Book Title: What Katy Did
Author: Susan Coolidge
Series Name: What Katy Did
Book No.: Book 1
Genre: Children’s Lit
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Star Rating: ★★
What Katy did was Written by Sudan Coolidge in 1872. It is about a little girl, Katy Carr. She is clumsy, impatient and short-tempered. One day, when she loses her temper, she purposely disobeys her Aunt Izzy and plays on the swing. It breaks and she damages her spine. This causes her to become physically disabled.
I am going to be using this book in my essay for Writing for Responsibility but more so as a comparison to the rewrite, Katy.
What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge
When I look at books written in the Victorian age, I am often mindful that they do not understand disability. They were largely religious and held strange beliefs on how the world works. However, after reading why Wilson wrote her version of Katy, I went into the book expecting to hate it. Perhaps as much as I hate The Great Gatsby (but for different reasons). Only I don’t hate it, I don’t particularly like it either.
I found it tedious. The bad behaviour of a short temper, messiness and clumsiness isn’t seen as bad now as it was back then, though children are still punished for it. And of course, Children are expected to be a little disobedient and this can sometimes put them in dangerous situations.
The book is written in third person omniscient which I don’t think works very well for this book. It makes the characters seem flat and it tells too much of what the characters are thinking.
As a visual person, I love to be able to create imagery in my mind’s eye, but I couldn’t do that as well in this book as I was always aware of the narrator telling the story. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t get any imagery. I could see the spiked pole, and I could imagine Johnnie’s chair, but most of the time, the imagery fell flat.
The first half of the story is slow because Katy had not had her accident yet, and the second half is Katy being trapped in her room for a total of four years. So a lot of time passes without much happening. I felt that there could have been more to show the characters’ personality during these parts in the book. This includes the struggles Katy has without them being told, and even the struggles that her Aunt Izzie has.
Day after day she asked Papa with quivering lip: “Mayn’t I get up and go down stairs this morning?…
Surprise about attitudes…
What did surprise me about this book was that the children and the adults still treated Katy like she was a person. They tried to involve her in family things, as difficult as that was due to the lack of accessibility in the late 1800s. And Katy did have a life even though she couldn’t walk. I think I would have given this book at least three stars if Katy didn’t get better again but I suppose that wasn’t moral enough back in those days.
I probably wouldn’t have had a problem with Katy getting better if it was due to determination and intense therapy. But the fact that she heals for being a good replacement mother to her siblings bothers me. However, the Victorians were huge fans of producing moralist work and so it is one similar to others. The Secret Garden and Heidi have the same message and were written in the same time period.
Katy Carr is the oldest of six children, she is short-tempered and clumsy at the beginning of the book, and occasionally disobedient. Essentially she is like most children. When she has her accident, her cousin, Helen, tells her that if she is good and asks The Great Teacher (A.K.A God) for help, he will help. The more “Perfect” Katy’s behaviour comes the better Katy gets.
But you must recollect that every time you forget, and are impatient or selfish, you chill them and drive them farther away… nothing you do makes them angry… they will get used to having you sick, and if you haven’t won them as friends, they will grow away from you as they get older
All the other Carr children remain the same throughout the book. Clover is Katy’s sheep, Dorry eats a lot of food, Philly is a “cry-baby”. Then there’s Johnnie who is adventurous. I am unsure what Elsie’s purpose was, I suppose another sheep to both Clover and Katy. There is a lack of character development for these characters and although we are told they have changed four years in, we are not shown how.
Cousin Helen is Katy’s brief mentor. She is the one that told her that if she has a positive outlook, things will be different. I like this because Helen has no chance of being ‘cured’ and yet she is positive and kind to the children. I also like that she is not ‘cured’ at the end but still permanently disabled.
Aunt Izzie is Dr Carr’s sister, she is the children’s mother figure up until Katy starts being good. She is then killed by some sort of fever so that Katy can fulfil her promise to her mother – which is like a mother to her younger brothers and sisters. Izzie is strict but fair to the children and is usually disliked by them.
Dr Carr is the father of the children. His word is law in the household and so the children are never disobedient when he orders something. They only disobey when their aunt asks them to do something. He is mostly absent as it is a woman’s job to raise the children, but he is supportive and visits Katy’s bedside.
Some Book Quotes
There is a saving grace in truth which helps truth-tellers through the worst of their troubles, and Katy found this out now
not a bit inclined to do the fine things we planned overnight
Overall, I feel this book lacks character development and too much is told through the narrator rather than through description. However, in my essay, I am going to compare the character development of Katy in this book with the Katy in Jacqueline Wilson’s book.
I ignored the book’s use of outdated words such as invalid and cripple because at the time Coolidge wrote this, those words were acceptable and the norm. However, If this book was published in the modern day, I think the author would be requested to think about the word usage. I am thankful for Wilson’s rewrite.
I hope you enjoyed this review, I have a post coming up on Saturday and I hope Sunday too. Uni work has been keeping me busy so I apologise for the lack of posts. Berg is happy that I finally managed to finish a book again.