Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder
My childhood days spent in a cozy perfect bubble doing handwriting classes at the big, polished dining room table with my mother and looking at our two special azaleas bringing in the verdure of spring were accompanied by many books and many happy memories. All of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and the Rose books were read through, re-read and cherished during these years, marking a sacred mother/daughter occasion and a memory that brings peace to me years later. So, when I saw a big leather-bound compendium with the well known and loved picture of two little girls staring out of the back of a covered wagon, I knew it was time to revisit my childhood. The sense of specialness, the just good storytelling quality, and the bouncy enthusiasm of childhood pours from these happy memoirs taking readers to the long ago and far, far away to a place and a time where a little brown haired child captivates us with stories of wolves, settlers, fever, house building, playtime on the empty prairie, Indians, and the regrets and adventure of moving on. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed especially when I supplemented the hardbound version with those detailed charcoal pictures for an unabridged audio book version where Pa’s fiddle truly got to sing.
In the second book in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s memoir Laura, Mary, Ma, Pa, Jack and Baby Carrie are heading into the greatest adventures of their lives – they are heading west. Convinced that the Big Woods is getting too citified and that opportunity lies in the vastness of the West, Pa makes a decision that will alter the lives of his families and will, unbeknownst to him, later engender one of the most beloved children’s books of the twentieth (and twenty-first) centuries.
Following the travails of pioneers Laura looks back with an adult perspective, seeding just enough conversation and tension into the tale to highlight the disquiet between the settlers and the Indians from whom they stole the land. Those with some historic awareness can then paint in a bigger, broader picture of the time, yet the tale remains concerned with the innocent mind of a child who sees only wonder in a new world, sometimes scary sometimes exciting, without the full understanding of the historical moment. Along the way, the Ingalls lose and find Jack, experience a dramatic wagon crossing, build a house, confront Indians many times, succumb to fever, meet the animals both terrifying and endearing that surround them on the prairie, and have one very special Christmas with a new neighbor. A sense of community is forged and broken and the isolation of pioneer life shines against the reliance and good nature of fellow settlers and even the Indians, who often times prove more compassionate and wise than Laura is able to truly understand.
Of course, there is a bite on the side, as those who know the Little House books know. There are moments of extreme risk and seriousness and true elements of danger and, later in the series, near loss and loss. This is what keeps the cozy stories so real and so relevant because they are more than stories – they are the details of a life which is opening to us, revealing everything in the child-like hues of wonder that keep both children and adults mesmerized and captivated by that long ago house.
The writing never gets too fancy, letting children capture and ride along with the narrative, yet everything is descriptive and vivid and Little House on the Prairie is anything but a simple book. The illustrations by Garth Williams capture the warmth and vivacity of Laura and Mary’s world and the audio version (read by Cherry Jones) captures the intense moments of both fear and happiness, along with some good fiddling. A book to build memories around, Little House on the Prairie is an unforgettable read for parents and children and those of us looking back over bygone days. Highly recommended.
– Frances Carden