Every now and then a book that startles you by beginning as one thing and ending as something else altogether. Maybe it’s an adventure story that morphs into a pitch perfect allegory.* Or maybe it is a love story that winds its way, oddly but beautifully, into an illustration of how sin and redemption alters us forever.
In the case of What Katy Did, what begins as an episodic tale of life in a busy household takes an abrupt turn and pitches the characters (and the reader) into deep, deep waters so quickly that you only just have time to see the change coming before it is upon you.
Katy Carr is the eldest of six children, an altogether wonderful character who means well but rarely succeeds in doing well. For the first half of the book, the Carr children live an ordinary, boisterous life: they make friends, have adventures, explore and make mischief. Katy mans the ship. She is captain and commander, steering them all into and out of trouble, until—in a single afternoon—her life is utterly changed and she is admitted into what one character knowingly calls “the School of Pain . . . where the Teacher is always at hand. He never goes away. If things puzzle us, he is there close by, ready to explain and make all easy.”
And so a peppy book about childhood merges gracefully with a beautiful lesson on how God uses suffering to train us an draw us out of ourselves. As Katy learns to see the blessing in a devastating event, so do we; as she sees the love of her heavenly Teacher, we can’t help but see it, too.
It was a courageous move on Coolidge’s part, introducing a lesson on suffering into a book that was humming along nicely without it, but she manages the transition well. In fact, I admire her for doing so, and think that the book gains immeasurably by that one bold plot twist. I look forward to reading What Katy Did to my daughters when they are older, and, in the meantime, to reading the sequels, What Katy Did at School and What Katy Did Next.
Have you read What Katy Did, or either of the sequels? What did you think?
*The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
**Kristen Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset
What Katy Did
Susan Coolidge (1872)