After reading the entire “Little House” series to my son Mohan (eight books in all) I went in search of a similar series for boys. After much searching, I found a recommendation on a the website of a Christian home-schooler (it could have been this one) for the Little Britches series by Ralph Moody.
Ralph vs. Laura
Ralph was born a little more than 30 years after Laura Ingalls Wilder, in 1898, in New Hampshire. His family moves to Colorado in search of a better climate for his ailing father who likely has contracted lung disease while working in coal mines. While Laura is an observer, particularly of her natural environment, Ralph is an adventurer, a doer, a closer observer of people and an entrepreneur. The events that punctuate his childhood (an accident on a horse-drawn plow that almost kills him at age eight) in Little Britches; a scheme to haul abandoned railroad ties that presents another near miss with death, via a railroad train, in the same book; a gig guiding cattle through town with his classmates as hired hands; peddling baked goods to army wives after his father’s death (in Man of the Family), to name just a few, pack more excitement into a single chapter than we get in the entire “Little House” series.
Ralph the Entrepreneur
Ralph the entrepreneur is incredibly hard-working, resilient, and compassionate. Through his adventures he handles a great many difficult characters with grace. Among these characters, his cantankerous and verbally abusive grandfather in Maine in The Fields of Home may be the worst, but others include a tenant farmer who beats and is finally murdered by his mustang in The Dry Divide; and a free-riding road companion in Shaking the Nickel Bush. Ralph is able to recognize latent skills in the people he encounters, from the harvest hands in The Dry Divide who turn out to be expert carpenters, hay pitchers, and saddle men; to the restauranteur’s brother in The Horse of a Different Color who turns out to be not just a butcher but adept in the slaughterhouse and at the drafting table; to the telephone operator Effie in the same book who turns her telephone chat into business for Ralph and help for farmers in foreclosure.
Ralph’s work as a hauler, delivery boy, salvager of collapsed Medford bridge material, launderer, farmer, stunt rider, traveling cowboy artist, farm hand, wheat hauler, stock man, bank agent, contract purveyor of meat and then retail butcher (to name a few!) engage us in a great diversity of worlds and to economic times that are removed in time but not dissimilar in the pace of change and the struggles of daily life. Ralph moves quickly from opportunity to opportunity and makes a number of trips from wealth to penury and back again. He’s doesn’t get caught in any of it but simply takes stock, watches for the next thing, and moves on.
Spreading the Word
These books are contagious and I have trouble understanding why they aren’t more well known. One reason may be that they are not classified as children’s books. My husband and I are quite careful about content for our six-year-old (the Harry Potter series rates as too scary, after book two) and these books, in our judgement, were entirely appropriate for our child, though some of the business dealings in the later books get harder for a child that age to follow (and hence a little boring). There are some debates about the order in which these books should be read. Here’s the order I’d suggest. Also, these books (like the “Little House” series) are in my estimation suited to both girls and boys.
Questions for Enthusiasts
Here are the questions I’d have for Ralph Moody enthusiasts. Why did Ralph leave Gould Farm? What was his experience with city life after his marriage to Edna? (The series stops at the marriage, so we never know). Anyone know anything more about the delightful uncle Levi? How was it that Ralph died at his sister Elizabeth’s house in Medford, and not at the home of one of his children? Is Elizabeth still living, and/or are any of her descendants still in the area? I would welcome email from anyone who has more info
The best biography of Ralph Moody is from the city of Littleton, Colorado. I’m hoping someone there might one day provide me some more detailed info about Ralph’s life, and his descendants.
Wikipedia entry on Ralph Moody.
Another Ralph Moody fan appears to have located Gould Farm in Maine (the farm that’s featured in the Fields of Home book.
Christian Science Monitor article about John Gould, Ralph Moody’s first cousin and also a writer.
Harry Nutting and picture of him, Annie Nutting, and their home (where Ralph weeded Danelions in 1909 or 1910 after his father’s death). Ralph Moody day in McCook, NE. Two comments from Mike Edwards fill in a lot of detail about why Ralph left Gould farm, when he came back East, and where he died.