Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Award-Winning Children’s Author Carol Ryrie Brink [otd 12/28]

Author Brink. Publisher photo.
Writer Caroline Ryrie was born December 28, 1895 in Moscow, Idaho. Misfortune dimmed her early years. When she was five, her father died of tuberculosis.

The following year, her maternal grandfather, Dr. William W. Watkins, was shot to death on the streets of Moscow. Watkins was the first President of the Idaho State Medical Society, and I mentioned his murder in my blog about the Society [Sept 12]. That killing, plus a failed second marriage, was blamed for the suicide of Caroline’s mother in 1904. 

Grandmother Watkins raised Carol, and gifted the budding writer with a love of storytelling and reminiscences of her own childhood on the Wisconsin frontier. Carol first wrote for herself and then published stories in a high school magazine. In 1914, she entered the University of Idaho (UI), where she worked on the Argonaut, the student newspaper. She also wrote several plays for student production.

However, after three years there, Carol decided Moscow and the University were “too small,” and transferred to the University of California – Berkeley. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Berkeley in 1918, and shortly thereafter married Raymond Brink, a University of Minnesota mathematics professor.

Brink had been an Instructor at the UI Preparatory School starting in 1909. It’s unclear whether or not Carol took high school classes at the Prep, but they evidently became friends at that time. By the time they married, Raymond had completed a Ph.D. and spent a year in France. Except for Raymond’s two sabbaticals in France and a one-year lectureship in Edinburgh, they lived in Minnesota until his retirement.

The couple had a boy and a girl, and Carol eventually began to write stories for children. She had to make time to write, she said, “sometimes at the kitchen sink, on the end of the ironing board, or when the children were in bed.”

Her first published book, Anything Can Happen on the River, released in 1934, benefited from her experiences during one of the family’s visits to France. Her second book, Caddie Woodlawn, in 1936, grew from her grandmother’s stories about early Wisconsin. That book won a Newbery Medal, awarded to outstanding works of children’s literature.

Three of her children’s books – All Over Town (1939), Two are Better Than One (1968) and Louly (1974) – hark back to her early life in small-town Idaho. She also wrote a trilogy of Idaho-based adult novels as well as a nonfiction reminiscence. One of the novels, Buffalo Coat (1944), includes a character loosely based on her murdered Grandfather Watkins.

They moved to La Jolla, California around 1960. Raymond passed away there in 1973, Carol in 1981. All told, Carol published about thirty books during her career, most of them novels. About a third of them have been reprinted or are readily available today in used form.

She received many awards and honors besides the Newbery – including an honorary Doctorate from the University of Idaho in 1965. Over on Goodreads, the social network for readers, almost all her books rate 4 stars or more (out of 5). And it’s not unusual for a reviewer to comment: “I wish she’d written more books.”
References: Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
Bernice E. Cullinan, Diane Goetz Person, The Continuum Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature, The Continuum International Publishing Group, New York (2005).
Eighteenth Annual Catalogue of the University of Idaho, 1909-1910, Tribune Publishing Company, Lewiston Idaho.
J. M. H. Olmsted, “R. W. Brink – An Obituary,” American Mathematical Monthly, Vol. 81, No. 8) (Oct 1974), pp. 873-875.
People and Places of Buffalo Coat, Latah County Historical Society (online).
Mary E. Reed, Carol Ryrie Brink, Western Writers Series, Boise State University (1991).


  1. I loved this book, it's AMAZING!!!

  2. I assume you mean the one whose cover I show -- "Caddie Woodlawn." The reviews said her other children's books are equally good.

  3. I have the genealogy on all of the Children in the Book. John and Harriet had a total of Ten Children and One adopted. Here is my E-mail Jeannetterook[at] I replaced the @ symbol with the word so I don't get unwanted E-mails