Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder
In the late 1800s Laura Ingalls and her family lived an adventurous life in the untamed land of the Midwest. In the 1930s and 40s, she wrote a series of books describing the way of life and culture of the American pioneer through the eyes of the little girl she used to be. So far I’ve read the first two books of the series: Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie. They are both excellent books, but they are very similar. The settings are different, but the format and description remains the same. So this book review will be a summary of the two novels and my take of Ingalls’ writing. Many of you may remember the TV show that spawned from these books starring Michael Landon. I used to watch it as a kid having never read the books, and it was enjoyable on its own. It was actually based primarily on the book that comes next in the series, On the Banks of Plum Creek. Ingalls would go on to write about her husband’s childhood, her family’s various moves, and her later life. I look forward to reading the rest of the books in the series if they are anywhere near as good as the first two.
Little House in the Big Woods is the story of Laura’s early childhood in Wisconsin. Her family lives deep in the forest, with no neighbors, but having family close enough to travel to in a day. Through Laura’s perspective we see the difficulty and simplicity of every day life at this time. We see how her family makes almost everything they use, from cheese to shelves. Her Pa is an extremely hard-working and industrious man, providing everything his family needs. Her Ma works just as diligently in the house, taking care of the food, the family, which includes Laura, her older sister Mary, her baby sister Carrie, and the family dog Jack. Life is a struggle against nature; the weather, animals, the growing of food, but the Ingalls family is happy with their existence and with their snug home deep in the woods.
Little House on the Prairie is a tale told in a very similar way. Laura recounts her family’s every day activities, their play, their songs, and the way they live together in a wild land. When the woods of Wisconsin began to be more populated, Pa decided to move the family out West. The land there was free, plentiful, and wide open. Those who got there first would have the claim to the best areas, which no new settlers could take away. But life on the prairie was hard; a new climate to learn, wolves, a house to build. And the Ingalls weren’t alone; the native people who had always lived there were friendly but wary, as more and more pioneers began to move West and push the Indians out of their territory. Life was challenging but wonderful on the wide open prairie.
I really enjoyed reading these books. They were written so simply and so descriptively that I found myself learning about woodcraft, farming, building, hunting, and so many other little things. Ingalls goes into detail about the crafting of a door or a rocking chair, but somehow it’s not boring. The details make you feel as if you are there on the prairie, and they make you think about how convenient life is today. So the descriptions are the strongest parts of the books, and you will enjoy them if you enjoy learning about this time period. There is action and dialogue, but that’s not really the point and that’s not really the strong suit of the books. That’s not to say that I didn’t get into the characters; I came to care very much about them and their survival. But the history is the best part and the plot comes second. I read these books to my daughter and perhaps that helped me to enjoy them even more, but I think they would have been strong books all on their own. I recommend reading Ingalls’ series if you loved the TV show, if you like pioneer history, or if you are looking for a refreshingly simple story of family, nature, and the great American frontier.
My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰