Posts tagged ‘little house on the prairie’

August 25, 2011

Little House Fever (Way Better than Scarlet Fever)

So, my new semester of library school is up and running! I’m taking Children’s Literature, which I’m obviously stoked about. Our professor is really enthusiastic and awesome, and on the first day of class she excitedly told us about one of our assignments. It’s called, “I Never Got Around To…” and we are supposed to pick a classic children’s book that we never read as children and report back on it. She offhandedly said, “I do this assignment too. Last year I did Little House on the Prairie for the first time and hated it. I mean, the way she talks about Native Americans… it’s so dated! Why is this still on shelves?!” And I almost had a rage fit, even though she’s right.

I grew up with the Little House books. (Not the show. I’ve actually never seen the show. And I never will.) A family friend gave me a box set of the books, and they looked so grown-up and special on my shelf. I was a little afraid they’d be boring, since they were set in the past, but I was instantly hooked. To this day I have very clear memories of scenes like Laura and Mary roasting the pig’s tail, or Laura and Mary making designs on the frost on the window with Ma’s thimble.

Little House on the Prairie AudiobookSo, I decided to revisit a few of the Little House books on the way to De Smet, South Dakota. From the library, I got Little House on the Prairie and Little Town on the Prairie (that’s #2 and #7 in the Little House series, if you were wondering). On the trip, I learned that my traveling companion Anna had never read the Little House books!! Only watched the show!! It was like I didn’t even know her. Luckily, she was quickly captivated by the books, and so our friendship survived. First, I have to say that Cherry Jones is a great narrator for these books. She sounds both funny and wise. And Paul Woodiel’s fiddle playing is an excellent touch. Pa Ingalls would undoubtedly approve.

Anyway, the books themselves? As a reasonably well-educated adult, yes, they are a little troubling. The way Laura talks about Indians and their “glittering black eyes,” for example. Or her desire to kidnap a papoose. Weird, Laura.  So here’s the thing. If you, as an adult, read this book with a child–talk to that child about Native Americans, and the way they were treated by white settlers. Have a conversation about it.  I don’t hold Laura Ingalls Wilder accountable for the era she grew up in.

What makes these books racially problematic is also what makes them great: the honest, revealing tone. Laura Ingalls Wilder is incredibly frank about her perceived shortcomings, her secret petty desires, and her sheer delight in tiny pleasures. This is what makes her books timeless. These books will also make you feel like a big spoiled baby. When you hear how excited Laura gets about one piece of candy, or how Ma carries on even after getting a huge log dropped on her leg while helping build their cabin. These people are tough mother-effers. Your 12 hour trip from Illinois to South Dakota, from the comfort of a compact SUV with a huge bag full of snacks, will make you feel like the laziest people ever. You will think twice about purchasing a souvenir T-shirt when you hear Ma fretting about the price of calico. (It didn’t stop me from buying a $14 souvenir bonnet, however.)

Anyway, I took a ton of photos on this trip, which you are officially invited to view in this Flickr set. Here are a few highlights:

Can you imagine living in this with four other people?!

The tires make for a much more comfortable ride than wooden wheels.

I look good in a bonnet if I do say so myself.

View of the whole Ingalls Homestead.

August 12, 2011

Little Blog on the Prairie

Little House in the Big Woods was the first chapter book I ever read. I loved it, of course–who didn’t? I have a well-worn box set of the Little House books. I even read Farmer Boy, even though it was about Almanzo and not Laura. (Farmer Boy always made me really hungry–those kids were constantly sitting down to hot doughnuts or homemade taffy or fresh watermelon or something awesome.)

This weekend I’m embarking on a summer roadtrip with my friend Anna. We’re going to South Dakota, and our first stop is De Smet, South Dakota… home of the Ingalls Homestead. I visited the Ingalls Homestead with my family, but I was too young to really remember. I’m super, super stoked to visit as an adult. Also, I got Little House on the Prairie and Little Town on the Prairie on CD so we can listen to them on our way. It’s going to be epic, you guys. Rest assured, I will blog photos of Anna and myself wearing bonnets and taking advantage of any other historical photo opportunities available to us.

In the meantime, here’s a review of a book that was clearly written by someone as enamored of Little House on the Prairie as I am.

Little Blog on the Prairie

Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell is the story of Gen Walsh and her family. Gen’s mom signs the family up for Camp Frontier, inspired by her own love of Little House on the Prairie and the romantic ideals of frontier life. Gen and her brother are so not thrilled about spending the whole summer doing chores and wearing old-fashioned clothes. Gen manages to smuggle in her cell phone and occasionally sends out hilarious text messages to her best friends about her adventures. Unbeknownst to her, one of her friends has been reposting her messages on a blog. The blog goes viral and Camp Frontier ends up at the center of a media storm, forcing Gen to evaluate her opinions on technology and the camp itself.

I really liked this book. Gen is smart and funny, and I thought her family was very realistic. (They quickly thought of the over-achiever pioneer family as their rivals, simultaneously envious of their abilities and disdainful of their lameness.) I liked that they had believable quarrels but still loved each other and got along. And one of my favorite aspects of the story is one that hasn’t been mentioned often in contemporary literature, at least to my knowledge–the power of technology to make us feel connected. The relief Gen felt after sending out text messages to her friends, even though she couldn’t check for responses very often–that rang very true to me and matched my experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer. It’s nice to feel like you’re communicating with your friends, even by text. Overall, I rate Little Blog on the Prairie three bonnets (out of five).

Next on my to-read list (maybe): The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure.