Allison's Book Bag

Katie John by Mary Calhoun

Posted on: December 30, 2014

“High-spirited, headstrong and misunderstood.” This is how one fan described Katie John, a character created by Mary Calhoun. Those characteristics were reason enough for me during my elementary school days to immediately seek out all of the Katie John books. Even now, despite being in my forties, I still connect with Katie John.

Being high-spirited means life with Katie John is rarely dull. The trait serves her well when Sue comes to visit and she finds Katie John on the trail of blood. Sue immediately acts dismissive of Katie John’s detective work. The blood is probably just from a simple cut. Katie John knows better. Anyone who got cut would have the sense to wrap a bandage around the wound. And so the girls head past Katie’s house, across the street, and along the bluff…. until they find a cat eating a dead mouse. Of course, there’s a reason why being curious gets a bad rap. For example, there’s the time when the two girls search for the family cat who had someone disappeared from a locked room. This time their search leads Katie John to a dumb waiter, in which she gets stuck and shows her penchant for getting into trouble.

Being headstrong means Katie John is stubborn. The trait serves her well when Sue and her decide to set up a lemonade stand to earn money for a movie. Boys come by and take advantage of the free popcorn sign to clean the girls out of all their popcorn. Next, the girls discover that they have accidentally added laundry soap instead of sugar to their lemonade. The disasters keep piling up but Katie John persists in making her good idea work. Of course, there’s a reason why being stubborn gets a bad rap. There are times when one should let well enough alone. For example, when Katie John figures out that mysterious voices in the house come from a telephone system, she probably should have been content with that explanation. Instead she sticks her hold in a hole in the wall—and is unable to get her finger loose.

How is Katie John misunderstood? Let me count the ways! The most poignant example involves the family’s decision to sell their house. At first, Katie John tries the old standby method of making disparaging comments in front of potential buyers. Eventually though, she decides to use her head to come up with a practical solution. And she does! She decides the family should rent the spare rooms. From the moment, however, that Katie John begins to act on that decision, everything goes wrong. Fortunately, the adults know she meant well and so eventually all gets worked out.

In an entirely different situation, Katie John has her friend’s best interests at heart, but not so much that of her friend’s sister. The two set out of help the sister act nicer, but only by acting kind of mean themselves. It takes some reflection on Katie John’s part and even sincere apologies to resolve that situation. As you can see, Katie John isn’t always completely innocent or right. In her heart though she does care and so will at least strive to make amends when she makes mistakes, acts badly, or fails in some other way.

Mary Calhoun is most known for her Katie John books which developed from happy childhood memories of her great-grandfather’s big brick house on a bluff above the Mississippi River. When I first discovered the Katie John books, I felt as if I had found a kindred spirit. Now as an adult I’m also reminded of my own memories of being a young person. My review is of the first title in the series, but I encourage you to seek out all four books.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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