What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge

Katy and the bunch of siblings who trailed in her irrepressible wake were always great fun to spend time with. Katy loved writing and was always reading so I felt we had a lot in common, plus she was impulsive and funny and full of ideas which frequently got out of hand. I love the two games she invented which caused mayhem. There was Kikeri, during which the nursery was turned upside down and left in complete but unintentional chaos, and after which all the children (except Elsie, asleep in two seconds flat in the trundle bed) were in serious trouble for foregoing bedtime and running riot. And then there was the Game of Rivers, even noisier and more chaotic, which left Katy’s school classroom with furniture overturned, ink everywhere and even a crowd of people at the door wondering what the appalling noise was. Clearly in those days a teacher’s remit did not extend to break duty!

After a visit from her saintly cousin Helen, who is bedridden, Katy dreams of becoming something amazing and being an ‘ornament to the family’. Instead she has a terrible fall from a swing and injures her spine with the result that she too is unable to walk. How she comes to terms with this is the subject of the second half of the book. Reading it back now I feel quite sad that Katy, through the trials and tribulations of her illness, changes so much. But then maybe she would have grown out of childish pursuits at roughly the same sort of time anyway. Prior to the accident she writes wonderfully imaginative stories, invents games, and her overactive brain is constantly thinking up things to do; plan a picnic, hold a literary ‘fete’, make friends with all sorts of unusual people, plan her weekly magazine. By the end of the book she has lost the impetuosity and, seemingly, most of her creativity as well. She has become a young woman, keeping house for the family, being the ‘heart of the home’ and finding it a very rewarding job. But it is not quite as interesting to read about, and I prefer Katy breaking things, falling over things and getting into scrapes.

However as a child I found Katy’s transformation terribly impressive and rather to be emulated (although preferably without the rather drastic catalyst) and I found it just as interesting to read about this Katy as I did about the previous one. I wondered whether I could become quite as useful and good if I put my mind to it. I couldn’t and I didn’t, and all these years later I still haven’t, but the ideal seemed to be an admirable one.

I just wish Katy had carried on with her writing. I would have loved to hear more of ‘Edwitha of the Hebrides’ or ‘The Fairy of the Dry Goods Box’. I bet they would have got her a few five star Amazon reviews . . . . . .

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