It is hard to find well-written stories with strong father-son relationships. Little Britches by Ralph Moody, a read-aloud our family recently finished, succeeds admirably. (Actually, since most of my extended family has read this book, I am grateful to my husband Michael, my son Henry, my mother, sisters Kay and Shay, and nephew James for their input on this review.)
Just after the turn of the twentieth century, eight-year-old Ralph moved with his family from New England to Colorado in hopes that the climate would improve his father’s tuberculosis. They almost returned immediately when they saw the homestead they had to build up and live on, but persevered in spite of hardship and scarce resources. The book is full of vivid details about the daily life of a poverty-stricken family trying to make do on a ranch without whining or expecting pity. Generous neighborliness is contrasted with conniving ranchers, and Father’s ingenuity and courageous example are prized.
Ralph’s exploits are remarkable, with all kinds of boyish incidents and accidents that are better than most fiction. (James, who is almost twelve, confirmed that Ralph’s perspective was “a lot like mine, and he did a lot of things I would have chosen.”)
But it is Father’s character and Ralph’s relationship to him that are most compelling. Although we sometimes wished Ralph showed more remorse for his misbehavior, the consequences for his sins are consistently demonstrated and the greatest effect on his character comes from desiring his father’s good opinion.
The writing is fantastic. Mr. Moody captures his memories in a smooth narrative that reads convincingly like a ten-year-old boy’s viewpoint. His detailed memory of events is colorful, and throughout his life he carried everything his father told him about becoming a man. The story is full of raw boyhood that is not crass, and Ralph’s maturity by the end is believably subtle. It encouraged me as a parent to see how Ralph’s high regard for his parents and their values guarded him while he spent time living with the cowboys.
Heart-warming, well-written, emotional, captivating, the influence of Father’s advice to his son—these are all recurring descriptions from those who have read or listened to the book. We’re eager to learn more by reading the rest of the series.
Caution: The cowboys’ language is realistically unrefined, and the Moodys’ best neighbor occasionally uses rough language as well. This is in stark contrast to the higher standard of speech that is set by Father. As a read-aloud, this is easily censored, but parents should know it is there.