HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Winter Cottage
Author: Carol Ryrie Brink
Illustrator: Fermin Rocker
Publisher: Atheneum, republished 1974
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 10-14
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Brink, Carol Ryrie. Winter Cottage (published in 1968 by The Macmillan Company, 866 Third Ave., New York City, NY 10022). It is October of 1930, at the beginning of the Great Depression, and thirteen year old Araminta (Minty) Sparkes is travelling with her Pop Charley, ten year old younger sister Eglantine (Eggs), and dog Buster from their old home in Chicago to live with their less-than-welcoming Aunt Amy in Minneapolis, MN. The girls’ mother Mabel has died, and Pop, who has been a plumber, a carpenter, and a printer, recently failed as a groceryman. He is a thin, dreamy little man who likes to quote poetry—such as that by Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Browning, Shelley, and Byron. While in a very lonely, wooded area of northern Wisconsin, near the town of Scandian Corners, their car breaks down on a seldom traveled country road. Unable to fix it or to pay someone else to do the repairs, they need a place to stay.
It so happens that nearby there is a vacant summer cottage belonging to a family named Vincent, so the Sparkeses decide to appropriate it and spend the winter there. They are joined by a sixteen year old boy, Joe Boles, who has run away from home, and later by two strangers calling themselves Mr. John Smith and his son Topper. Unfortunately, Minty hears rumors that Chicago gangsters like to hide out in the area. Just who are these strangers anyway? Can they all survive the brutal winter weather? And will the sheriff come and arrest them for breaking and entering someone else’s house? Author Carol Ryrie Brink won the Newbery Medal for her 1935 book Caddie Woodlawn. Like that book, Winter Cottage depicts a loving, if quirky, family whose members are devoted to one another.
Some people might question the whole morality of the story. I certainly wouldn’t recommend just up and moving into an empty home without the owner’s permission or knowledge. However, it is interesting and even entertaining to read about a struggling family forced by circumstances beyond their control to do so back in a simpler time. Remember after all, this was during the Great Depression. The responsible, conscientious Minty determines that they will “rent” the cottage, to which Pop agrees, saying, “We’ll pay them whenever we get money.” And there is a satisfactory conclusion. As Pop might have quoted Shakespeare, “All’s well that ends well.” Quite a few common euphemisms (gee, golly, gosh, darn, and tarnation) are used, and Pop smokes a pipe. But generally it is a wholesome book that I enjoyed reading.