Rebecca Caudill is the pen name of Mrs. James S. Ayers. Born in 1899, she writes about herself: “One of eleven children, I was born on a rocky farm squeezed between the Black Mountains and the Poor Fork River in Harlan County, Kentucky” (More About Junior Authors). A few years later the family moved to Tennessee. While she attended highschool, young Miss Caudill “heard of college and decided to go to one. Having nary a penny to go on didn’t strike me as an obstacle at all.” She learned stenography, aided by an older sister, and with this skill, Miss Caudill was able to work her way through Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, “the first Wesleyan student ever to work for her education.” After receiving a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University, she proceeded to “see the world,” doing teaching, office work and editing in such varied places as Rio de Janeiro, Toronto, and Nashville, Tennessee; and traveling throughout Europe. In Turkey, on the verge of signing a magazine-editing contract, she met another editor, James S. Ayers. They married and were to have two children. They lived in Urbana, Illinois, for many years.
Throughout their long married life, Rebecca, now Mrs. Ayers, and her husband encouraged one another in their respective writing talents. “My writing for children,” she comments, “—even the re-writing—has been an exercise in joy. Most of my books are based on experiences of my own childhood spent in Appalachian Kentucky, and so are written from the heart,” (Twentieth Century Children’s Authors).
Mrs. Ayers’ books for older children involve pioneer families in well-researched 18th and 19th century settings, often with a touch of mountain dialect. The Far-off Land, for instance, takes 16-year-old Ketty, with her brother, on a flatboat down the Holston and Tennessee Rivers. This book was inspired by an actual journal of 1779-1780, written by a colonel making such a flatboat voyage. In novels like this, with well-developed plots, Mrs. Ayers portrays the youthful heroine coming to terms with her own freedom to be a person in her own right and in obedience to her conscience.
Her books for younger children enlarge upon every-day pleasures and difficulties with a sense of wonder and freshness. Happy Little Family and the three further novels that trace the same family’s life in succeeding years are fine representatives of the author’s appeal to young readers. She has also written with charm for the youngest children in books like A Pocket Full of Cricket and A Certain Small Shepherd—this last being a Christmas story, illustrated by William Pene du Bois. Mrs. Ayers died in 1985.