The Little House on the Prairie Series

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

This year I decided to read the Little House on the Prairie series for the first time. My three-year-old daughter and I listened to all nine books over the course of the last seven months. I've loved every minute of it and I know we will both miss the series. Each day she asks if I can "Turn Laura on." while we drive or clean the house.

For some reason I thought the books would be boring. I have no idea why. Frontier life was incredibly hard and the Ingalls family was brave and determined. We follow them on their travels west from Wisconsin to Kansas to Minnesota to South Dakota. The forge rivers, survive blizzards and locust, and exist on almost nothing at times. Throughout all of it they have hope and faith and encourage each other.

This will be a reading experience I won't ever forget. This was the first series I read with my daughter and it was a wonderful one. I can't wait to read them again when my youngest daughter is old enough. Below are my brief thoughts on each of the books in the series.

The Little House in the Big Woods
I love the detailed descriptions of their life in Wisconsin. Hunting, household chores, dangerous animals in the woods, all told from a child’s point of view. Even simple life becomes fascinating. Cherry Jones narrates the books and she’s just perfect!

Farmer Boy
In this book we meet Almanzo and hear about his time as a child on his family’s farm. They raised sheep, planted crops, and learned about life. Each chapter covers a fun vignette, from a prize-winning pumpkin to a week without their parents at home, the adventures are sweet. I loved the scene where his father gives him money and encourages him to make a smart decision about how to spend it. It showed trust and gave Almanzo a responsibility that he did not squander.

The Little House on the Prairie
This series is such a delight. Each of their adventures and struggles is seen through the eyes of young Laura. I love the honesty and innocence that comes from that. I love her Pa's strength and character. Laura's parents are a team and despite their hardships, they never stop supporting and loving each other. This book covers their time in Indian country. There's a scene where they cross the river in their covered wagon that was particularly harrowing.

On the Banks of Plum Creek
Each book in the series is a blend of sweet moments and heartbreak. For every Christmas morning filled with joy, there is a blizzard, or leeches, wild fires, or a plague of grasshoppers. The things they survived are incredible. Yet despite the traumatic events in their lives, it’s often the relatable moments that are the most memorable. Going to school for the first time, longing for a fur cape on the church Christmas tree, snobby Nellie who picks on Laura, a small child who takes Laura‘s doll Charlotte, etc. You feel like you are experiencing each moment alongside the Ingalls family.

By the Shores of Silver Lake
This might be my favorite of the series so far. From the start of the book we know this is a time of change. Mary has gone blind from scarlet fever, the family rides a train for the first time, they move into a shanty in a railroad town, etc. I love Laura's adventurous spirit. Even when her path crosses with wolves, she's almost more concerned with their welfare than her own.

There are some intense parts in this book as well (SPOILERS). The death of their sweet dog Jack, the confrontation of Pa on payday by angry workers, the moment when the youngest Ingalls daughter, Grace, goes missing, and a scuffle when Pa fights to place his claim for their homestead plot. Life on the prairie was not for the faint of heart.

I'm continually impressed with Pa's moral compass and the way he treated his wife and daughters. Even though Ma is quiet, he looks to her before making big decisions. They do not allow themselves to go into debt or take charity, but when an opportunity presents itself, like the chance to stay in the surveyor's house for the winter, they aren't too prideful to take it. I've grown to love the Ingalls family.

The Long Winter
This one was intense! The small community where the Ingalls live is stranded in a seven month blizzard. No trains with supplies are coming and everyone is beginning to starve. I know I’ll remember the vivid picture of Pa twisting hay to make logs for the fire and the girls using the coffee grinder on the wheat. The scene where the students head from school into town in the midst of a blizzard was terrifying. I loved getting to know Almanzo better and seeing his braver.

Little Town on the Prairie
A lot of this book focused on Laura’s time in school. Thanks to Nellie, who somehow ended up moving to the same town as Laura, the teacher hates Laura. Luckily she has sweet friends who stand by her. Laura also gets her first job, sewing shirts in town. She and her parents are saving money to send Mary to college and she is thrilled to be able to do her part.

It’s important to note that Ma’s hatred of the Indians and a black face musical show are unfortunate parts of the book. I know that those things were accepted in that time. I’ve use them to open conversations about prejudice with my kiddo. No matter when it’s written, it’s still not ok.

These Happy Golden Years
Laura is now working as a teacher and making money for her family. It’s been such a joy to watch her grow up and it’s hard to believe she’s a woman now. Almanzo courts her with buggy rides and I loved watching her show her strength and fearless nature as she becomes more comfortable around him. Definitely one of my favorites in the series.

“The last time always seems sad, but it isn’t really. The end of one thing is only the beginning of another.”

The First Four Years
The final book in the series is very short and covers only a brief glimpse into Laura’s new life with Manly and her daughter Rose. Their struggles to get a successful crop, avoid storms, and survive blizzards makes this book a bit bleaker than the others. I missed scenes with Pa and Ma. The pace also felt rushed, like she was skimming over their lives. There were memorable scenes, like Rose’s birth, a visit from a group a Indians, etc. As always, her simple descriptions of their life were my favorite parts. The book feels a bit like an afterthought and I almost wish the series had ended with These Happy Golden Years.

*After doing a bit of research, I found that this final book was published almost 30 years after the rest of the series.


*Photos by me

Madeline Miller Talk

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

 This week I attended an author event and got a chance to meet Madeline Miller. She was brilliant. Funny, clever, engaging, the best-selling author knew how to speak to a crowd with ease. You could tell she’d taught for years and had the ability to make complicated discussions about women in Greek mythology feel relevant and accessible. I adored both of her books, Circe and The Song of Achilles, and can’t wait to see what she writes next. 
 I loved that she answered questions about her writing process and provided details about her research. She talked about how women are frequently made small in mythology and just used to further men’s stories. They are either the wife/mother/daughter of someone or they are a villain. It’s rare to find more meat to a female’s story.

She mentioned two poems, Ulysses by Tennyson and Penelope by Dorothy Parker (below) showing two very different views of their story. 

In the pathway of the sun,
In the footsteps of the breeze,
Where the world and sky are one,
He shall ride the silver seas,
He shall cut the glittering wave.
I shall sit at home, and rock;
Rise, to heed a neighbor's knock;
Brew my tea, and snip my thread;
Bleach the linen for my bed.
They will call him brave.
In Circe she gave voice to a character that was skated over in The Odyssey. She allowed her a messy life with complicated family relationships and a deep empathy toward humans. Miller shared that she directed Shakespeare’s plays in her free time and it took her five years to find each of her main characters’ voices while writing her novels. It was an incredible talk and one that gave an added depth to her work. 
One side note: this was my first night out after having my second kiddo. I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to make it. Sitting there in that beautiful amphitheater and feeling my brain hum as I listened to her fascinating talk gave me so much satisfaction. After you have kids you can often feel like you are missing a piece of yourself. You are exhausted and rarely have time for intellectually stimulating pursuits. I just want to say that it does get better. Making time for the things that are important to you is just crucial. It is NOT easy, but it is so rewarding.

*Photos property of Avid Reader's Musings

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