Reading Laura Ingalls Wilder

I’ve been reading C&I The Little House in the Big Woods.  The Laura Ingalls Wilder books were a big deal in my family.  My cousin Laura was named after her; I read the books at least as much/often as I did the Lord of the Rings saga, in a somewhat similar pattern, too: probably read The Hobbit and The Little House in the Big Woods the most, those two classics of coziness, and trailed off towards the end of the two series as the scope widened to an increasingly larger and more adult world.   I think as a boy reader I found more to relate to in the earlier books with all the bears and hunting and boy-scoutish activities.  Sarah commented to me that Pa is a somewhat risky model of fatherhood for me to expose to the girls.  “I mean, he hunts, builds houses, smokes meat, carves wooden toys, rides horses…” “Yes, but does he blog cleverly???” I responded not at all defensively.  I don’t see Sarah churning butter or sewing all the family’s clothes, anyway (although admittedly she’d be much more likely to do that than I would be to build my own meat smoker in the backyard).

C&I love the book.  They’re especially interested in the Mary/Laura dynamic: Laura’s the younger one with brown hair who is jealous of her sister’s golden curls.  (This led to a discussion of hair color in which Iris declared that “mommy’s hair is brickish red.”)  And of course they’re fascinated by life in a cabin with nearly everything you use something you make yourself, and with bears and panthers prowling around.  It’s a very appealing depiction of an entirely self-sufficient, self-enclosed family life, although I keep thinking that one winter like that in the one-room cabin (with a baby and two young girls) would drive me screaming to the town (pop. 150 at most?) by the lake in Pepin, Michigan.

The other night we read one chapter, and also read Margaret Wise Brown’s The Little Fur Family, which we own in a tiny, faux-fur-covered edition.  As we read it I suddenly realized that the illustrations were by Garth Williams, who also illustrated The Little House in the Big Woods, and that they’re very similar stories, all about hunkering down in your cozy home for the winter, but from the bears’ point of view!  (Assuming the little fur people are bears, I guess it’s more ambiguous.)  Just look — Pa practically is a member of the Little Fur Family on a larger scale:


8 thoughts on “Reading Laura Ingalls Wilder”

  1. Ahh, i’m so glad to hear that the girls are appreciating one of my favorite authors!

    Don’t forget Farmer Boy ! A good one for the younger set, each chapter a great story in and of itself. (but you might want to preview the chapter about the new school teacher until they are a little older?) I know the books by heart and every year about this time I get out The Long Winter to remind me that we really don’t have it that bad.

  2. WELL! I need to respond! LIW’s the master.

    Growing up, Laura was my hero; I easily embraced the pioneer life as the one to aspire to. Very appealing to me to have self-sufficiency held up as a virtue, and the close famiy and limited social life felt very safe, I think; I was a shy girl.

    Ivan, did you ever hear about our LIW trek, summer of ’69 … Sadie, Roz, and me? We visited most of her homesites.

    And The Little Fur Family, with the faux fur cover … I read that, recited it really, repeatedly to Sophia when she was little, until it was in pieces. Margaret Wise Brown is one of my faves.

    For another Brown/Williams combo, do you know Wait Til the Moon is Full (the furry creatures here are raccoons)?

  3. I too was obsessed with these books. I read them over and over again (and now remember basically nothing about the plots); I wonder if I would have been super excited about Willa Cather if someone had given me that as a child. I was also completely obsessed with Nancy Drew and still have probably 25 of those books in hard cover (I guess all our books were hardcover as children).

    Of course, none of the ideological matters left any clear impression: self-sufficiency? I only cared about things like Mary’s curls and the candy for sale at the Olsen’s. Insularity? Nah–Bears!!! Close-knit family unit? Reading was a way to escape my own. Of course the coolest part really is that Laura is such a likeable girl. Or at least, that’s what I remember about her, and not much else.

    Damn that television show for now dominating my recollections of the family Ingalls.

  4. Thanks for the inspiration to dig out my Little House collection! I’ve been thinking of reading the LH in the Big Woods to Vivi but I hadn’t because of all the hog-butchering descriptions, which is all I remember of it now!

    I started reading her EB White — The Trumpet of the Swan, It’s a little old for her, but she was really involved in the first three chapters, then not interested. Charlotte’s Web not so much.

    The Little House books were one of the few books of my childhood that I can remember having female protagonists. Little Women being the other. Also a story of hunkering down in your sphere of domesticity — very timely.

  5. A belated reply to Julia — don’t know Wait Til the Moon is Full. Man, Margaret Wise Brown was a classic children’s book machine.

    To Jeannette — we did Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little recently, they liked ’em both. The chapter book thing is pretty recent — in fact Charlotte’s Web may have been the first long one like that. I remember the Trumpet of the Swan being quite melancholy and more grown-up.

  6. Hi, as a son of Sadie of course I knew the books well, and read them to my daughter too. Never could watch the TV show, it looked bizarrely off to me, Michael Landon was NOT my picture of Pa. Maria came out here with Rufus and Laura and the bunch of us went down to the reconstructed House in the Big Woods which is a site on a farm in the vague vicinity of where the actual thing might have been. I think I have video of that trip. Lake Pepin is not in Michigan, it’s right down river from here on the Mississippi, just a big bulge in the river. The landscape along the river is beautiful, high bluffs now with whole bunches of eagles again. An acquaintance Mary Logue has had a home in the little towns and writes a mystery series centered there. The little museum they have for the Ingalls has books in Japanese and when we were there Japanese tourists were there. My native friends here have real issues with the books and who can blame them (kind of a heartwarming view of the holocaust for them). Louise Erdrich owns a bookstore here and wrote a little essay on whether to sell the books or not, can’t remember which side she came down on. On the other hand one Indian friend took her kids to the new musical at the Guthrie bc they all just loved the TV show, not sure they ever read the books. Lake Pepin is nowhere near Michigan, the Big Woods was Wisconsin and we still miss them.

  7. Yes! Stuart Little! I have to find that one now. Currently watching Curse of the Were Rabbit over lunch. Now that is high culture…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s