Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder
Back on my nostalgic, re-living the golden moments of my childhood kick, I was ready to once again follow young Laura and her family across the desolate prairie to a place of new hope and more, bizarre hardship. This time landing in Minnesota, the Ingalls reside in a temporary dug-out house made of sod. As a child, the titillating image of Laura skipping over the grassy roof of the house as Ma steadily irons inside pleased all those fanciful playtime impulses of mine and made this one of my favorite Little House on the Prairie stories. What an adventure to live in the wild, beside the burbling waters of a creek, where your very house is a part of nature and sustaining adventure of new discoveries.
As the season goes on and there is a misadventure with an ox and the ground (which happens to be the Ingalls’ dug-out roof,) Pa builds another grand house, complete with the glass windowpanes he loves so much, and plants a highly anticipated wheat crop. This time, the family is within an easy day’s journey to the nearest town, meaning new friends and enemies for the girls (I’m referring to a certain Nellie Olson of course), and the introduction of school and church. Torn between the fascinating social life and the fancy toys in town and the simple pleasures of Plum Creek and the swimming hole, Laura’s childhood drama captivates with how relatable it is and how simply, yet enchantingly it is told.
The spiral of vivid descriptions and emotion begins with the idyllic child’s love of nature and travel and strengthens as the family begins to face more hardships. A swarm of grasshoppers ruining the crops, decimating the land, and steadily marching over the house, the sound of their chewing mandibles amplified by the sheer amount of them creates a claustrophobic, icky feeling, putting readers in the little house by Plum Creek. Simple misbehavior like sliding down a golden, glistening haystack keeps everything light hearted and funny and then the atmosphere turns, melding into one of blizzards and Pa, somewhere stranded in the whiteout. There are no more wolves to scare the girls, no more nearby Indians causing Jack to be tied up, but pioneer life is never easy and On the Banks of Plum Creek captures the simple beauty of a down-to-earth life and the extreme deprivation and riskiness of the very same life. Oscillating between heart-warming experiences and tense stories, this Little House book has long been one of my favorites for its variety and the just plain good story telling it showcases.
The original charcoal illustrations, done by Garth Williams are another upside of this fantastic series. My childhood memories are filled with prowling through the Little House paperbacks, watching Ma fight the spinning fires and Laura and Mary slide down the haystack. The drawings are warm and expressive, old-school and vibrant in a way that illustrations just aren’t in any other series. Garth Williams has a knack for making the world of Little House come alive, a deep bonding with the people who inhabit this world and the stories they are sharing.
Of course, considering that I spend at least two hours a day commuting and my need to re-read Little House has grown stronger, I’ve also listened to the audiobook edition ready by Cherry Jones. Here, Pa’s fiddle gets to truly sing and Jones captures the voice of each character and the terrible tension of these hard, beautiful years. Oh, and she also brings our favorite little villain (Nellie) to snobbish life. What’s not to love? While nothing can ever beat the actual book (and its illustrations!) nestling in your hands, the unabridged audio book is the perfect companion for the Little House enthusiast and a sure way to ease the stress of the day with these utterly irresistible books. Highly recommended!
– Frances Carden