Saturday, October 01, 2011
Book Review: Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (HarperCollins, 1971)
I'm a child of the 1970s. I played with a Holly Hobbie doll and I watched Little House on the Prairie faithfully. I wanted a pretty, big sister like Mary and I wanted, alternately, to have a best friend like Laura or to be Laura. Now that I think of it, the 1970s had a lot of pioneer-retro fare available for young girls. And now they have Bratz and Wizards of Waverly Place. To each generation her own, I guess, but I can't help but think that these generations are missing out on something. But that's another blog post.
Most people know Laura Ingalls Wilder's stories, if not through her books, then through long-running television series based on them, Little House on the Prairie. Ms. Wilder was a pioneer child who wrote down all of her experiences and later had them published. There are nine books in the Little House series, which was first published between 1932 and 1943. The series resonated with girls and young women and is popular to this day.
Little House in the Big Woods is the first book in the Little House series, and introduces the reader to the Ingalls family: Laura (writing in the third person), her older sister, Mary, younger sister, Carrie, and her parents, Ma and Pa (Caroline and Charles). The family lives in the Big Woods in Wisconsin in the later part of the 19th Century, shortly after the Civil War. (Laura even mentions a family member who is "wild since he came back from the army".)
We go through each of the seasons with the Ingalls family and learn how these families lived, how they ate, and how much fun they managed to find time for. There are family dances, family visits, and hours spent playing in the fields together. There is always time for work, though, and this is where the book acts as a primer for living in the woods. Laura talks extensively about the process of preserving meats and vegetables to keep the family fed through the lean winter months; how Pa prepares an animal skin to be used as leather goods; how to get sap from a tree, and how to smoke bees out of a hive to be able to get to the honey. It's a fascinating look at a different time, and while it is written with a girl's voice, this is should not be considered a "girl's book": boys and girls alike can learn much about the wildnerness life.
There is a wealth of information about Laura Ingalls Wilder online. Wilder's home in Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri, where she wrote the Little House books, is now the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum and word finds, quizzes and coloring pages. The Little House Books website features a family tree tracking the girls of the Little House series from Laura's great-grandmother to her daughter, Rose. The site also offers games and craft ideas, as well as information for teachers interested in teaching the book. There are many teaching plans for the series available online, this interesting one from BookPunch. The History Chicks podcast also has an interesting episode dedicated to Wilder.