Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder
With Fall in the air and pumpkin spice lattes proliferating from every coffee shop, it was time to return to the cozy Laura Ingalls Wilder series I enjoyed so much as a child. While Laura, Mary, Pa, and Baby Carrie are off exploring the prairie for the first time, Laura’s future husband, Almanzo Wilder is growing up in New York state. Although better than the hand-to-mouth existence of Laura’s pioneering family, Almanzo’s days are still dictated by hard work and rich reward. Offered a life of schooling and a merchant’s apprenticeship, Almanzo craves farming the land and growing like his father. In between the challenge of training Star and Bright (his two oxen calves), chopping and hauling woods, and cutting/baling the hay there are many adventures from the excitement of the peddler’s visit, a community fair, to a weekend at home with the parents away visiting. The tale continues the beloved feeling of the Little House series, capturing the simplicity of down-to-earth virtue, the pleasure of hard work, and the pay of toil.
I’m making my way through one of those Barnes and Nobel faux leather bound omnibuses (bought in a sudden nostalgic yearning) and Farmer Boy is considered the official second in the Little House series (although many think that Little House on the Prairie is the second). My edition has the original illustrations included by Garth Williams. Recalling the detailed charcoal drawings of smiling boys with sleds, beautiful dappled foals with stars on their foreheads, and the devastation of an argument crowned by a poorly aimed soot cleaning sponge, I was once more enchanted with the Norman Rockwell-esque environment created by the images. Everything is cozy, the faces smiling and rounded, the animals with that anthropomorphic gleam in their bright eyes. As a child I spent hours going through my mother’s now yellowed 1970s paperbacks, staring at this world with a sense of contentment on my soul. Despite work and the stress of being an adult now, I find myself still lulled by this siren song.
The beauty of the story lies in the way that Laura re-creates time with the nostalgia of memory and the vibrancy of the now. While some chapters, specifically those that describe how things work/are built/are put together aren’t my personal favorite moments of the Little House stories, the verve of the characters and the honesty of good life, combined with the realism regarding just how hard this life really was, leaves readers both young and old with a feeling of reconnection. These people are our friends and their shared memories of growing up touch our hearts while giving us a window into the past.
The jolly nature of the writing is enough to enthrall children and capture the imagination of adults, making this a unique book which can bridge between generations and has no one select audience. The language is simple enough for children to read and understand and descriptive enough to engage older audiences as well.
Following Almanzo through his childhood adventures and his journey into farming, Farmer Boy remains a cozy classic that even after all of these years, still appeals to my soul on a certain deep level. A nice revisit to my childhood, I’m elated to see that some things never change and some old favorites never grow stale. Highly recommended and a great way to build memories with your own children.