As we begin our reading adventure and take up residence in our Little House in the Big Woods, anticipating our eventual move to the Prairie, let’s spend some quality time with the girl who grew up in those places.
In February of 1867, Laura Ingalls was indeed born in a little house in the big woods of Wisconsin, near the border with southern Minnesota. She was the second child born to Charles and Caroline Ingalls, two years after their daughter, Mary. The family moved to Kansas to take advantage of the Homestead act – 160 acres of free land for folks willing to farm the land for 5 years. But after the Ingalls family built a house and planted crops, the government changed its mind about the whole free land thing, and the family returned to their Wisconsin home in the woods, rather than be forced off the land by the US military. This first book in the Little House series reflects those years after they returned to the Big Woods in Wisconsin, when Laura was 4-5 years old.
Charles Ingalls was quite a storyteller, and his daughters loved to listen to his tales – his stories on winter evenings make up a goodish part of the early chapters of Little House in the Big Woods. And when Laura grew up, married Almanzo Wilder and had a daughter of her own – Rose – she passed along her father’s stories, as well as tales of her own childhood. Rose encouraged her mother to write her autobiography, which she did in 1930 – but Laura could not find a publisher for the work, entitled Pioneer Girl.
So Rose helped her rework part of the manuscript, at first as a picture book for children, When Grandma was a Little Girl. Eventually, it was expanded to its present form and published as Little House in the Big Woods in 1932. It was an instant success. Soon children around the world were writing to Laura, begging for more stories of her and her sister Mary. Clearly, the world was ready for the ongoing story of child growing up in a special, different type of world long before Harry Potter came along.
And just a few chapters in, I can understand the appeal of the stories. The grown-up Laura relates the tales of her childhood in a simple, direct style – easy enough for a young reader to understand. Her descriptions of daily life are not embellished by flowery adjectives or complex metaphors, yet I felt transported to another time and place as soon as I read the first pages.
First there was a description of the woods:
“The great, dark trees of the Big Woods stood all around the house, and beyond them were other trees and beyond them were more trees.”
“So far as the little girl could see, there was only the one little house where she lived with her father and mother, her sister Mary and her baby sister Carrie. A wagon track ran before the house, turning and twisting out of sight in the woods where the wild animals lived, but the little girl did not know where it went, nor what might be at the end of it.”
With that, I felt like a guest in the private world of this little family, able to watch them up close as they go through their daily routines.
And here are Katie’s first impressions:
My first impression before reading the book was, “how sweet.” I thought it was going to be one of those books on picking flowers and sewing clothes. But after I finished the first two chapters I went “Eww.” I definitely wasn’t expecting the kids to start playing with a pig’s bladder as a balloon after butchering the hog. Now, I go out camping and hiking a lot and I’ve seen my fair share of bears, deer, and some other smaller animals. However, if I woke up and my dad had caught a deer and hung it in our front yard I don’t think I would handle it as well as Laura and Mary. Also I wouldn’t be at all disappointed if my dad failed to kill a bear so we could eat it. I would actually be kind of glad my dad didn’t face a bear. But I love the story behind it and I am eager to read more about the Ingalls family.
So we begin. We’ll have more about the LIW’s life as we read along. There are three books from the series on the list – don’t want to use up all the background information at once.
(Thanks to the site “Laura Ingalls Wilder: Frontier Girl” http://liwfrontiergirl.com/ for the biographical info.)