Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The joy of the Little House on the Prairie series continues in this lovely book that chronicles the Ingalls’ moving from the Big Woods of Wisconsin, which have become too populated to allow Pa to make a good living, to the prairies of Kansas, in the middle of Indian Territory. To get from the Big Woods to the Prairie will involve several days of treacherous travel, in nothing but a covered wagon. The first adventure is crossing the big creek, which, thanks to Pa’s skill and Ma’s nerve, they manage to survive in one piece, though at first, very upsettingly, it seems a member of the family will have been left behind. They continue on, and enter the vast expanse of the prairie, with its singing wind and great, endless blue sky, and Pa decides on a spot where their new home will be. They pitch up a camp, and within a few days, with the help of the bachelor Mr Edwards, a neighbour who is also newly arrived in these parts, Pa puts up a handsome log house and barn. Soon there is furniture, too, and a chimney, and Ma’s housekeeping skills mean that everything is neat, tidy, warm and comfortable in no time.

However, while the prairie is beautiful, and fertile, and full of animals for Pa to hunt, there is the constantly imminent danger of Indians. The Ingalls are in Indian territory; the Indians have not yet been told to leave, and while Washington has said it is fine for White people to settle there, the Indians are understandably not happy with these pioneers taking over their land. Ma and Mary and Laura and Baby Carrie are frequently terrified by Indians arriving at the house while Pa is not there, silently pointing at food and objects that Ma has no choice but to give them. Their presence is all over this book; hovering on the edges, a silent menace, that means that life on the prairie is never truly safe.

There are other difficulties too; the family catch malaria (fever ‘n’ ague) from the mosquitoes down in the creek, and are lucky to make it through the days when none of them are able to leave their beds. Thankfully the pioneers in this neck of the woods are a tight community, and Mrs Scott, the wife of a neighbour, finds them just in time to nurse them back to health. A fire sweeps across the prairie one day, threatening to take the Ingalls’ house with it; thankfully Pa realises just in time, and he and Ma manage to protect their house by digging a ditch full of water and lighting their own small fires around it. The wind in the winter is freezing and whistles constantly around and through the house, making travel and keeping warm incredibly difficult. Far away from family and friends in Wisconsin, the Ingalls only have each other, and their year spent on the prairie is an eventful one, and a wonderful example of just how much pioneer families struggled to make a life for themselves.

What I love the most about these books is the little details that tell so much about life for these brave and independent people, who weren’t afraid to strike out into new territory to build a better life for their families. When the Ingalls arrive in Kansas, Ma says she would like to write to her relatives in Wisconsin; if they get the letter out quickly, they should get a reply by the Spring. To think that months could go by without hearing even a word of reassurance from their family members was shocking to me; when the Ingalls waved goodbye to their extended family in the Big Woods, they really were saying goodbye in a way that was far more final than any goodbye is today. To think of what a big, and brave decision it must have been to pitch up and try their luck in the great unknown, with the knowledge that they may never see their families again, is just amazing to me.

Pa and Ma’s knowledge of how to do the most practical and basic of activities that most of us would be clueless about now, is also awe inspiring. Pa splits the logs for a house in a day, and knows just how to build a chimney, a barn, a roof, and furniture for the house. Ma can make a dinner out of anything, and sew beautiful clothes for herself, children and husband to wear. She knows exactly when to plant her vegetables and fruits, and how to store the food to keep it fresh for as long as possible. Pa and Ma can provide for everything they and their children need through their own strength, skill, and use of the resources the natural world offers them. This couple are mutually supportive, endlessly positive, and wonderfully practical. Neither fall to pieces in times of difficulty, and neither seek to possess much for themselves except for the basic necessities. They are happy and content with each other, their children, and their lovely little house in a place where nature is abundant and friends are within striking distance. Their favourite phrases to meet any disappointment are ‘all’s well that ends well’ and ‘it could be worse’. Stoic, resourceful, and full of faith for the future, their love for each other is clear to see, and Pa’s delight in bringing back window glass from town to please Ma was wonderfully touching. Wouldn’t it be lovely if people appreciated such small things today, rather than constantly seeking lavish, flashy gifts of no real value?

The other aspect I found fascinating was the tension between the pioneers and the Indians. Many of the Ingalls’ pioneer neighbours are racist, and consider the only good Indian to be a dead Indian, but Ma and Pa are not of this belief, and urge their daughters to respect the Indians in the camps along the prairie. However, the fact that Indians frequently come into their home and effectively steal their belongings, and that this is allowed because of a presumed threat of violence if their demands are not met, exemplifies just how dangerous and changeable the very tense relationship between the settlers and the natives was. The final chapters detailing the terrifying sounding war chants and dancing, that kept the Ingalls up at night and could have been the harbinger of their deaths, sent chills down my spine. Living in such close proximity to an alien culture with no shared language or customs, and the constant danger of violent retaliation, must have been terrifying. At the same time, the notion that it was fine to encroach on Native American territory and take over strikes me as being absolutely awful and terribly unjust, and the pioneers’ belief that they have a right to be on that land, and to rise against the Indian population if necessary, did not sit right with me at all.

As innocent and lovely as these children’s books are, and as wonderful as these slices of the pioneer life are in showing the courage and strength of pioneers who effectively settled the majority of America for future generations, there is also a much deeper subtext that as an adult, you can’t help but pick up. Political uncertainty and colonisation of Native American territories; the advance of technology and the changing face of America as people moved ‘out West’ and employed new farming techniques; the rise of cities and the developing of communities along major rivers and rail routes; the importance of a strong marriage and the passing on of traditional skills to enhance the survival of families in often harsh and very testing conditions, are just a few of the much more adult themes I picked up between the simply written lines. There is plenty of charm to enjoy as an adult, too; Ma and Pa are a wonderful couple, whose trust, reliance and affection in, on, and for each other are a delight to read. The simplicity of their life, the pleasure they take in small things, the effort they go to to give happiness to each other, to their neighbours, and to their children, are beautiful, and show the essential goodness of the human spirit. Laura’s perceptive observations on life and the subtle rivalry between her and the always perfect Mary can never fail to bring a smile to my face. Plus, the importance of community and the generosity and support the pioneers give each other is lovely to read about; in times of need they are there for one another, and Mr Edwards’ wonderful dash back from Independence in the storm to bring the Ingalls girls Christmas presents, exemplifying this ‘we’re all in this together’ spirit brought a tear to my eye.

But, still, I cannot ignore the unsettling presence of the Indians, and the knowledge that the Ingalls knowingly built a house on land that wasn’t theirs to build upon. As much as I loved this book, I knew it couldn’t end well, and I did breathe a sigh of relief when they packed up their belongings, ready to move on again, at the close of the pages. After going to the American Museum of Natural History this weekend and visiting the Native American section purely to find out more about the prairie Indians I had read about in Little House on the Prairie, I was moved and shocked to read about the struggles they faced in the wake of European settlement and the way their culture and traditions were effectively wiped out by Westernisation. This did sour the book a little for me, and I am looking forward to leaving this sad undertone behind and moving on to sunnier climes. I have Farmer Boy ready and waiting; set in upstate New York, and I am excited to read about life there in the 19th century. I am also excited about my adventures online to track down the early, Helen Sewell illustrated editions of the series; so far I have amassed three and have nearly closed in on the fourth in the series, On the Banks of Plum Creek. Not having anywhere near the budget of a serious collector (think $10 more than $100!), I am finding it enjoyably difficult, yet not impossible, to source the editions I want. Take heart if you too want to build a collection of these beautifully illustrated hardbacks; they are available for a song if you know where to look. I was shocked to see a copy of Farmer Boy; an older edition, and much grubbier than mine; go for nearly $100 on ebay a couple of days ago. I paid $7 for my lovely 1944 hardback. It just goes to show. Keep your eyes open and you never know what treasures you might find!

Finally, I have a little question; all of my reading about prairies and pioneers lately has made me develop a real interest in pioneer life, the history of pioneer settlements, and the lives of women pioneers. Willa Cather’s novels as well as Laura Ingalls Wilder have sparked this flame for me, and I am finding my thirst for knowledge about this period of American history to be insatiable! Can anyone recommend any good books, non fiction or fiction, for me to read to further my knowledge? I’d be so grateful!

74 comments

  1. You can’t help but be bothered by the native/colonizing tension, but I try to remember it in its context: there was a fundamental difference in the way the two culture understood land ownership, and neither culture understood that they did not understand the other. Also, Indian nations were not just at war with European settlers; they were often at war with one another as well. To my mind, the greatest tragedy is the way America treated Indian nations after defeating them – it’s a terrible history, and it still continues.

    1. Thanks Mumsy, it’s good to have another perspective on it. At the end of the book, the two Indian tribes nearly go for each other; I had forgot that. It’s a terrible history, and I feel awful also for the many colonial nations my own country marched all over – including America! I wish that everyone could just live alongside each other happily, but it seems the world doesn’t work that way!

  2. Rachel, what a great post. You handle the complexities of the books so well. It’s wonderful to see the strength and good nature of early pioneers like the Ingalls, but at the same time, it is very unsettling to think that the land they are settling had been the Native Americans not long before and that they were displacing a people. Of course, they were only individuals taking advantage of an opportunity afforded them by the government, and if they had opted out of taking advantage of that opportunity as individuals, they would not have stopped westward expansion. At the same time, as individuals, by settling the land, they were acting in concert with a terrible policy. It is all very unsettling.

    What’s even more unsettling is that the entire settlement of North America was a displacement of the people who had originally inhabited the land. Often, this displacement was done not only by pushing the Native peoples off their land but also was accomplished through absolutely terrible means. My knowledge of this practice is slim and is gleaned from a quick look at Wikipedia, but during the French and Indian War, blankets infested with small pox were intentionally given to Native Americans. Some historians, though, dispute whether these blankets were actually used as a biological weapon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_American_disease_and_epidemics). I suggest looking into the Trail of Tears, where President Andrew Jackson forced the Cherokee people of Appalachia to move to Oklahoma. Also, a good place to start would be Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Although it has a liberal bias (from what I remember of my reading of it in high school), it is a good overview of American history from the perspective of those traditionally marginalized by elites.

    As for the Little House books, your reviews are enticing me to pick them up once again. I love your copy of Little House on the Prairie. Thank you for sharing the beautiful illustrations.

    1. Thank you, Virginia, and thank you for your fascinating insights, as always! Seriously, start your own blog!

      I know that in order to expand and grow, new settlers needed to expand into Indian territory, and at some point this would have had to happen anyway, but I wonder whether a better, fairer way could have been found. Perhaps not. Progress needs to happen, but I don’t think it always needs to happen at the expense of a whole nation of people’s culture and customs and beliefs. I have heard about the smallpox blankets and I’d like to learn more about this. Thanks for the wikipedia link!

      I actually have that Howard Zinn book and I’ve been avoiding it due to the length, but I know I’m going to need to read it quickly because it would help me massively with understanding the context of a lot of the literature I’m reading these days.

      Good! You should read them, they are ever so comforting. I read a couple of chapters before bed every night and they make me feel all relaxed and cheery before I go to sleep! You are welcome – they are gorgeous aren’t they? I much prefer them to modern paperbacks and hopefully one day I can pass them onto my own kids!

      1. Your comments are very interesting. Perhaps you are right; with a growing population in need of a way to make a living, maybe expansion westward was inevitable. Yet, it was done without respecting the people who were already there. It’s a tough issue.

        You should definitely read the Howard Zinn book. You could always take it bit by bit; I find history books (and I was a history major in undergrad) can be a bit much if I read them all at once.

        Yes, I’d love to read the Little House books again. I read them when I was 7 or 8 and loved them, but I haven’t read them since. I’ll have to read them soon when I need something comforting to read.

        After thinking about this, I looked up the Trail of Tears on Wikipedia, too, and found that more tribes besides the Cherokee throughout the South and not just in Appalachia were displaced by Andrew Jackson during the Trail of Tears. I thought I would share the link with you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trail_of_Tears .

      2. It’s a very tough issue, Virginia, and there are no easy answers. If only I understood more about it! I will get reading and do my best to learn, quickly. Thank you for that other link – I am going right over now!

        Hope you get around to that re-read soon. We all need a bit of comfort in these loooooong winter months!

  3. I know Frances Milton Trollope isn’t technically a pioneer, but travelling through America in 1828, she gives a delicious description of life in Cincinnati in The Domestic Manners of the Americans”, and for a Canadian perspective, Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Trail were siblings and authors who together with a brother, emigrated from England to Canada in 1832. Susanna is most famous for “Roughing it in the Bush” and Catharine for “Canadian Crusoes” (1851), followed by “The Female Emigrant’s Guide” (1854), later retitled “The Canadian Settler’s Guide”.

    1. Dawn, thanks so much for those suggestions – Susanna Moodie has been mentioned before and I am intrigued to especially read her books. I will see if I can hold of them, thank you!

  4. A wonderful review, as always, Rachel. (In fact, why do I even bother mentioning that? Your reviews are ALWAYS interesting a well-written.)

    I loved the Little House books and am now tempted to re-read them. I’ve always felt just as you do about the way the Native Americans were treated. Sadly, this is the way Europeans have treated so many nations whose lands they’ve coveted.

    A simpler life appeals so much and I think this is a widespread feeling which is what attracts us to these books. At the same time, though, the danger of dying from illnesses and injuries that could be dealt with easily nowadays is not something I’d be happy with! And mobile phones! We can contact loved ones all over the world now, instead of, as you say, having to go for many months without knowing if they were alive or dead. Hmmmm… Not sure now…

    1. Thank you Penny! You are too lovely🙂

      The Little House books are truly something else. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to realise that they were missing from my life! The stories they tell of pioneer life and how to live simply and still enjoy and appreciate life are beyond wonderful. I adore all of the characters and I know there will be great sadness when I have finished them all! At the moment I am just at the beginning and the thought of starting each new book fills me with such joy!

      Yes the pioneer life does appear to be one of appreciating the simpler things and for a week or so perhaps it would be lovely to be at one with nature and to be outside of the pressures of our everyday lives that are really self inflicted, but at the same time, as you say, the illnesses, the distances, the difficulties of weather and transportation, etc, would put me off completely. I don’t know how they did it -no other choice, I suppose. It’s admirable, but I am too soft to do it!

  5. The Little House books are wonderful. A similar series, set a little later, is the “Little Britches” series by Ralph Moody. They’re like the Little House books on steroids, and follow the true story of Ralph’s growth from a little boy on a Colorado ranch through to manhood. His father died early on, leaving Ralph “Man of the Family” for his mother and siblings at age 11. Over the years, Ralph lived on cattle ranches, in Boston, on a backwoods farm in Maine, and then back out all across the West before settling down. The series is well written and funny, along with being an eye-opening picture of a resourceful and courageous family. I believe there are eight books in all – my Mom read them out loud to my brothers and me back in elementary school and I’ve gone through them many times since. My husband just gave me my own copy of the series – highly recommended!

  6. I highly recommend Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier. I read it years ago but it was quite good and is well reviewed on Amazon.

    I’m always a bit leery of re-reading books that I loved in childhood now that I know more of history and am more aware of bias. I’m sure most of them wouldn’t seem quite so wonderful.

    I do love reading your views of American history and American life in general. It’s so interesting to see what we look like from the outside, if you know what I mean.

    And now I’m done starting every sentence with “I”! Thanks, as always, for the thoughtful review.

    1. Thanks for that great recommendation Heather! I just ordered it from amazon as the library doesn’t have it. I can’t wait to read it!

      I am the same. I had the same experience recently with a book and I was really upset that I didn’t love it as I had done. I’d rather have the childish memory!

      Thank you so much – I appreciate that! I’m glad you have been enjoying my posts!🙂

  7. I wonder if you might be interested in a TV miniseries from PBS (in 2002) called “Frontier House”? They sent three families to a remote part of Montana to live like pioneers for 5 months. It gives a lot of interesting information about what it was like as a pioneer in 1883. My husband and I really enjoyed it. You can get the disks from places like Netflix. Or if you want to stick with books, there’s a book about the series too (though it doesn’t go into as much detail).

    1. Thanks Kathy, that does sound wonderful and very interesting – I’ll see if I can get hold of it. I would love to see how modern day people cope with living the pioneer life and how hard it is to do all the manual work etc. I’ll let you know if I manage to track it down!

    2. I watched that series too. It was fascinating. There are several others as well, filmed both in the U.S. and in Britain, and almost all of them were interesting in their way. Frontier House was probably by favorite, but I also really liked Colonial House and 1940s House.

  8. I read Farmer Boy in grade school about 10 years after it was published and loved it. It was the first Little House book I read and then went on to read them all plus some of the later books she wrote, i.e. West from Home, etc.. I have the old Helen Sewell books. I remember asking my big sister if she thought Laura would marry Almanzo and she said, look at the name of the author! Always loved the books and when we lived in Missouri we took our children to visit Mansfield.

    1. How lovely, Lulu, that you have had these books since you were a child, and that you have all the old Helen Sewell versions! I am jealous! Ha! That’s so funny! I think it’s wonderful how you can see Laura growing up and getting married through the books – it’s reassuring to know it’s true and that life works out for her. I would love to go and visit some of the Laura Ingalls Wilder museums and homesteads that there are dotted around the country but I fear I won’t manage it this year with my 10 days vacation and no car!

  9. Rachel, such a thoughtful and sensitive review. I’m so glad you are enjoying one of my all-time-favorite children’s series. Each time I read the “Little House” books, I come away with different thoughts, but, always with a sense of awe at how this family survived through so much, as you will see. You should enjoy “Farmer Boy” and its setting in upstate NY.

    The continuous and heartless treatment of the native Americans throughout the history of the United States and North America is unsettling, I agree. In the context of this simple book, however, I feel better in the knowledge that the Ingalls did move on and the series is more about the pioneer spirit.

    A few books I’d like to recommend:

    “Letters of a Woman Homesteader” by Elinore Pruitt Stewart deals with a widow with a small child going out to Wyoming and homesteading on her own. It is told through letters. I was in a book group that read it – to a grand discussion some years ago.

    “The Last of the Mohicans” by James Fenimore Cooper takes place in the mid 1700’s and deals with the French and Indian War, which was between the British and French colonies.

    “The Education of Little Tree” by Asa Carter. It deals with the relationship of a child with his Scot/Cherokee grandfather, said to be a memoir, but, an interesting story at any rate. It also deals with the schools native American children were sent to to make them acclimate to our culture. (oh, the things we have done)

    1. Hi Penny, thank you for your lovely and thought provoking comment. I am very much looking forward to getting stuck into Farmer Boy – I started last night and am already struck by the abundance of foods Almanzo had access to! Far more than poor Laura out on the prairie! You are right in that the spirit of the books is about being a pioneer, and I don’t want to get too hung up on the negative side of things as they will spoil my reading experience.

      Thank you for those wonderful suggestions. I will definitely track down a copy of the Letters of a Woman Homesteader – the library has it apparently so I shall place a hold. The others I will try and get around to at some point this year – so much to read, so little time!

  10. What a lovely and insightful review. I haven’t read this book for years but I’m sure I would react differently now as an adult — I’m sure I’d also be bothered by the inherent racism and the knowledge of how Indians were actually treated. It’s such an unpleasant part of American history.

    However, I did absolutely love Farmer Boy, which I think is still my favorite in the series — Almanzo gets in so many scrapes and the food in the book is just wonderful! There’s a part when they go to the fair and Wilder describes all the food that he eats. “And then he took a deep breath, and ate pie.” He eats more pie than I can even imagine, and I LOVE pie. It’s just wonderful.

    If you’re interested in pioneer life, you might consider Giants in the Earth by A. E. Rolvaag. I haven’t read it yet but it’s on the TBR shelf and I’ve heard great things about it. A friend gave it to me several years ago (along with My Antonia) after I’d moved to Nebraska. It’s actually about the Dakotas but I’m sure it would be interesting.

    1. Thank you Karen! It’s a shame, in a way, that you can’t retain an innocence about such things when you’re an adult and just enjoy the books for what they are, but at the same time, they are fascinating insights into social history as well as charming stories and I love that they can be read on both levels.

      Oh the food! I just read the first couple of chapters and was already overwhelmed by the amount Almanzo ate for dinner! I can’t wait to read the description of the fair! I’m finding the difference between his upbringing and Laura’s very interesting and I will be intrigued to see how their relationship develops when they are older, later on in the series, due to their different backgrounds.

      Thank you for that recommendation – I just checked it out on amazon and it sounds brilliant – I hope the library has it!

      1. You will remember all the food in “Farmer Boy” when you read “The Long Winter”. I read it almost every winter, and may still pull it out as I’m sure the snow won’t be melting here for a long while. Apples and popcorn in front of a roaring fire. Sounds like the best in life, doesn’t it?

    2. That’s what I remember most about Farmer Boy too! The food! The description of dinner and then all the night time snacks – the popcorn sounded amazing! The food must have loomed large in Almanzo’s memory!

      I love seeing the originals but I’m partial to the Garth Williams illustrations from the versions I know so well!

      1. You ladies need to stop talking about the food! I can see I’m going to have to read Farmer Boy after I’ve eaten my dinner!

        Katherine, I haven’t seen the Garth Williams illustrations – I’ll have to look them up to see how they compare. I love the charm of the Sewell ones, they’re so prettily and cleanly drawn.

  11. Gosh I just love the illustrations in your copies of these books. Thanks so much for sharing them!
    I first read this book so long ago. I actually plotted out how Pa made the door with the latch. I just love how self sufficient they were.
    The bit I remember the best is Xmas morning. Mr. Edwards has met Santa Claus and the girls get their overwhelming bounty. What was it? A tin cup, a peppermint stick, and a little cake. Made with white sugar, no less!
    There are several more serious themes running in the Little House books. I think the Indian one only appears in this book.
    Farmer Boy is very fun. What first struck me is how much Almanzo had compared to Laura!
    Oh and further reading, let’s see. I very, very highly recommend Old Yeller and, even more highly, the semi-sequel Savage Sam. They are called juvenile books but are very authentic descriptions of early Texas ranch and farm life. Both are really interesting and fun reads. Savage Sam is one of my top books in any genre. Indians play a very central role. It’s a wonderful book.

    1. They’re gorgeous, aren’t they? You are so welcome!
      I could not figure out that latch. I tried to work it out in my head but I’m just not very practical like that. Such a shame!
      Oh yes, that really brought a tear to my eye. The joy those girls took in their tin cups! Such a beautifully simple and innocent existence. I somehow doubt I’d be able to mimic that Christmas and get the same response when I have my own children!
      Yes – that is striking me too. So much FOOD Almanzo has access to, and such a variety. Poor Laura and her salt pork and beans!
      Thank you for those recommendations – I will certainly check them out!

  12. This is much later and much further west, and, technically, considered Western novels; but try the writings of Zane Gray if you haven’t already. Gives you a different taste of settling in the western terrains of America. Happy Reading! Love the pioneer writing as well…I teach American literature in a public high school to 11th graders. We recently finished My Antonia in my honors’ course. Lovely, lovely, lovely! My students forgot (as they did with Ethan Frome) the Introduction which framed the story…they so were hoping that Jim and Antonia would have wound up together…ah, young idealism!

    1. Hello Christine! Thanks for that recommendation – I always see his books and dismiss them as looking like typical Westerns but I suppose they would make an interesting read! I will check one out of the library and see what I think!
      You lucky thing! I want to teach English too when I get back to England and I can’t wait to introduce children to the greats of literature. My Antonia is just wonderful, isn’t it? Though I spent the whole novel hoping there would be a happy ending too, even though I knew they wouldn’t end up together! Ultimately they just wanted totally different things.

      1. Zane Grey’s Riders on the Purple Sage is the best one! Check that out! Oh, the landscape descriptions and depth of characterization! Such a find!

        I love teaching English and so hope that you are able to do so some day in England!!! From the depth of your literary analysis with reverence to the importance of reader reflection on a personal level, I think you would make a very inspiring teacher:)

        Jim and Antonia did want different things and society expected they live up to the standards set for them. We talked so much about how passive men could be during that time period and how immigrant women during the same time had to be forward to survive. The immigrant girls really embraced life because, as Antonia says to Mrs. Harling, they had to take what life they were given because it may not happen again for them.

        Keep writing such great stuff! I love your blog!:)

      2. Ok, I will! Thanks for the recommendation, Tina!

        Oh you are so kind! Thank you! I am determined to do it so watch this space!!

        Yes, Antonia certainly grabbed life, and lived by her own rules and no one else’s. I suppose they were in a unique position – newcomers in an already fledgling community, they had a degree of social freedom many other women of the period didn’t. They could fly in the face of convention, because there was no real convention to hold them back.

        Thank you! I’m so glad you found me!🙂

  13. I’m afraid I’m no use at all when it comes to recommendations for fiction about pioneer life. I keep thinking of things like The Grapes of Wrath, which feel the same to me because the characters are traveling. And dusty. I’m like the worst American fiction recommender ever.

  14. It is such fun to see you falling in love with these books. They’re among the handful of children’s classics that I read at the intended age, and they haven’t lost their sparkle for me at all as an adult (even though as a adult, I can pick up on some of the more unsettling facts that I missed as a child). For me, the series gets better and better with each book. My absolute favorite is These Happy Golden Years, which I used to reread several times a year for comfort.

    1. Thank you – it’s fun to be the one falling in love! I can’t believe it took me so long to discover them! I am so looking forward to reading my way through – These Happy Golden Years sounds wonderful and I just know I’m going to treasure these books forever. My greatest wish is to have a daughter to share them with one day!

      1. My daughter, 17 now, grew up with the books and now watches the series (that was a first run in my younger years…eek!) on Hallmark channel in reruns. She loves anything Laura Ingalls Wilder and now has become fascinated in the reading of Lucy Maud Montgomery, particularly the Anne series…she was raised watching the movies with me and just purchased a dvd set for herself of all three!

        Yes, I hope you have a daughter someday to share these with too…but would like to say that my son, now 13, has been raised with them as well. As much as he doesn’t like to outwardly admit it, he has enjoyed the series, both book and t.v., as well:)

        And, teaching them to young people will be a wonderful experience as well:)

  15. You might try Ole Rolvaag’s Giants in the Earth. It has been quite a while since I read it, but it illustrates the effects that life on the isolated frontier can have on a woman.

  16. What a wonderful review! Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink comes to mind, but it may take place a little later than the Little House series. Be warned: reading Farmer Boy will make you HUNGRY! They had feasts for breakfast each morning, and as Karen librarian mentioned, there is a lot of apple pie.🙂
    Thanks for sharing with us. Hope you are staying warm up there.

    1. Thank you Susan! I will check out that vook. Oh goodness me, Farmer Boy is already making me hungry and I only read two chapters! Almanzo’s first dinner was quite something – baked beans, pork, bread, something else, and then pie! He was a hungry boy!

      You are so welcome – it’s a pleasure! Am tucked up with a hot water bottle as I write this – New York is a cold city to live in right now, though I’m thankful I’m not in Chicago!

  17. You gave another insightful review of one of my favorite seriesT. I remember these illustrations from my childhood. I have always loved books that are read at one level for children to enjoy and are found to be fascinating when read as an adult. I too love the details. I remember Pa making a door. Every step was carefully explained. I was amazed by the amount of work that went in to the simple things.
    One pioneer book that hasn’t been mentioned is Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink. It is another children’s book but it is about that era and I think you will like Caddie. Have you ever read any books by James Oliver Curwood? They are about the settlement of Canadian Territory. They were published in the early 20’s. The characters are bigger than life. They are always pure and perfect or very evil. It doesn’t sound that great, but I love them. Men were MEN and women were WOMEN! T hey are like watching an old movie. Great fun! They have names like The Ancient Highway, and are described as “A novel of high hearts and Open Roads.”

    1. Thank you, Janet! Yes, the true skill in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s writing is that her books can be enjoyed on many different levels and there is a depth to them that children wouldn’t pick up but that adults can enjoy. Wonderful! I love the little details too – I feel like, if I took these books with me into the wilderness, they’d serve as a manual on how to live. I could build a house and smoke some fish and make headcheese no problem!
      Thanks for those recommendations – they sound wonderful! I will check them out – the Canadian prairie definitely interests me too. I’m intrigued to find out how similar/different their experiences were up in Canada where the weather was obviously a lot more extreme.

  18. Reading this book as an adult, I find it terrifying. I definitely lack the pioneering spirit.
    A relevant children’s book , which I haven’t read for years, is Children on the Oregon Trail by A Rutgers Van Der Loeff. It’s been reprinted several times as a Puffin book.

  19. You have whipped me back in time, Rachel! There were never enough pioneer stories for me as a child and I desperately wanted to wear calico dresses and a bonnet. With quite a bit of our studies in the elementary grades being about indigenous peoples (they were referred to as Indians back then), the overwhelming fear of scalpings had us scarred for life! They were portrayed and written about as savages and movies from an earlier era didn’t help. ‘White people’ had no problem at all taking land from others they saw as less than themselves. The Inuit have experienced the same tragedy.

    I would have to reach way back for titles and at the moment I’m only getting flashes of things but if I come up with anything I will let you know. In the meantime, a librarian will surely supply you with a list as long as your arm!

    1. Ha! I can just imagine you longing for a bonnet and sprigged calico dress, Darlene! Yes, that sort of terrifying description, I suppose, went some way towards justifying the treatment of native people by White settlers. How history is rewritten to suit those in power!

      Thanks Darlene – I have had so many wonderful suggestions already and am quite overwhelmed at the reading journeys I could be embarking on…if ONLY I didn’t have to be at work!

  20. Another one I have given to my daughter but not read myself. I too have a fascination with this subject. My grt grt grandfather stowed away from Liverpool docks on a boat bound for the U.S.A. He worked for the fledgling telephone industry, putting up telegraph poles linking town to town. I often wonder what life in adolescent America was like.

    1. Lilac, you have to read it for yourself! It’s wonderful. How fascinating – what sights he must have seen! He must have been a very intrepid and brave man, as well – he certainly had the pioneer spirit!

  21. There’s a similar series to Little House called Daughters of Dakota by Sally Wagner. I didn’t realize it was a series until I just tried to find the author! I read it when I was little and loved it just as much as the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, heavens, if only I’d known there were more!

  22. You might be interested in learning about the Pack Horse Librarians of Appalachia in the 1930’s… Fascinating stuff that an awful lot of poeple don’t know about… I have read “That Book Woman” by Heather Henson. A young kid’s book that you can read in a few minutes, it gives you a good idea of how important these people were for rural families etc. This is about the project: http://www.josephinesjournal.com/pack_horse_librarians.htm

    BTW, I am also a Brit who lives in the US (Texas). However, watch out. You might end up staying over here as it’s so much fun. I’ve been here 20+ years now (but still call England “home”!)

    1. Liz thank you for that wonderful link! Absolutely fascinating and delightful to realise that delivering books to people was considered as important as delivering food.

      Oh! I’d love to stay! But I don’t have a visa to!

  23. Ha ha! The one I read wasn’t part of a series and I’m not going mad! The author of the book I read titled Daughters of Dakota is Winnie Crandall Saunders, and is easily obtainable. But now I also realize why no one else has heard of it…it was published by a small Idaho press (Idaho is where I grew up). But the other author and series does sound intriguing…

  24. In the 1950s, Vilhelm Moberg published a series of novels about Swedish immigrants and their experiences settling the American midwest. There were four in the series: THE EMIGRANTS, UNTO A GOOD LAND, SETTLERS, and LAST LETTERS HOME. I only read the first two (over 30 years ago), but I remember them being obviously well-researched, although perhaps not as gripping as I would have liked (which might explain why I never finished the series). In the early 1970s, there were two films (both of them starring Liv Ullman) based on the books: “The Emigrants” and “The Good Land.” The books or the movies might be worth a look-see.

  25. Late follow-up to the other commentor who recommended Zinn and noted his liberal bias. A great read to balance out Zinn’s lean far toward one side is Paul Johnson’s “A History of the American People.” (http://www.amazon.com/History-American-People-Paul-Johnson/dp/0060168366). It’s a fantastic history and very readable. He’s British, not American, but it’s one of the best (and least dry) U.S. histories out there. Between him and Zinn you get a much clearer understanding of the different sides of each story.

    1. Sorry, looks like wordpress deleted the first half of my comment, which was: Late follow-up to the other commentor who recommended Zinn and noted his liberal bias. A great read to balance out Zinn’s lean far toward one side is Paul Johnson’s “A History of the American People.”

  26. Okay, you asked for some good American history books and while it’s a little morbid (and sometimes difficult to think about for too long) “Ordeal by Hunger” by George R. Stewart gives a very apt description of Manifest Destiny and the move out West. Again, it’s a little morbid. I don’t know how much you know about American history, but this is one of those tragically legendary tales about a group of people looking to settle in California. If I remeber correctly, maybe one of the near 90 people in the group actually makes it to California. The story is all the more heartwrenching because it actually happened, but definitely a good read if you are at all interested in that section of American history.

  27. Lovely review of the L.H.o.t.P. books. I devoured these when I was about 10, fascinated by the life they portrayed. As an adult, I think the historical reality would intrude and ruin them for me, so I think I’ll leave them unreread, glowing in the memory banks as a treasured experience.

    A Canadian author, Ronald Wright, has written a heartbreaking but deeply informative book about what happened to the indigenous tribes in North America: “Stolen Continents: the ‘New World’ Through Indian Eyes”. He also wrote “What is America”, an analysis of how the U.S. came to be what it is (and what he perceives it to be now). He is a cultural anthropologist and a novelist, so he gets his facts in order but can tell the tale well.

    I can’t speak to good American books but for a Canadian perspective, Michael Peterman has written a beautiful book about Catherine Parr Traill and Susanna Moodie, called “Sisters in Two Worlds: A Visual Biography of Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill”. Susanna herself wrote “Roughing it in the Wilderness”. After reading it, you’ll realise just how tough these people were.

    A relative newcomer to your blog, I am enjoying it immensely.
    Tui

  28. Hi Tui, thanks so much for your lovely comment and informative suggestions – I can’t wait to check them out. I am becoming increasingly interested in Susanna Moodie and I am definitely going to get hold of her ‘Roughing it in the Wilderness’.

  29. Went through my shelves at home for you for more pioneer-y or early American books:

    * “Foreign and Female: Women Immigrants in America 1830-1940 – Doris Weatherford (fascinating)
    * Womenfolk: Growing up Down South – Shirley Abbott (haven’t read it, but looks ok – also not 100% it’s pioneer…)
    * This State of Wonders: Letters of an Iowa Frontier Family 1858-1861 – edited by John Kent Folmer
    * Everyday Life in Early America (social/domestic history of early US) – David Freeman Hawke

    One more about early US travel (but more recent than pioneers) is the classic “Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. A powerful book about the dust bowl time period of the US (which leads us to even more titles…!)

    Like you need to add more books to your TBR. (But then one has to ask: can you ever have *too many* books?!)
    liz

    1. Liz, thanks so much for this brilliant list! I am going to look into these!

      Yes I keep meaning to read more Steinbeck – thank you for the reminder!
      I know, the TBR pile grows and grows. But it’s ok. I will get to them all eventually!

  30. I’m ashamed to say I live on the Texas prairie and I can’t think of many books about prairie life. I’m going to echo the recommendation for “Caddie Woodlawn”, though. It’s a wonderful book. Joan Lowry Nixon wrote a few books about New York City orphans who were sent west as their mother was ill (dying?) on one of the orphan trains. They’re scattered through the west, as siblings were, and the books are a good introduction to the history of the orphan trains in the West.

    I love the Little House books, and return to them again and again. But I still remember what it was like when we moved to Texas and visited local history museums, and I realized the incredible destruction of the Native American culture by pioneers like the Ingalls.

    “Farmer Boy” is one of my favorite of the series, because it’s so comfortable. I tend to read it immediately after “The Long Winter”, just to cheer myself up!🙂

    1. Hi Kate! Well Caddie Woodlawn does sound truly excellent and I will do my best to get hold of it! I shall be an expert on prairie life before this year is out! I also like the idea of finding out more about orphan trains – how interesting. Thank you!

      Yes, it’s an uncomfortable history and one I can’t quite get to sit right when I’m reading these books, but they are still wonderful and heartwarming nonetheless. I am so enjoying Farmer Boy but it doesn’t half make me hungry!

  31. I’m obviously late to the party, but I just stumbled across your blog. LOVE IT. I absolutely love Little House, and also blog about the lessons learned in those wonderful books. Thanks for sharing!

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