My Mum had an old, pre-cherished copy of ‘What Katy Did’ and ‘What Katy Did Next’ that I read when I was younger, which I had loved. It’s now in storage, but while I was in Port Lincoln visiting a friend last year, I decided to buy another set of old, pre-cherished editions of the books to reread. I so enjoyed reading them, but was struck by how much Katy, and her brothers and sisters, and their adventures, were almost archetypal of a variety of different generic children’s stories.
Katy and her siblings get up to lots of mischief. Katy becomes ill and has to overcome these obstacles, in which she learns how rewarding being kind can be. Katy and her sister Clover go to boarding school and get up to lots of school girl mischief there as well. And in ‘What Katy Did Next’, Katy travels the world in a coming of age type fashion, culminating in falling in love and living (supposedly) happily ever after.
Any one of those sentences could describe any number of books. Don’t misunderstand me, they are still absolutely loveable books, but they seem to take so many stereotypes of old-fashioned books and squash them into one. I’m not sure in 1872 when ‘What Katy Did’ was published they were considered stereotypes, or if Susan Coolidge started the stereotype herself. Either way, there is something very relatable about Katy’s stories as you feel like you could have read them before, somewhere else – so much so that perhaps you feel as if you could have experienced them yourself.
Perhaps that’s why ‘What Katy Did’ is still being published. I recently saw that Random House Vintage Classics for Children has released an edition – it must still be being cherished by children today to warrant publication. I’m glad, I must say, for Katy is a lovely person to be around, whether it is through a second-hand book from an Op Shop, or through a parent’s old, worn novel, or through a book straight off the press. She may be 142 years old, but she still feels like a wonderful, mischievous friend to me, no matter where I encounter her.