Brink, Carol Ryrie

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BRINK, Carol Ryrie

Born 28 December 1865, Moscow, Idaho; died 15 August 1981, La Jolla, California

Daughter of Alexander and Henrietta Watkins Ryrie; married Raymond W. Brink, 1918

Carol Ryrie Brink grew up in the West she later used for the settings of some of her works. Her father was a Scotsman who emigrated to Idaho, helped to plan and lay out the town of Moscow, and became its first mayor. Her mother's family were also pioneers, moving gradually westward from Boston to Missouri, to Wisconsin, and then to Idaho. Brink lost both parents before she was eight and went to live with her aunt and her maternal grandmother, who told her stories about her childhood in Wisconsin. A lonely child, Brink amused herself by reading, drawing, making up stories, and riding for hours about the countryside. While still in high school, she published poems in small magazines. She attended the University of Idaho and the University of California at Berkeley, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1918.

After Brink's marriage she moved with her husband to St. Paul, Minnesota, where the couple spent most of their lives. After their son and daughter were born, Brink began to compose stories for children. Altogether Brink wrote about 30 books of fiction and nonfiction, mostly for children, and more than 150 short stories, articles, poems, and plays. Among her numerous awards are a Litt.D. from the University of Idaho, and in 1954 Hamline University named her one of Minnesota's most outstanding women.

Brink's first book, Anything Can Happen on the River! (1934), a fictionalization of some actual family adventures along the Seine, won praise from reviewers, but its appeal has not endured. Caddie Woodlawn (1935) received many awards, among them the Newbery Medal and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, and is now regarded as a modern classic of children's literature. Based upon the reminiscences of Brink's grandmother, Caddie Woodlawn recreates Wisconsin pioneer life through the lively doings of spunky eleven-year-old Caddie and her brothers, Tom and Warren. The characters are memorably drawn and their conversations are fresh and individualized. Rich details fill out the episodic story to vividly depict life on the Wisconsin frontier during the Civil War. Brink's own grandmother, Caroline Woodhouse, is the Caddie of the book; most of the other characters also existed, and the events find their source in actual occurrences. The work has been translated into a dozen languages, and Caddie Woodlawn, A Play (1945) has been produced many times.

Magical Melons (1944) offers 14 more stories about this family and their homesteading neighbors during 1863-66. Less unified, it has never achieved the popularity of Caddie Woodlawn. While high in entertainment value, few of Brink's early books have retained the original level of readership. Although the dialogue and episodes are true to a child's point of view, the plots are contrived, climaxes are predictable, and language and incidents seem dated and occasionally patronizing. The frivolous fantasy, Baby Island (1937), reprinted more than a dozen times, tells the comic adventures of two young girls shipwrecked with four babies and cast upon a desert island in the Pacific. In The Highly Trained Dogs of Professor Petit (1953), young Willie finds jobs for the professor's dogs in the little town of Puddling Center, restoring the professor's fortunes and leaving the town a happier place. The Pink Motel (1959) also reveals fantasy overtones as it plays with form in bringing together an engaging combination of eccentrics in a Florida seaside motel.

Brink's All Over Town (1939), which relates the well-intentioned efforts of several children to help out their townspeople, was based on memories of her own childhood in a small Idaho town. Family Grandstand (1952) and Family Sabbatical (1956) concern the escapades of a professor's children at home in their small, midwestern university town and while on leave for a few months in France. In spite of being spun out, these lightweight entertainments project a certain old-fashioned charm. Their abundance of action and warm humor offset the predictable plots and stereotyped characters.

Two Are Better Than One (1968) and Louly (1974), about life around 1908 in Warsaw, Idaho, from the point of view of three girls in their early teens, find their source in Brink's own youth. Fun-loving, flirtatious, resourceful Louly is a strong and memorable figure.

Brink's books for adults include Harps in the Wind (1947), a biographical study of the singing Hutchinson family, and Château Saint Barnabé (1963), an intriguing account of the five weeks Brink, her husband, and small son spent in a French pension where an American ex-patriot told them her strange story. Also with a French setting is The Headland (1955), a curiously flawed novel about five young people to whom World War II brings tragedy. Brink's other adult novels include Buffalo Coat (1944), about the family of a physician in the Idaho town of Opportunity in the 1890s, and Strangers in the Forest (1959), concerning exploitation of western pine forests. Also set in Opportunity is Snow in the River (1964), which Brink has said is her own favorite; although "freely fictionalized, it is probably as near to an autobiography as I shall ever write." This uneven story of the need for order and propriety, with its fine picture of ambitious Uncle Douglas, received the National League of American Pen Women award for fiction in 1966.

Brink's writing is marked by a graceful, leisurely narrative style, an ability to capture the atmosphere of places, careful research, warmth, and a good sense of humor. Although her children's books sometimes tend to be cute and melodramatic, they speak to the secret desire of the young for fun and adventure in a world in which good and evil are easily identified and good inevitably triumphs. The most substantial of Brink's works are her period stories, and it is the best of these, Caddie Woodlawn, winning her a position among the most distinguished and best-loved of American writers for children and young people.

Other Works:

Mademoiselle Misfortune (1935). Lad with a Whistle (1941). Narcissa Whitman (1945). Lafayette (1946). Minty et Compagnie (1948). Stopover (1951). The Twin Cities (1961). Andy Buckram's Tin Men (1966). Winter Cottage (1968). The Bad Times of Irma Baumlein (1972).


Reference Works:

The Junior Book of Authors, S. J. Kunitz and H. Haycraft, eds. (1951). More Books by More People: Interviews with 65 Authors of Books for Children (1974). Newbery Medal Books: 1922-1955 (1955). SAA (1971).