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Little House on the Prairie

Feb 10 2014

Laura’s world

by Dea Anne M

Getting snowed in the week before last  reminded me of a much-beloved book from my childhood. I’m thinking of course of  The Long Winter which is part of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series of books. Set in the later 1800’s and forward and based on the Ingalls family’s peripetatic life (Wilder changed some things – most notably some of the chronology and the age of the main character whom she based on herself) the series begins with Little House in the Big Woods and ends with The First Four Years (which was published after Wilder’s death). The Long Winter is a fictionalized account of an actual event which took place in De Smet, South Dakota. Blizzards began in the early fall of 1880 and continued through the late spring of 1881 and attacked the area with such frequency that trains were snowed in on the tracks and the townspeople faced lack of fuel and near starvation. I don’t know about you, but that puts some aspects about our recent snow storm into perspective for me.

It’s difficult for me to exaggerate how much I loved these books as a child. That isn’t to say that there weren’t some aspects of the stories that bothered me. Some of the characters express very unpleasant racial attitudes (especially Ma Ingalls) and I was always vaguely troubled by Pa’s insistence on uprooting his family so dramatically and so often. In the books, the Ingalls family moves from Wisconsin to Kansas then back to Wisconsin then to Minnesota and finally to South Dakota. Of course, by the time I turned ten my own family had moved at least that many times, and always for my father’s work, so make of that what you will.

Now you shouldn’t think that I actually wanted to be a pioneer girl myself what with all the stampeding oxen, creeks filled with leeches and grasshopper invasions but it was delicious to read about such exotic things. It was also comforting to recognize things that Laura’s world and mine had in common – sibling love and combat, strong parental affection, animals, school and, of course, mean girls like Nellie Oleson. I especially loved reading about the clothes the characters wore and how they fed themselves (or couldn’t as in The Long Winter ) and to this day I love books that describe fashion and food in detail (like the books in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series).

Would you like to explore the world of “Little House yourself or rediscover its pleasures? If so, DCPL has what you need. Here’s a list of the books and all are available from DCPL.big woods

cookbookAfter reading about such exotic foodstuffs as prairie chicken and maple sugar on snow you might get the urge to try out some frontier cooking of your own. If so, Barbara M. Walker’s Little House Cookbook: frontier foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic stories will be just what you need. I can’t promise that you’ll care for blackbird pie (Little Town on the Prairie) or stewed jack rabbit and dumplings (Little House on the Prairie) but you might very well love fried apples and onions (Farmer Boy) or vanity cakes (On the Banks of Plum Creek). All in all, this is a charming companion to the series.

wilderIf you really develop a fascination with all things Laura, don’t miss The Wilder Life : my adventures in the lost world of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure. A lifelong devotee of the books, McClure begins to delve deeper into the world of the series. She even goes so far as to buy a churn on eBay. She sets up the churn, works the churn for about twenty-five minutes, and when she looks inside she discovers…butter. Butter which tastes remarkably like regular butter. McClure reports that “…I felt like a genius and a complete idiot at the same time.” McClure is an engaging writer – both sincere and hilarious. I’ve only just started the book and I’ve laughed out loud at least a dozen times. Highly recommended.

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Sep 23 2011

Sometimes it’s just Wilder

by Patricia D

I had an epiphany in Iowa and it wasn’t the stunning revelation that in a diner in Iowa meat is a serious subject.  It also wasn’t that the land I thought would look hopelessly boring was surprisingly beautiful, with gently rolling green hills and wide open space.  Nope.  None of that.  I was at a rest stop, near the Nebraska state line and there were historical markers—one describing the Hungarian utopian community founded not too far away and one detailing the Trail of Tears.  I knew I was in Laura Ingalls Wilder country.  In fact, I had driven right through Mansfield, Missouri on my way to this Little Rest Stop in Iowa.  I’d spent a few nights in Independence and I drove home through northern Illinois and Wisconsin.  I wasn’t following Laura; I was doing genealogical research and was following my family.  I hadn’t thought about the Little House books in years but there in Iowa I was vividly reminded of the chapter  where Laura describes the days and days of weary people, forced from the land of their grandparents, walking past the Ingalls cabin out there on the edge of the westward expansion.  The Trail of Tears.  Until that very moment Laura’s books had been a favorite childhood read but I didn’t have a visceral connection to them.  I stood  stunned in front of that bronze sign in the golden October sun, the understanding of my family’s history and their place in the history of the very land on which I was standing no longer an academic exercise in fact checking but a bone deep fact.  All thanks to a connection made for me by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

My relationship with Laura and her books is complicated.  She traveled hard on a difficult road to make a good life for herself, excelling at a time when women seldom did, but there are so many questions about her that leave me conflicted.  There’s the question (covered in Ghost in the Little House: a life of Rose Wilder Lane by William Holtz) of exactly how much of the books Laura actually wrote for starters.  There’s the fact that her books are fiction yet most folks believe in their deepest souls that they are biography.  I lost track of the how many times I had to explain why the books were in the fiction collection—this is also a problem with the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines.  There’s also the overt racism, which I didn’t notice as a child but I found appalling while reading to my own child a few months ago.  Fortunately, she can’t read very well yet (never thought I’d say that!) so she has no idea how much of the text I skipped or changed.  People will argue that Laura was only parroting what was appropriate for the 1870s but you know what?  I don’t care.  That was not a conversation I’m ready to have with my child.

All this and I’m still fascinated enough to go off on a Laura Ingalls Wilder research binge.  However, I’m not the only one.  There’s a scholarly collection of essays (Constructing the Little House: Gender, Culture and Laura Ingalls Wilder by Ann Romines), there are biographies (my favorite, by Daniel Zochert is out of print and unfortunately long gone from our collection),  and there are also collections of other of Laura’s writings: The Little House Reader: a collection of writingsLittle house traveler: writings from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s journeys across America  and West from Home: letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder, SanFrancisco, 1915, all by Laura and all non-fiction.  My current favorite of all of the fact based Laura books is The Wilder life: my adventures in the lost world of Little house on the prairie by Wendy McClure.  It’s a wonderful book, not only for Wendy’s open admission of her geeky obsession but also because, without her, I never would have known that there are folks out there who have canned butter and Velveeta in preparation for the coming end of the world.

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Apr 9 2010

Favorite Fictional Characters

by Amanda L

I recently read a blog post about favorite fictional characters. It started me thinking, what is my favorite character of all time.  I must admit, it is Laura Ingalls Wilder from the Little House on the Prairie series. (I’m sure the television series and Melissa Gilbert’s way that she portrayed the character influenced me.)

I found an article that was written for NPR several years ago that lists the 100 best characters since 1900.  Here are their top 5:

1. Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

2.  Holden Caufield  from The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

3. Humbert Humbert from Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

4.  Leopold Bloom from Ulysses by James Joyce

5. Rabbit Angstrom from Rabbit Run by John Updike

Laura Ingalls Wilder did not even make the list of top 100, but I still hold her as my favorite character. What is yours?

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Oct 5 2009

Remembering the Past

by Amanda L

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I have always been intrigued by the way people lived back in the “olden” days since I read the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In fact, when I go away for vacation, often it is to an area in the Southeast that offers a look into the “pioneer days”.

If you were around in the 1970’s, you might remember the Foxfire books. There have been twelve volumes that detail all kinds of things that people used to do to survive or live in the past, specifically in the Appalachian range. The books cover subjects from making lye soap to ghost stories, to making jams and jellies.  As a youngster, I remember reading these books. I was fascinated with how they used to do things. (I even talked my mom into making candles and lye soap one time.)  The library has quite a few of these volumes as well as other books about the Appalachian lifestyle.

If  you would like to see live demonstrations on how people in the Southern Appalachian lived, you do not have to drive far to visit a demonstration museum. The Foxfire organization has a demonstration museum located in Rabun County. For more information about the museum and heritage center visit their website.

On a side note, I recently discovered that they have made the Little House on the Prairie books into a musical. It is a traveling show but, unfortunately, the closest it is coming to Atlanta is to Nashville at the end of October.

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