This article is going to be shorter than the others in the Little Britches series because this book is pretty unique for the series.
Near the end of Man of the Family, we learned that Ralph spent his last summer in Colorado working for Mr. Batchlet. That summer proved to be a very important season in Ralph’s life, but not one that he could explore in Man of the Family. In the second installment of the Little Britches series, Man of the Family, Ralph concentrates on the family storyline and how they were learning to exist without his father’s support. We do get one chapter dedicated to his summer, and it’s a good one! When that book closes, however, the family is headed East.
Before advancing that storyline, Ralph dedicated the third book of the series, The Home Ranch, to that special summer. While there were lessons that he learned about himself during that experience, there was no way to capture that summer in the second book.
While the first two books mark the passing of time, critical milestones, and help us understand the family life that was so essential to Ralph’s development, this one is more a collection of vignettes.
In this third offering, we are treated to a really fascinating look inside of ranch life through Ralph’s experiences. This is a story that is a celebration of the cowboy life, the grit of the men who do the work, the tenacity of the women who support them, and the mentoring that older men offer to younger men in this precarious existence. Ralph learns incredible technical lessons, develops an interior life of self reflection, and we get hints at what his own future might look like.
Readers of the second book may open the third book and be crushed when they realize that we are not going to hear about how the crisis of the family’s flight is resolved. Where the second book ends, it is very difficult to want to go backwards and look into an experience that only deepens our regret at Ralph’s loss when the family had to leave. I was so irritated on my first reading that I closed this book and jumped to the fourth. Frankly, you can do that without missing a beat.
This one is such a standalone that you can really read it anytime after the closing of the second book. It does not advance the overall plot line of the series, but it does enrich it.
Despite my being discouraged about the out of order nature of this one, it is a fantastic book. And many of the lessons that Ralph learns in this book come to serve him well in the fifth, seventh, and eighth books. (The sixth book is a detour in Ralph’s life and is very different from the other books in the series.)
If you are doing this series as a read aloud and you have horse loving listeners, I would read this one in the appropriate order. If you choose to skip the book so that you can see what happens after they leave their farm, do make sure you come back to this one. The Home Ranch is a book about mentoring, independence, and hard work.
We will be reviewing all of the Little Britches books. Find all that we have posted here.