Thursday, October 02, 2014

October 2nd: The Little House Books

I love the Little House books.

Laura Ingalls Wilder was my hero growing up. I wanted to be like her: sassy and outspoken (without getting in trouble). I wanted to tell off the mean girls in my life (and maybe let them get some leeches on their feet in the creek). I wanted a bonnet, hair long enough to braid, and a dog named Jack . . . but most of all I wanted to be a teacher and writer as she had been.

Like many women of my generation, I read these books over and over again. I may have been the only one in my circle of friends who was interested in the prairie, but as an adult I have met many other bluestockings who did the same thing I did. It's been fun to learn even at my age that I was not alone.

Visible on my shelf here are most of the books I own about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane. For a while in graduate school, I toyed with the idea of writing something similar, a scholarly work about the books and their influence on our culture. (I also considered writing a doctoral dissertation on the works of Chaim Potok, about whom I'll be writing this month too--but I digress.)

I remember the first time I read The Ghost in the Little House (on the left) and being absolutely shocked and horrified at the notion of Rose having edited the books more heavily than had been speculated before. How dare someone imply that Laura hadn't written the Little House books exactly as her life occurred?! Now I realize of course Rose helped her mother. Laura had written before, both in school and for the local paper in Mansfield, Missouri. But switching from nonfiction articles to fiction, to suddenly be able to construct a perfect children's book series, is quite a leap. Now that I've been writing for a while, I know more about the editing process and that it is not easy to write a book, much less a series, without help and support from those who know the process.

I have been able to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder homes in both De Smet, South Dakota, and Mansfield, Missouri, on more than one occasion. My husband took me to De Smet back in 1994, and we walked through the museum and looked at all the flip-chart displays of correspondence, newspaper articles, and photographs. One thing I noticed as I did this was that the Ingalls girls all exchanged postcards throughout their adult lives. So Carrie, for example, sent postcards to Laura from the Black Hills where she lived. Laura sent postcards to Carrie and Grace from her trip to San Francisco. And occasionally one of them would be just a bit passive-aggressive to another; I remember reading something like this: I have sent you three postcards and have not yet gotten any back from you. I hope everything is going well with your garden. It was comforting, somehow, to know that they were just regular people.

I went to De Smet again in 2007 with my girls, and the flip charts were no longer on display. However, the original homestead land had been purchased and now is an attraction in its own right, with a schoolhouse, pony cart, dugout, cabin, laundry wringer, and crops. It was really fun. The museum is still there as well, in town, but my girls loved doing the hands-on homestead things instead.

I was thrilled to enroll in a course this fall about Laura and her daughter Rose on, just after finding out that Laura's original manuscript entitled Pioneer Girl would be published this fall! I am fascinated with the mother-daughter editing dynamic, so reading Pamela Smith Hill's book about this process is interesting (and her book is not pictured; due to high demand I ended up getting it on my Kindle).

So how about you, were you a fan of Laura and her "Little House" series of books? To read more of this #31DaysofBooks series, visit the introduction post.


dawnomite said...

I didn't love them as a child, but now that I'm reading the series to my kids, I'm a fan!

Pattie said...

I'm so glad! It was interesting reading them with my girls a few years back. I plan to read the series again this fall with the class I'm taking.

Maria Summers said...

Pattie Pie, you know my love of all thinks Little House.

Carrie Roer said...

Oh I LOVE the Little House books too. I always wished I could have lived in that era. I had the same set of yellow-spined books when I was young. Last summer I came across a boxed set at a yard sale and have started reading a chapter a day to my 4-year-old daughter!

Tami said...

Oh, I love these books and the television series. Wonderful story line!