A Thumping Good Read!

By Sheila Brennan, June 16, 2010 9:20 am

Last night I finished re-reading Ralph Moody’s LITTLE BRITCHES: Father and I Were Ranchers. I say re-reading because this was a read-aloud we enjoyed when I was homeschooling my son, Jonathan – then 10. Having recently loaned it to a young friend interested in horses, I found myself cracking it open once again when it was returned – just a quick look. Well, you know how it goes with a truly good story – I was drawn into it immediately!

Published in 1950, this is the true story of Ralph’s experiences when his family moved from New Hampshire to Colorado in 1906, when he was 8. His father, Charles, was a quiet man of solid character, fine intelligence, wide talent, and an understanding heart, a man who worked long and difficult hours at anything he could find in order to provide for his family.

Ralph’s mother, Mary, was very concerned about how their move to the “wild” west would shape her children’s morals and manners. She expended considerable effort protecting and enlarging their own independent family culture. The children were responsible for many difficult and demanding jobs in order to keep livestock, buildings, and crops properly tended. But on Sundays they would ride to a nearby creek for some exploring with their father followed by a picnic lunch and hours of listening to Mother read the Bible or Shakespeare or some other classic. The children would sometimes act out Hamlet or Julius Caesar.

The story is told from Ralph’s (8 year old) point of view thereby relating only as much as an observant child might understand and deduce from the happenings around him. He does provide, on the other hand, thorough narration into his man-sized thoughts and aspirations, and his struggles of body and soul. Ralph was the oldest of five children and responsible for doing a man’s work even at the age of 8. Charlie’s patience with his son’s youthful exuberance and his empathy for Ralph’s fascination with horses was always in evidence.

In his adventures with work and horses, Ralph meets good men, generous men, troubled men, and dishonest men. He learns how to “turn his hand” to any job that will enable him to earn something to help provide for his family. In so doing, he learns to work for critical and demanding ranchers and reasonable and generous ones, too. He learns to relate to school children, cowboys, ranchers, lawmen, a mysterious old Indian (who never spoke) and a Mexican camp cook (who spoke only Spanish).

Perhaps the two primary threads of the story are Ralph’s experiences in working with horses and his special relationship to his father. These are not separate threads but continually inter-lacing ones. So much so, that we suspect – though are never told outright – that Charlie himself must have had a special affinity for horseflesh.

I don’t want to give away much more information about this book, but I would recommend it for boys (and girls) of suitable age. LITTLE BRITCHES met with so much approbation that Moody continued the stories of his very interesting life with seven more volumes. MAN of the Family is the next in the series.

There are occasional cuss-words and such in these stories. They accurately represent the different people with whom the Moody’s came into contact. However, the Moody family kept a different standard throughout the narrative.

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