Two Are Better Than One

 

I haven’t read your novel, but I can imagine what it’s like.
I think it is an excellent exercise in the use of your imaginations.
I’m pleased with you for writing it.
But now you must begin to look around you here at home.
Use all of your senses to find out what kind of a place you are living in.
Ask yourself how it smells, how it tastes, how it sounds,
as well as how it looks.
Then someday when you wish to write real books,
you will put your real experiences into them.
You will not need to go to imaginary countries half the world away
for your material. Perhaps someday you will even write
about this very year in your lives in Idaho. 180

My friend Noel and I were sitting in her van, waiting for the key to a building. As we chatted, she looked straight ahead and said, “Carol Ryrie Brink grew up in that house. You know the author of Caddie Woodlawn?” My eyes widened as I nodded. At one time I loved Caddie Woodlawn more than Laura Ingalls. “She wrote several adult novels about the early days of Moscow,” Noel continued. “You might like them.”  I put the titles on my wishlist and waited. This summer I am on a Carol Ryrie Brink reading streak. Before I began her trilogy about Moscow, ID, I read a little-known children’s book.

Two are Better Than One is a superb story for girls in that delicate time between dolls and bras.  Chrystal Reese and Cordelia Lark live a few blocks apart in the early 1900’s. Chrys is alone with her aunt and grandmother in a quiet house. Cordy lives with her dad and mom and four older brothers in a bustling house. When they aren’t playing with dolls, or going to Dorcas Club meetings, or exclaiming “Swellissimus!”, Chrys and Cordy decide to write a novel—by taking turns writing a chapter— about two dolls: The Romantical Perils of Lester and Lynette. This novel, included in the book with its juvenile spelling and construction gave me the loudest horse laugh:

“Lester!” screamed Lynette, trying hard not to swoon,
“You have come in the very niche of time.” 85

Miss Hickenlooper, a new teacher, is a problem. She doesn’t understand them, even confiscates the miniature dolls. The girls nourish their grievance by writing a hate poem. She discovers the poem, the girls see the hurt they’ve afflicted. This section has stuck with me weeks after I finished the book. Here a few snippets from that scene:

All along they had thought of Miss Hickenlooper as their enemy,
a comical one to be sure, but an enemy nevertheless.
And now she seemed to be not an enemy or even a villain
but just a person who had been mocked and hurt
by a couple of girls. 52

 
…we didn’t mean it for hate.
We thought it was—well, sort of funny.
It made us feel better.
We didn’t think about how you would feel. 53

The girls go to some parties and begin to neglect the dolls. They serve punch at a college dance. The novel gets finished and Chrys and Cordy decide to stage a wedding for the dolls. This back and forth between the little girl and the almost grown-up mimics the conflict I’ve witnessed in adolescent girls. 

As I get to know Carol Ryrie Brink, I see many autobiographical elements in this sweet story of friendship. The dedication is “…for Charlotte. She, better than anyone else, will be able to sift through all the make-believe and find the grains of truth.”  Like dear Laura Ingalls, the story of Chrys and Cordy harks back to a time when a girl had to learn how “to keep herself happy and amused.” 

 

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2 thoughts on “Two Are Better Than One

  1. Caddie Woodlawn was the first book I bought at my elementary school’s book fair.  It was so difficult to choose just one.  I am ashamed to admit that I never thought to read the author’s other books.What a neat bit of trivia about Moscow!

  2. Carol,I often read your reviews but seldom comment because I can never figure out how to make it work.  (I’m technologically ignorant, I’m afraid.)  However, I’m giving it another try because I have to say how much my girls love Caddie Woodlawn now and how much I loved her as a child.  We’ve also read a collection of short stories about the Woodlawn family (our library book was called Magical Melons, but I believe it has been reprinted as Caddie Woodlawn’s Family).  I will be on the look out for this book.  It sounds wonderful!

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