Balancing painting, parenting, crafting and book loving one day at a time...

Balancing painting, parenting, crafting and book loving one day at a time...

Monday, February 4, 2013

Laura Ingalls Willder's Little House books-Stories for our time?

As a child, my sisters and I were obsessed with the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder,  from Little House on the Prairie to The Long Winter. 
We read the books, and we were lucky enough to also watch the TV show with Melissa Gilbert and Michael Landon, which made it even cooler to like the books. 
Reading those books, along with The Secret Garden, The Chronicles of Narnia and Little Women, I found young female heroines I could relate to.  They were spunky and curious and not always “good” like the girls on the 1950’s style sitcoms on TV.   Growing up in the 1970s was confusing.  Our textbooks were a jumble of old 1950’s texts  like Dick and Jane and black and white newsreels with omniscient, white male narrators talking down to us in self-important tones about how we should view the world, whether the topic was business , history or puberty.


Counteracted with this were the alarmist, pseudo-psychedelic films we were shown in middle school health classes that meant to warn us about the dangers of drugs and sex out of wedlock.  (  Drug Abuse:  The Chemical Tomb) The heavy rock and primitive special effects were supposed to scare us, but they often just made us laugh, or think not very highly of our elders.
Then there was TV and the movies.  If you want to see how confusing the messages were, just go out and rent the original Electric Company episodes.  Comingled with the children’s message of “free to be you and me, “ were hipster actors wearing bell-bottom jeans and women in extremely short hot pants giving off a not too subtle dose of sexual innuendo.  Maybe it’s not too different than the subtext in today’s Pixar movies, who knows.  But rewatching them with my kids as an adult, I was shocked.  These shows were trying to awaken our inner feminists and they were groundbreaking, I don’t deny it.  But the switch from prim mothers on Romper Room to the sexy hipsters on Electric Company was a little much.  Which brings me back to the Little House books. 
They were refreshingly wholesome.  Even without the TV image of Melissa Gilbert (as Laura) galloping through the high prairie grass in her gingham dress and bonnet, I could close my eyes and imagine the settings in each book, from the big woods of Wisconsin, to the sod house by Plum Creek in Minnesota. (opening credits of Little House TV show)  As I read them to my 9 year old daughter, I am struck by how much physical description of the land (and a lot of it is quite repetitive) there is in the books.  There are stretches where not much happens, the girls play on the prairie, that’s all, but every detail is in there, from the way the grass feels on their bare feet, to the smells of the hay that is laid out to rest in the sun.  That’s all they did all day, played out in nature.  Richard Louv (author of Last Child in the Woods:  Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder) would be proud.  So would all the slow food movement people.
There seems to be an appropriate fit with these books and the way we want life to be again.  Making do, being happy with the simple life, eating off the land, even dealing with unusual weather, like huge snowstorms and weird insect plagues (grasshoppers or 17-year locusts).  We’ve messed up nature’s balance so much we can stand to learn a little from the original back-to-the-landers,  American’s pioneers.  Laura probably had A.D.D. anyway….she was always getting in trouble for being impulsive and fancy free and wanting to do what the boys did.  Mary, the one who was always good and “ladylike” was never any fun.  She certainly didn’t have the pioneer spirit.  My daughter, when asked which daughter is the most like her, shyly says, “Laura.  I really don’t like Mary. “  My 21st century, independent-minded, athletic, nature and science loving daughter bonds with Laura.  And she should.  No wonder she feels an affinity with her.  After all, aren’t we all just Laura at heart?


  1. I also loved the Little House books, but HATED the TV show (mostly because I felt that I could have done a better job in the part of Laura, lol!) but also because it wasn't true to the book.
    I have no daughters to share them with, but did read Farmer Boy to my boys a few years ago, which they enjoyed.
    If you haven't already, you should pick up "Little House in the Ozarks," a collection of her writings from 1911-1925 (non-fiction; not written for children). Interestingly, the W in the editor's name stands for Wilder. I suspect he's a relation, as it's her "rediscovered writings." It's basically her opinions on life; I enjoyed it.

  2. I'm similarly stricken as I keep up with Grace by re-reading The Hobbit. The pace of storytelling is different now, much more wrapped up in cause and effect, moving from one thing to what happens next. We invest much less--and maybe have much less patience for--description for its own sake.

  3. Limette, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on these books and your girlhood and your daughter's. I love how you consider things so carefully. Love, Pomme