Wednesday 16 June 2021

Notice of The Little House on the Prairie book series

Laura with her faithful, and vital, 'bulldog' Jack - one of my favourite minor characters

I have now read aloud, or listened-to (as an audiobook superbly performed by Cherry Jones) all of the eight lifetime-published "Little House on the Prairie" series by Laura Ingalls Wilder - except Farmer Boy (which is about Almanzo Wilder, the future husband of Laura - the protagonist; and not about the Ingalls family. Perhaps later.)  

It has taken me decades to get around to these books; because all that I 'knew' about them was that there was a schmalzy TV children's series of the same name - and this was not the kind of thing I appreciate. 

But having read a few other classics of US children's literature recently, and been hugely impressed by the quality, my wife and I decided to to give it a try - by jumping straight in at the 'On the Prairie' volume - when the series really got going (later back-tracking to the Big Woods, which is more of a 'memoir'). 

I would now place these books in the very first rank of children's literature - up with works like The Wind in the Willows, The Secret Garden, Narnia and The Hobbit. 

They are simply superb; and full of the kind of incidents and scenes that I instantly recognize will be remembered forever (and which, I presume, all American kids of a certain age will have lodged in their minds): the circle of wolves, the Indians, the prairie fire, the grasshoppers, the buggy and sled rides...

Everything about these books is excellent - even their values and morality; and especially good (as literary fictions) are those five volumes over which (apparently) Laura Ingall's Wilder's daughter Rose had the greatest editorial influence (i.e. House on the Prairie, Plum Creek, Long Winter, Town on the Prairie, and Happy Golden Years).   

Like all true classics; these books are not 'like' any other books - what they do its unique. They have the clear ring of truth, and are also beautifully crafted fiction. In a child's and teenager's way: 'all human life is here' - adventure, endurance, happiness, tragedy, humour, embarrassment, hard work, joyous leisure, fights, romance; and all kinds and flavours of vivid characters... The Little House books are a complete world unto themselves. 


Jacob Gittes said...

Thanks for this. I intend to get them and read them with my child.
The old TV series was not that bad compared to others, but I now want to go to the source.

Coincidentally, I was listening to our so-called "public radio" last week (I call NPR "national propaganda radio"), and there was an academic on the radio spouting about the glories of cities and modernity, and he actually spend time taking swipes at the dishonest nostalgia of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her series of books.
Good timing!

Did you know that two years ago this happened here in the US of A:
The US Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) has changed the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children's Literature Legacy Award because of “anti-Native and anti-Black sentiments” in the author’s work.

The System hates all that is good, true and beautiful.

Gnecht said...

Thank you for the observations.

There is a scene in "On The Banks of Plum Creek" where Laura disobeys her mother, plays in the flood-swollen creek, and nearly drowns. As an ostensibly severe punishment, she is not allowed out of her mother's sight for all of the next day. (And OF COURSE her father is doing something interesting that she then misses out on observing.) Apparently, her generation's "severe punishment" is this generation's "good parenting."

(We’re really bad at judging risk to kids. We’re really good at judging parents.)
(People think leaving children alone is dangerous — because they think it's immoral.)

And, "Farmer Boy." If someone has any appreciation at all for pre-industrial farming, that book is outstanding for its depictions of such. I live in a society that is shifting from farming to business occupations. I, along with many I know, have struggled to define what exactly is different between farming and business people and their lifestyles and the societies they create. There is a passage where main-character Almanzo's older brother Royal is planning to pursue store-keeping instead of farming. Their mother is scandalized by this, OF COURSE farming is the ideal lifestyle and having a store-keeping son would be a near-disgrace to the family. Her tirade is too long to quote, but it captures lots of the things I think many people are feeling when they watch their world going through the farm-to-business transition.

Days of Lot said...

This is nostalgic for me! As a child I found these books unexciting, especially compared to series such as Harry Potter (which I now avoid because of its glorification of witchcraft). But I always remembered the scene when Laura stared at a piece of chocolate, thinking it was "too pretty to eat," which to this day has convicted me to appreciate the simple blessings of life.

Rozy Lass said...

May I recommend another series that is equally great--By Ralph Moody, the Little Britches series beginning with Father and I Were Ranchers. It is also fictionalized biography, set in the first quarter of the 20th century. Ralph Moody was a fantastic writer and had an interesting life. The series begins in Colorado when Ralph is about 8 or 9. The last book is set in Nebraska when he is early 20s. I read all the books to my boys and they would listen, enthralled and never bored. I've re-read them several times just because they're so good.

R.J.Cavazos said...

If you like Wilder, you will go crazy over James Fenimore Cooper

cae said...

I grew up on "The Little House" books - still have the original paperback set that Santa Claus brought me one Christmas nearly 50 years ago!!
I don't know if you have read the "Wrinkle in Time" series, but they are also quite good (the movie was rubbish) least, the first four books are good -
- there's a fifth ("An Acceptable Time") grouped with them, but it really isn't worth reading.
After the first book, the order goes -
"A Wind in the Door", "A Swiftly Tilting Planet", and "Many Waters" (actually, those final two were written in that order, but the timeframe would place "Many Waters" prior to "Swiftly Tilting..", so they can be read in either order)

All of the books have a warm, moral, 'family' sense to them as well as being adventurous and with a lovely undertone of spirituality....I'd love to know what you think if you read them.

Gem said...

Thank you for the suggestion! I'm reading the little house series to my boys right now.

Gem said...

I love The Last of the Mohicans. One of my very favorites. I haven't read anything else of his though.

Sean G. said...

Based on your endorsements I have read the Harry Potter series, the Secret Garden, Little Lord Fauntleroy, Warbreaker and even a majority of the Book of Mormon. Batting 1000 so far on your recommendations. 3 of 5 were amongst the most moving reading experiences of my life and the other 2 were excellent. I have 3 kids under 4 so I will have to check these out.