“Ralph Moody’s books should be read aloud in every family circle in America.”—Sterling North
In 1950, Ralph Moody enrolled in a writing class at a local community college and was inspired to write his first book, Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers. The book went on to serve as the first of an eight book series chronicling Ralph’s childhood, certain moments of his adolescence, and his young adulthood. Many have called it Little House on the Prairie for boys. It is a fair comparison, but it is so much more than that as well.
Autobiographies are a very unique genre of books. And, in my opinion, they often fail to merit much true attention. Autobiographies written such that they can be shared with the entire family are even more unique because that which makes a life interesting does not always make it family-friendly. Finally, autobiographies that span a series of books are rare – and when done well – very special. In the case of the Little Britches series, families have the opportunity to grow up with Ralph and spend hours upon hours sharing in his remarkable story.
Ralph Moody lived a very storied life. I’m not sure why it took him until the second half of his life to discover that he was a writer, but maybe it was because he was too busy living it to really capture it on the page until then.
It’s often said that you should write about what you know. Perhaps Moody became such a successful storyteller because he spent so much of his life really coming to know things. His early life was blessed with a strong and excellent father who wasted few opportunities to help Ralph harness his natural intelligence and raw potential and build his character. As we see in Father and I Were Ranchers, Ralph had a knack for attracting good mentors who genuinely loved to walk alongside the boy and share their wisdom.
There are three things in particular that Ralph knows very well and is able to convey with absolute sincerity, intrigue, and passion: horses, the vanishing West, and traditional American values. It is the way that he blends these three subjects that makes him such an important author for young people today. His stories capture a bygone era and do so in a way that shows respect for the reader and the subject matter.
Moody’s writing voice could be compared Louis L’Amour, but it has a more wholesome and more youthful tone. Where L’Amour tends to describe things beautifully, Ralph has a habit of speaking about them more simply, almost more honestly. In all of the Moody books I have read, I have been struck that Moody’s appeal is not in how he says what he says, but in what he chooses to say. Moody has an inherent sense for the tidbits and stories that will matter the most. Perhaps the fundamental difference between L’Amour and Moody is that L’Amour wrote fiction and Moody wrote nonfiction. While Moody would likely never have use this word, I think that it is fair to say that Moody was a curator of stories. He knew what readers wanted to know and gave it to them.
Since its publication in 1950, Moody’s Little Britches books have been continuously in print, have been translated into eleven languages, and have proven to be a great American story. In 1906, eight-year-old Ralph’s family has just moved from New Hampshire to Colorado in the hopes of saving Mr. Moody’s life. Charles Moody had worked in the woolen mills and his lungs were infected and giving out on him. It was hoped that the dry and clean air of a Colorado ranch would restore him to health.
Charles Moody is a man of intensely good character and his wife Mary Emma (Mame) is strong, smart, loving, and thoughtful. The family arrives in Colorado only to discover that they have been misled and cheated. Their easy ranch life would be painfully hard and often desperate. Throughout the story, we watch their situation unfold through Ralph’s eight-year-old eyes and learn, as he does, how valuable good character really is. Despite so much bad luck, the Moody’s scrape an existence out of the harsh landscape in large measure because of their keen intelligence, faithful commitment to doing what is right, and ingenuity. Their integrity, sense of community, and traditional values win them loyal friends among their neighbors.
Throughout the story, we have a foreboding sense that no matter how hard they work something devastating is always around the corner. Time after time, they put their shoulder to the plow and push forward trusting in Divine Providence and the making of their own good luck.
Ralph is a wonderful storyteller. He spares no expense when recounting his own childish sins. Instead of trying to make himself look good, he owns his mistakes and then reveals his father’s parenting genius. Charles Moody was a father for the ages. Wise, patient, loving, firm, and good at explaining things to Ralph. This book, Man of the Family, and Mary Emma and Company are some of the most wonderful examples of excellent parenting I have ever studied. If I could be half the mother that Mary Emma was, I would count myself fortunate indeed.
A fantastic family read aloud, this book is living history, a true story, a handbook on parenting, a love story about horses, a Western adventure, and a treatise on family values. I introduced this book to my very young children and they return to it almost annually in audio and in print. My littlest one was so taken, at 3 years old, with Ralph’s stories that his entire Christmas was dedicated to horse themed Playmobils that we called “Little Britches Playmobils”.
A word of warning: there are a couple of occurrences of the word d**n. It is not intended disrespectfully, but is the vernacular of the cowboys. Also, there is the tragic death of Ralph’s beloved horse. In fact, Ralph has to kill her to stop her acute suffering. It may go over the heads of young listeners and could be glossed over if read aloud.
The end is painful. Even on my third reading I sobbed through it. Parents of sensitive readers will want to read ahead and prepare their children. It ends with hope, but only after total tragedy.
“Should be read aloud in every home in America.” – Chicago Tribune (as noted on the cover of the audiobook)
Our family has loved the printed text because of the illustrations (done by Moody) as well as the incredible audio book. Cameron Bierle is a wonderful narrator and he does all of the books in the series. He sounds just as a cowboy should sound.
Reviews of all of the other books in the series can be found here.
Also of note: Purple House Press has converted some of the illustration into coloring sheets! If you have little ones who wish to color while they listen to you read aloud, check out the free coloring pages here.
“A most appealing book . . . Its genuineness and its simplicity will build up a large audience of enthusiastic readers.”—San Francisco Chronicle