Call Me Floy

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Call Me Floy Book Poster Image
Spirited, nature-loving tween in fact-packed Yosemite tale.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Call Me Floy is packed with detail about Yosemite and the history of the time when it became a national park -- with life-changing consequences for many. Floy knows lots about the plants, animals, local legends, and stories of the time, and isn't shy about sharing it. The narration is full of vocabulary-building words like "glaciated," "anticipation," "admonishment," "positively fraught." Historical figures including John Muir are part of the story. One scene shows the Indigenous people of the valley and the elaborate process they use to prepare acorns for food.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about determination, being yourself, and overcoming obstacles. Also respect for the beauty of nature.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Floy (a real person who died five years after the time of this story) is highly relatable in her refusal to be stuffed into the box of social decorum expected of "young ladies," and unwilling to go along with it when her lifelong companions start treating her like a girl instead of the person they've always known. Her younger sister, Cosie, a paragon of good-girlness, looks out for Floy and their younger brother, Willie. Her adored father, an artist and writer from England who fell in love with Yosemite and popularized it as a tourist destination, is completely wrapped up in himself and his obsessions, and oblivious to how his choices affect other people's lives; her mother, much younger than her father, can't take it any more and runs off with her lover, leaving her own mother (the real source of stability in the family) to take care of her children. Floy's family is White. She has a White friend and Indigenous friend who lives in the valley. When White tourists question the Native Americans' presence in the valley, Floy reminds them that the valley is their home. 

Violence

In a novel of the time, Floy's fictional counterpart died in a plunge off Half Dome, and the story casts a shadow on Floy's life.

Sex

As the story opens, Floy's mother is leaving the family to go off with her lover.

Language

Floy says of some tourists, "May the mules piss on their riders' shoes!" ""Blazes!" is Floy's version of strong language (and considered wildly unsuitable for "young ladies"). Also "Drat," "Devils to her, then," "Man alive!" References to horse manure, animal scat, etc.

Consumerism

Published by the Yosemite Conservancy and packed with descriptions of the National Park in its early days, Call Me Floy cheerleads enthusiastically for the beauties of the place and its attractions for visitors, even when not all the effects are positive.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

It's the 19th century in what's still very much the Wild West, and adults drink alcohol and smoke tobacco. When Floy was younger, famous photographer/artist Eadweard Muybridge taught her to smoke a corncob pipe.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Call Me Floy is a story set in 1876 in Yosemite Valley, newly opened as a national park thanks in part to the title character's father, who popularized it as a tourist destination. Florence (Floy) Hutchings, a real person who was the first child of European descent born in the valley, enjoyed a wild and idyllic childhood and, at the age of 8, was fictionalized as the tragic heroine of a melodramatic novel. (She also died at 17 when some of her antics brought on pneumonia.) Here, she's 11, stuck with people who expect her to be a proper young lady, and desperately longing to get back home to the valley where she can be happy again. She dreams of climbing Half Dome, and in the course of her quest to do so, we learn a lot about Yosemite Valley's history, as well as the unintended consequences of tourists on the Indigenous population and natural beauty. As the story opens, Floy's mother has had enough of her much-older artist husband, his Yosemite obsession, and their unstable life, and is leaving him for her lover, leaving her own mother in charge of the family.

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What's the story?

As CALL ME FLOY opens, it's 1876, and Floy is an 11-year-old girl stuck in a San Francisco classroom and wanting nothing more than to be back in Yosemite Valley, where she was born. Where she got to be free and happy and run around in natural beauty all day long instead of dealing with growing pressure to be a proper young lady. Unexpectedly -- largely due to her mother leaving the family -- she does get to go back to the valley, where she finds her joy a bit tempered by the nasty attitudes of tourists and their impact on everyone's life -- and the sexism that accounts for everything she says being dismissed and people expecting her to be a girl instead of a person.

Is it any good?

Based on a real person, author Joanna Cooke's fact-filled tale sees the early history of Yosemite National Park through the eyes of its first White native, an 11-year-old girl. Florence (Floy) Hutchings had become a character in pop fiction by the time she was 8, and her "untamed" nature comes through in the narrator's impassioned outbursts. So does her tendency -- obviously acquired from her father, who promoted tourism in the valley -- to lecture people at length about natural phenomena and other subjects she finds fascinating. Some readers of Call Me Floy will be more fascinated than others, but as a publication of the Yosemite Conservancy, it's a great resource for learning about the park and its history. Through it all, Floy loves the wilderness and hates the expectation that she should be a "young lady," and her experiences will strike a chord with many -- as here, when she delivers one of her father's lectures that she knows by heart only to find herself and her knowledge not taken seriously:

"Then her eyes flit to my legs -- or rather to the dress Grandmother insists I wear to school, and I know.

"To her, I am just an eleven-year-old girl, and I should neither know nor speak of such things. I wish it weren't so hard for her to believe I have something to contribute. Cosie and I grew up listening to Father exchange ideas with all manner of scientists, artists, and philosophers. In fact, Father has always encouraged us to engage in their great debates. There is not an ounce of Yosemite's history I do not know. No trail I have not climbed -- except Half Dome, of course. But she knows none of this."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what they learned about Yosemite in Call Me Floy.  Have you ever visited Yosemite Valley or another national park? What was it like? What did you do there? Do you think it's interesting to learn about a park's history, or would you rather just enjoy exploring one yourself?

  • In Call Me Floy, the narrator feels imprisoned by the social conventions of her time. Of all the expectations people have of you,  which do you find most difficult to deal with? What would you like to do differently?

  • What problems might occur of hordes of people discovered a beauty spot in the wilderness and flocked there? How might you solve some of those problems?

Book details

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