A World of Words

Reviewing children's books

What Katy Did, by Susan Coolidge

on March 31, 2013

What Katy Did, by Susan Coolidge

ISBN: 0-14-036697-0. I’ve had this from when I was a child, but it’s available on Play for £1.33 and probably many other shops!


Gangly, quick-tempered Katy always means to be beautiful and beloved and as good as an angel one day, but meanwhile her resolutions somehow get forgotten or go horribly wrong. Until, one terrible day, the swing breaks … But it is still  a long, eventful time before Katy learns to be as loving and patient as her beautiful, invalid Cousin Helen.

Katy Carr is one of six children (and we mustn’t forget Cecy Hall, who lives next door but always joins in), and as the eldest, is undoubtedly the leader. Her sense of adventure and vivid imagination get her (and the others) into trouble, but the games she devises seem really fun, and her conscience makes Katy really endearing, too. I first read this book when I was about 8, and at that age I really identified with some of the scrapes the children got into. As a child I was allowed around the local area without parental supervision (something I fear is getting rarer now), and got into my fair share of trouble! I was also very “romantic” and idealistic, so Katy was a character I really related to. Plus, all the children really capture the joy of childhood when they’re playing – it’s infectious!

Published in 1872 and set in 1860s America (although I’ve only just realised the characters weren’t from England), this is a Victorian book with Victorian values. I looked at this book for part of my university dissertation (comparing representations of disability in children’s fiction), and I have read reviews that after her accident, Katy became as saintly as Cousin Helen in order to match the Victorian ideals of womanhood. I can’t deny this – she does suddenly learn to mend her ways and “become the heart of the household”. To me, as a child, and even re-reading it as an adult, it didn’t matter.

Katy’s imagination is still as vivid as ever – she arranges thoughtful surprises for her family, and finds a way to deal with her disability. The book is packed full of morals for readers to follow, but rather than preach, it lets the story provide the explanation, which is what it should. What Katy Did is a real favourite of mine – have you read it? What did you think?

Oh yeah, and happy Easter! I’m off to Portsmouth to see some family in a bit; I hope your holiday is just as relaxing!

What Katy Did qualifies under the Vintage Children’s Literature Challenge I’m currently completing – check it out!


5 responses to “What Katy Did, by Susan Coolidge

  1. Jill London says:

    I really enjoyed reading What Katy Did and, like Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, I did find it disappointing as a child that the feisty female heroines always became a little dull at the end of the story. I think Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden was one of the few that I thought needed to mellow a little bit and wasn’t too good by the end of the book.

    • Kayleigh says:

      Yeah, I can see what you mean, although for some reason it never bothered me as a child! Mary Lennox definitely stayed the most ‘human’. The Secret Garden was published about 20-30 years after the others though, I think, so maybe that made some sort of difference?

  2. Arabella says:

    Hi Kayleigh, I stopped by mainly to let you know you have won the giveaway for the vintage children’s literature reading challenge, I just need you to contact me with details of what book you would like and an address to send it to. You can contact me at arabellabramble (at) y7mail.com
    Look forward to hearing from you, I will wait until Thursday and if I haven’t heard by then I will re-draw.
    Great post, I always think it is the mark of a good children’s book if it can avoid sounding preachy despite wanting to deliver a message. Also it is sad that kids now don’t get to be half as adventurous these days.
    Thanks for participating in the challenge and if there is a children’s title you would like other than what is on the list let me know, anything around $15 or less at the book depository would be fine.

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