I came across What Katy Did while browsing bookshelves at The Works (and I also bought What Katy Did at School & What Katy Did Next and Little Women & Good Wives, all Wordsworth Classics editions). I knew nothing about What Katy Did, which seems to be a relatively unknown children’s classic. I thought it would be similar to books such as Betsy-Tacy and Milly-Molly-Mandy but for a slightly older age group, which it is. At first.
Katy Carr is a spontaneous and playful 12-year-old who is the storytelling queen to her little brothers and sisters – Clover, Dorry, Joanna (also known as John or Johnnie), young Elsie, and baby Phil – because she is the oldest of the six. Mother Carr died when Katy was eight, leaving her in charge of her young siblings. But Katy is always getting into some sort of trouble, whether it’s because she has been talking in class or because she has broken a new vase given to her as a gift. She tears her clothes because she’s always rushing to be somewhere else, somewhere more fun. Katy is not inconsiderate or malicious, just a little careless! She’s a young girl who is full of ambition yet often makes mistakes – although is always a little cheeky about it. I thought Katy was a feisty, stand-out character whose personality really shone through, and I thought the fun childish antics would continue throughout the story, such as playing Kikeri – a game similar to hide and seek – in the dark even though her family has banned the game.
When Katy is involved in an accident, the novel (unexpectedly!) gets a little darker. Katy is left dejected and feeling helpless until cousin Helen, who is unable to walk, pays a visit and offers Katy hope and some much needed advice. And yes, it may be old-fashioned and out-dated advice, but then again the novel is 141 years old! I admired the positive outlook of this unexpected (because I failed to read the synopsis first!) twist. And although I do not feel the accident would have the same impact today, meaning that it’s actually even sadder in hindsight, its upbeat attitude meant that I still became wrapped up in Katy’s world.
What Katy Did is a delightful children’s classic that manages to be charming yet poignant in an unexpected way. I did not expect it to be so moving and the ending wraps up nicely, leading, I imagine, straight onto the next book: What Katy Did at School. If you’re looking to branch out into children’s fiction and for something a little more unknown, but still worth the read, it’s the perfect book. It’s full of everything I enjoy about old children’s books with but a serious side too. If you have an e-reader you should be able to download it for free, but there’s many beautiful print editions available. Next up is Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery!