About six years ago I started conversing online with British lovers of children's books (a mailing list called Girlsown). Obviously some differences were to be expected, but I was very taken aback by how highly What Katy Did (Susan Coolidge, 1872) is regarded by many British readers. They love it over there. Just yesterday it was featured Lucy Mangan's Book Corner at The Guardian yesterday, a column where she recommends books that should be included in a "brilliant" children's library.
Fondness for Katy, however, is not a trait shared by all British girls. Here is the reaction of Lucy Mangan's sister: "...she hurled it across the room shouting "Katy did nothing!" before stalking off to build a working model of a nuclear reactor in Meccano behind the sofa."
What Katy Did didn't do much for me either, although I would never throw a book across the room, and I have even gone back and re-read it. Only once, though. Whereas Little Women (which came out just a few years earlier, from the same publishers) I can practically recite. The plot of Katy is just too blah-ly Victorian--spunky, independent girl disobeys, is punished with a bad injury, and after attending "the school of pain" is all gentle niceness.
Here is a random cover from one of the many reprints. Guess what is going to happen to the swing (although it does not appear to be moving, which is odd):
I do not number among my American acquaintances anyone who is particularly fond of Katy. But why is she so beloved over there? (It is everywhere--any used book store in the British Isles will have at least three copies). Here's my theory of the moment (tongue in cheek): Katy, perhaps, is seen as the quintessentially bumptuous American who gradually acquires the culture and dignity of a Brit--at first a source of tolerant amusement, she later becomes a source of self-affirmation by embodying valued National characteristics. Or possibly there was just a really, really good marketing campaign, that spanned centuries. I shall ask, and report back.
(disclosure: Reader, I married one. Someone from England, that is. He has never read "What Katy Did," nor does he want to).