Texas Tuesday: Oh, Those Harper Girls! by Kathleen Karr

A few years ago I read Kathleen Karr’s The Great Turkey Walk out loud to some of the urchins, and I remember us deriving immense enjoyment from the humorous story of a simple boy named Simon and his turkey drive across the Midwest. Well, I would love to read this book, Oh, Those Harper Girls!, to my younger children sometime when we’re studying Texas history. I’m sure they would love getting to know the six Harper sisters: March, April, May, June, Julie, and Lily. (Lily, the youngest was born in April, but that month had already been taken. Hence, Lily.)

The Harper girls live in Texas, in 1869, just after the Civil War, with their refined mother and their ne’er-do-well daddy on the Double H Ranch. Unfortunately, the bank is going to foreclose on the Double H if the Harpers can’t come up with enough money to pay off daddy’s bank loan. Fortunately, Daddy H has a plan. Unfortunately, the plan involves rustling some of the neighbor’s cattle and re-branding them with the Double H brand. Fortunately, the girls fail at cattle rustling. Unfortunately, Daddy has another plan . . . etc, etc, etc.

Oh, Those Harper Girls! is a wonderful comedic farce set in frontier Texas. I think kids and adults together could read this one and enjoy the broad humor as well as the subtle touches or irony and understated absurdity. For instance, the Double H, which is falling apart and mortgaged to the hilt, has a backyard full of “black ooze that kept creeping up around the plants no matter what Mama did to get rid of it. Disgusting, thick, sticky stuff. . . Wouldn’t you know her daddy would pick just such a site to build his ranch on. Poor Daddy never did do the right thing.” Only thirty years too soon.

For some Texan hijinks with a little comedic romance and jail-breaking and a stage tour and stagecoach robbery and even a foiled bank robbery all thrown in for free to keep the story moving along, you can’t go wrong with Ms. Karr’s portrait of six sisters trying to survive and thrive in heat- and poverty-stricken Central Texas. Near Fredericksburg. But the sisters eventually get to go to New York and go on stage at Tony Pastor’s Opera House. (We’ll join the Astors at Tony Pastor’s/And this I’m positive of/That we won’t come home/That we won’t come home/No, we won’t come home until we fall in love!)

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