sludge, the town mailman. That's just to name a few. This story could be just a simple, peaceful children's tale set in a quiet little city but it's much more than that. Mr. Dawlish takes the pastorate and people like him alright but they do not care for his disobedient boys. Ardeth overhears some of the ladies gossiping about how they are apt to throw the Dawlish family out of town unless Mr. Dawlish can convince the wayward backsliders in Warsaw Juntion to attend church. Ardeath consults the Dawlish boys and fills them in on what she overhears and the three of them hatch a plan to bring the backsliders into church themselves so that their father might be able to retain his position and them the ability to stay in Warsaw Junction. I think I shall make you read the book for yourself to find out how it all plays out. (Heh.)

Now, overall it's a likable story.  However, having only read Caddie Woodlawn (and the sequel, Magic Melons) before I didn't quite realize how universally prejudice Brink was against anyone who was not white. Now, perhaps that was just the times in which she lived but it is startling to read about the "yellow faced man" and a little incident where one of the Dawlish boys was accidentally covered in soot and scared a lady who thought he was a black child. Our modern sensibilities were definitely taken aback as we read. We frequently set the book to the side and talked about prejudice and differences and how we are all made in the image of God and all ought to be respected equally. We definitely hit on that "yellow face" comment as one of my sons is Asian.  I don't know what - if anything - he will have to face in his future (nothing but acceptance as yet and we live in a fantastic community) but reading this book gave the opportunity to talk about how we need to love people of all races and not think that any one color is superior over the rest. Why? Because not one color is superior over the rest.

There is another incident in the book that took us aback. The Dawlish boy's dog has puppies and the boys are tasked with finding new homes for the cute little fur balls. However, no one seems to be on the market for a new dog. Mrs. Dawlish is adament that the puppies need to go to new homes so Martin hatches the following plan with the other two kids:

"You know how they leave orphan babies on doorsteps in baskets with a note that says 'Be kind to a fatherless babe pinned to their flannel petticoats?" he asked. "Why don't we do that with the puppies?" (Chapter 14, Emergency, page 195)

Now, this might have been funny idea once upon a time. Or perhaps it would be funny to another audience than our family. I read that line and set the book down immediately and said, "Is abandoning a baby a good thing to do?" and "Is what they are suggesting right?" The kids answered with a hearty, loud and very firm, "NO!" See, our family is mixed race because we have adopted two amazing young boys. And so being left or abandoned is no joking matter and we really didn't find much humor in this particular part of the story. We read on until the very end but in many ways we did not find this book to be, "just good, clean fun." It's a book you have to work through and talk about and we did a lot of talking. Yes, it has some great moments but really, we've enjoyed other books better.

That said, I felt like read All Over Town was great homework for visiting Moscow. Brink describes the early beginning of the town and I could sort of imagine where things were situated since I used to live there myself. It was a fun read (for me especially) in that respect because I could appreciate the history of the town, and the characters who were based on real people (such as Carol's grandfather).

Here are a few pictures of Moscow, Idaho from the last century to give you a feel for the town.

It is such a lovely little spot. I absolutely enjoyed the time I spent living there. (Again, I only wish I knew as much about the history of the town and the famous authors who lived there when I was close at hand to search these things out for myself!)

If you want to learn more about Carol Ryrie Brink and her history and connection to Moscow, check out this reference article from the Idaho State Historical Society. It is quite informative and very interesting!

Someday we might get back out that direction, at which point I intend to hunt a great many Brink-related things down. In the meantime, we'll have to be content with our reading.


Other Carol Ryrie Brink posts of interest:


Barbara H. said...

I was thinking that name sounded familiar - thanks for reminding me where I knew it from. I liked Caddie Woodlaen ok but wasn't over the moon about it, and that's the only book of her I've read. I can understand your problems with this one: I would have issues with those elements as well.

My husband spent his teen and college years in Twin Falls, ID - I just looked it up, and it's 7 hours from Moscow. Interesting!

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Oh, so sorry that you had to cancel your trip! That stinks!

I've enjoyed the three CRB books I've read, but I definitely like Caddie the better of the two novels. Goodity O'Grumpity is great fun, but it's a picture book.

I tend to overlook issues like the ones you mention, mostly in the name of understanding the time period, etc. However, I find myself sometimes editorializing more than I ever thought I would. I DEFINITELY understand why you'd find it problematic!

Annette Whipple said...

I can see how this would only be a ho-hum title for you. And it makes me think I shouldn't be so "it was the time" attitude...Hmm.

Sounds interesting though.

Carson Lee said...

I loved both Caddie Woodlawn and All Over Town, when my mother read them to me when I was little. Going back and reading them as an adult, the love still holds true -- I guess part of the enjoyment is remembering the feeling of hearing them for the first time, when the adventures had you on the edge of your seat...

Out of five stars, I'd give both these Brink books 10 stars! I guess I loved that the atmosphere of these stories was so real.

Saying "it was the time" is true, whether we *like* that, or not. Times change; standards change; progress is made. (We could get started on the fact that most of the moms in these books did not have any Career-Outside-The-Home -- but that would make for such a "long" day, LOL.)

Times change -- they wrote what they knew, "Back Then."

(When I was in kindergarten or first grade, I went out around the neighborhood trying to recruit "backsliders" to come to church, following what was in the book! I was told by my parents that I mustn't do that anymore. : ) Some things are OK in books, but in real life, you can't badger people about religion. ...a learning experience there, too, I guess...)

When I was writing a screenplay of All Over Town, I spoke to copyright holder who was, I think, Carol Ryrie Brink's grandson...I think he told me a couple of racial references had been edited out of later printings of All Over Town...

One more thing: in Wisconsin there's a house you can go and see where the real Caddie Woodlawn lived, for part of her life.

have a good day, reading -- Nice blog!

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