A Room for Cathy – written by Catherine Woolley, with illustrations by Veronica Reed
William Morrow & Company, 1956
Catherine Woolley (1904-2005) was a prolific mid-twentieth century author of middle grade novels marketed to girls. She sometimes published under the name Jane Thayer, and also wrote and illustrated numerous picture books. While you might choose to dismiss her works as formulaic, or view them with condescending affection, there is a lot to like in her work. A Room for Cathy, the first in a series of novels about Cathy Leonard and the normal, if sometimes exciting, difficulties she faces coming of age. Woolley also had a career in public relations at a time when women encountered intense discrimination in those fields.
A Room for Cathy is a look at the American postwar dream gone awry, in a lighthearted way with a happy ending. Cathy’s father is a businessman who has been awarded “a Promotion” which is lucrative enough to enable their family to buy a big home in a rural area. Cathy is full of dreams about a yellow decorating scheme for her room, which at last will give her privacy and freedom from her younger sister. She makes the mistake of telling all her new classmates about their upgraded housing, and has big plans for entertaining everyone, including one proto-mean girl named Bernice. But even with the economic boom enjoyed by the American middle class, disappointments happen. Her father’s company is moving its headquarters to Pittsburgh, and he can only get his big raise and new job if he is willing to move there. No one in the family wants to move to Pittsburgh, so at least there is no conflict about the letdown.
The solution is to adopt the downscale measure of taking in boarders, or, as Cathy prefers to call it, renting apartments in parts of the house. Goodbye private room and bath, fireplace and soon to be-acquired piano. Soon a young man , Mr. Tracy, moves into Cathy’s former suite. Downstairs, Mrs. Hughes and her daughter, Naomi, take over much of the family’s living quarters. But Cathy adapts. The young tenant plays the guitar and loves kids. Better yet, Mrs. Hughes is an author who needs space to write her books, and her daughter is, as Anne of Green Gables might have called her, a kindred spirit to Cathy. I was disappointed not to learn more about Mrs. Hughes. All we know is that “She writes girls’ books…for older girls.” Is she based on Woolley herself, or just a reminder to readers that women can be authors? She is the widow of a United Nations employee and the family had lived in Paris. Cathy is impressed! A sophisticated element has entered her life of Brownie meetings, baked beans, and gardening.
As luck would have it in the world of Catherine Woolley, that big “Promotion” comes through, but owning large properties isn’t the most important goal to Cathy or her parents. Mr. Tracy will move on, although no one is rushing him out. But Mrs. Hughes and Naomi matter more than access to a t.v. room or even a fireplace.
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