Growing up in a family of girls, the ways of boys were always a bit of a mystery for me. Since raising three of my own, I understand them more, but this is also in part thanks to Ralph Moody.
Otherwise known as “Little Britches,” Ralph enlightened me considerably about a boy’s thirst for danger, especially if it involves high risk to life and limb. Beneath the bravado and swaggering self-confidence of a lad who feared no challenge from untamed horses or men who ride the range, was a heart that beat with incomparable loyalty and protectiveness for friends and family. Even as I held my breath for him during his various escapades, I admired his struggles to honor and obey his parents while proving himself to be a trustworthy and honest son who spared no effort to help support and provide for them.
When the first book opens, Ralph’s family is moving from New England to settle in Colorado where they have been promised prosperity and improved climate for his father’s weak lungs. Upon arrival, they discover no paradise, but face a life of hardship, poverty, drought and a fight for survival. Ralph’s ingenuity and resourcefulness are impressive, his calamities and mishaps entertaining, and the family’s work ethic and industriousness beyond praiseworthy.
The Little Britches series, a total of eight novels that trace Ralph’s adventurous and character-testing ten years of growing from boy to man, is superb reading for the entire family. The perils of life in the west and the trials of a family to survive appeal to every age. My three-year-old granddaughter laughs and cries with the rest of us and I have lost count of the fathers I know who have been drawn into reading because of sharing this series with their children. The picture Moody unfolds of a family who work together through one grueling crisis after another is heart-warming and inspirational, but Ralph’s exuberance to prove himself a cowboy, ranch hand, and trick rider, are so filled with hilarious and breathtaking episodes, the laughter lightens the load.
It is not, however, the charm of Moody’s writing style and appeal to children that strikes me as most valuable in these lively chronicles, neither is it the character lessons, which abound. Ralph is a grand hero for sure, but for me as a parent, it is the exceeding wisdom of the parents behind this impetuous and irrepressible young son that makes them the true heroes for me. I’ll never forget the lessons his father taught me as he took Ralph to the woodshed and communicated the truth of the disastrous consequences of lying by giving him a powerful word picture, nor how his mother perceives Ralph’s emerging virtues and yet firmly manages to curb his impetuous impulses. Their lessons for Ralph have been my lessons in dealing with my own boys.
By the time Ralph is an adult, all the values they have so tirelessly instilled have borne fruit. Ralph not only does not kill himself bronco-busting, cattle driving and stunt riding (miraculous though this is), but his exemplary dealings with people reveal true character. Ralph was a little guy as a child and small of stature as a man, but towers over the men around him in integrity, honesty and courage. No parent wants anything less for their sons, so my hat is off to the parents of Little Britches.
Read them all:
Man of the Family
Mary Emma and Company
Fields of Home
The Home Ranch
Shaking the Nickel Bush
The Dry Divide
Horse of a Different Color