Little Britches by Ralph Moody

233711Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers by Ralph Moody. Bison Books, 1991. 260 pages.

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 8-10, ages 10-12 and up
Recommended for: especially boys

Bottom Line: A prime example of quality writing in an adventure story that is built on the relationship between a boy and his father. It is full of vivid details about the realities of a family trying to build up a ranch in Colorado around the turn of the twentieth century and shows how hardship and trials build character on the way to manhood.

It is hard to find well-written stories with strong father-son relationships. Little Britches by Ralph Moody succeeds admirably.

Just after the turn of the twentieth century, eight-year-old Ralph moved with his family from New England to Colorado in hopes that the climate would improve his father’s tuberculosis. They almost returned immediately when they saw the homestead they had to build up and live on but persevered in spite of hardship and scarce resources. The book is full of vivid details about the daily life of a poverty-stricken family trying to make do on a ranch without whining or expecting pity. Generous neighborliness is contrasted with conniving ranchers, and Father’s ingenuity and courageous example are prized.

Ralph’s exploits are remarkable, with all kinds of boyish incidents and accidents that are better than most fiction. But it is Father’s character and Ralph’s relationship to him that are most compelling. Although Ralph rarely shows remorse for his misbehavior, the consequences for his sins are consistently demonstrated, and the greatest effect on his character comes from desiring his father’s good opinion.

There are some instances of coarse language. The cowboys Ralph works with during the summer use language that is realistically unrefined, and the Moodys’ best neighbor occasionally uses rough language as well. This is in stark contrast to the higher standard of speech that is set by Father. As a read-aloud, this is easily censored, but parents should know it is there.

The writing is fantastic. Mr. Moody captures his memories in a smooth narrative that reads convincingly like a ten-year-old boy’s viewpoint. His detailed memory of events is colorful, and throughout his life he carried everything his father told him about becoming a man. The story is full of raw boyhood that is not crass, and Ralph’s maturity by the end is believably subtle.

Cautions: Language (taking God’s name in vain)

Overall Rating: 4.75 (out of 5)  

  • Worldview Rating: 4.5
  • Artistic Rating: 5

Categories: 4 stars and up, Adventure, Middle Grades, Read-Alouds, History, Character Values, Life Issues
Cover image from Goodreads

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  1. Pat on September 5, 2013 at 8:16 am

    We LOVE Little Britches, and the second book too!

    And I am sorry, but I did not choose to censor the language when I read it aloud. While I would not choose a book (or movie) that had extreme profanity, the small amount in a book like this or Cheaper By the Dozen that is realistic for its setting is simply an opportunity to discuss real life with my children! Why they did use the language, why we do not use the language, whether they are really bad people for having used the language, etc. I mean, I assume that homeschooled children are out in the world frequently and will encounter all sorts of people. I not only take my children to WalMart (horrors!) but we serve frequently at a Christian Center of Hope where people are fed and helped in many other ways, and the people who come in there are just about as real as you can get. It is all part of my larger teaching plan to help them make good choices in life and to help them learn to serve others who are less fortunate than we are!

  2. Megan on September 5, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    Thanks, Pat, for defending your decision not to censor the language, and for capturing teachable moments. I always appreciate your thoughtful responses to the reviews!

  3. Anna S. on September 5, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    Our family loved reading this aloud! I recently reread it and remembered why we liked it so much. We have a couple of the other books– Man of the Family, Mary Emma and Company, The Dry Divide– and enjoyed those too.

  4. CFS on September 10, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    This series is probably about our family’s favorite! We think that some of the later books might even be better, but highly recommend all of them!

  5. Jessalyn on September 10, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    Thank you for this review! I am excited to read it with my sons.

  6. Candice on September 18, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    I just finished reading this aloud with my kids, ages 5-15. We all loved it, even if I had to work extremely hard to compose myself at the end! I did easily censor the bad language as I read. Very, very sweet story and would definitely recommend.

  7. Megan on September 18, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    Thanks for increasing my anticipation in finishing the series–we can’t wait to read more!

  8. Matt S. on October 16, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    My parents read “Little Britches” and “The Fields of Home” to my brothers and I when we were kids. I discovered the rest of the series after moving away from home, and all of the books in the series remain some of my favorites. I don’t have any children of my own, but I’ve given a set to my nephew when he was born–hopefully I’ll have a chance to read some of them to him. Having grown up in the agricultural world with a father of my own who often thought outside the box, I appreciate the positive portrayal of hard work combined with ingenuity, and of young Ralph taking on “adult” jobs. Beautiful, winsome examples of responsibility, integrity, and of working with your might at whatever your hand finds to do, among other virtues.

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