Posts Tagged ‘Little House’

As an inveterate rereader, I’ve regularly spent time with some beloved childhood heroines – Anne Shirley, Betsy Ray, Sara Stanley – as an adult. But until last winter, I hadn’t reread any Laura Ingalls Wilder books in at least 15 years.

Then (you may recall) it snowed and snowed and snowed – so I picked up The Long Winter, both to remind myself that the Ingalls had it far worse than we had, and to see if I could glean some of Laura’s and Pa’s “We’ll Weather the Blast” spirit. Rereading that book (and then reading the Laura-fan memoirs The Wilder Life and My Life as Laura) made me want to revisit the whole series, and I finally got around to that last month.

I didn’t keep detailed notes as I reread, but several things struck me:

First and foremost: these books are as magical as they ever were. This is the secret of a good children’s story: to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, the truly good books from childhood hold up well in adulthood. From the first “Once upon a time, sixty years ago” to the last “Golden years are passing by, happy, happy golden years,” these books had me in thrall as much as they did when I was seven or ten or twelve. I read avidly, sometimes finishing one a day. And I welled up multiple times – on the T, over lunch, in the privacy of my own home.

I reveled in the relationship between Pa and Laura. I know he loves all his girls (like my own sweet dad), but I loved watching her help him, watching them work hard and savor the pioneer life and keep their chins up together. She’s his favorite. They both feel stifled in the prairie towns and would be happy to keep going west, following their wanderlust to the very edge of the world. I can sympathize a little (as can every girl who ever fell in love with Laura). And his fiddle is always there to cheer and comfort, whenever things grow dark.

I remembered the early books – Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, On the Banks of Plum Creek – most vividly from my childhood readings. But this time I found myself drawn to the middle books, especially By the Shores of Silver Lake and The Long Winter. Laura is on the edge of so many transitions here – from pioneer girl to town girl, tomboy to young lady, child to woman. And yet she’s still free, free to ride black ponies with Lena and explore the high prairie and go ice skating with Carrie in the moonlight. She’s not yet quite bound to spend all her time either helping Ma or making money to send Mary to college. And the prairie itself is still fresh and new – vast and wild and ready to explore, with so much to be discovered. The middle books are all about possibility.

I was struck as I always am by the simplicity of the narratives. Laura’s language isn’t fancy, and there are few big, climactic events – but it doesn’t matter. Her descriptions are spot on and often breathtaking, and her characters quietly compelling. I love the Garth Williams illustrations, and the many songs she quotes from (I think we need a Little House songbook), and the family warmth and love that permeates the books.

Do you make a habit of rereading childhood favorites? What do you find in them now that you didn’t find in them as a child?


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Little Town on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder
Things are finally looking up for the Ingalls – the long, hard winter is over; the claim is growing into a real little farm; Mary goes away to college and Laura enters into the social life of the town. And – though she’s rather oblivious – that handsome Mr. Wilder is starting to take notice. I love the descriptions here of simple home life, pretty dresses and springtime on the prairie.

India Becoming, Akash Kapur
India is a country of deep contradictions. And when Kapur moves back to his home country from the States, he has a strong, ambivalent reaction to what’s happening in his homeland. India’s urbanization, its technology boom and its burgeoning culture of entrepreneurship stand alongside urban decay, extreme poverty and the breakdown of village life. As Kapur talks to villagers and city workers, he shows the contrasts of the new India and the old. To review for Shelf Awareness.

These Happy Golden Years, Laura Ingalls Wilder
I’d forgotten the hardships that begin this book – the frigid sleigh rides in the dead of winter, and that crazy Mrs. Brewster. But after the nightmarish first few weeks, things begin to look up. Laura grows into a young lady, gets engaged and then married – and on her last evening at home, Pa plays all the old tunes on the fiddle, one after the other. Gorgeous (if a little bittersweet).

Constance: A Story of Early Plymouth, Patricia Clapp
Several readers recommended this story after I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I enjoyed Constance’s adventures as she struggles to make a life in Plymouth with her family. She’s spunky, bright, opinionated and hardworking – just the way I like my heroines – and of course she finds love in the end. Well written and fun.

Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West, Dorothy Wickenden
Two Smith graduates, on a lark, head to the frontiers of Colorado to teach in a country schoolhouse for a year. Decades later, one of their granddaughters found her grandmother’s letters from that year, and decided to write a book. This is a fascinating look at the American West during the World War I era – railroads, coal mining, homesteading and some wonderfully plucky folks who stuck it out. The teachers, Dorothy and Ros, are delightful characters, and the book is well-researched and engaging. Wonderful.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
I’d never read Gatsby before. (Bethany, and others, had been urging me to read it for years.) I was blown away by the sheer beauty of the sentences (as everyone predicted). The last few paragraphs are particularly lovely. But – I confess – I was underwhelmed by the plot and the characters. Perhaps my expectations were too high – but I didn’t like any of these people, and found it difficult to truly care what happened to them.

Death at Victoria Dock, Kerry Greenwood
Phryne Fisher returns for adventure #4, involving anarchists, spiritists, kidnapping and a convent. Entertaining, as usual – and a compelling glimpse into Australia’s politics and city life during the 1920s.

My Life in Pink & Green, Lisa Greenwald
I picked this up at the Booksmith on the strength of a staff rec, and enjoyed it. While working at her grandmother’s pharmacy, Lucy Desberg helps a homecoming queen with her hair crisis, and suddenly becomes the town’s makeup artist – while trying to save the pharmacy from going under and deal with her best friend’s first crush (and later, her own). Sweet, spunky and funny – though it ended rather abruptly, before I had time to savor the heroine’s triumph.

A Duty to the Dead, Charles Todd
The first in another World War I mystery series – with a nurse-turned-detective, similar to (but not the same as) Maisie Dobbs. Bess Crawford delivers a message for a dead soldier, but finds herself drawn into a web of scandal that has plagued his family for years. Fascinating, horrifying (not graphic, but dark in parts) and utterly compelling. Book Club Girl is hosting a Bess Crawford read-along soon, and I’ll be joining in.

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
Another classic I’d never read, but I loved this one. Catherine Morland is so sweet (albeit naive), and I enjoyed her adventures in Bath and at the titular abbey. Austen is so witty – she satirizes Gothic tales brilliantly with this story. And, of course, all’s well that ends well, despite false friends, tyrannical fathers and things that go bump in the night. Such fun.

Midnight in Austenland, Shannon Hale
I love everything Hale writes, and this sequel-of-sorts to Austenland was so much fun. (Even better since it’s inspired by Northanger Abbey, which I’d just read.) The characters are such fun and the situations hilarious – and the heroine’s dialogue with her Inner Thoughts was amusing. And, like any good Austen-esque tale, it ended so, so well.

Robbie Forester and the Outlaws of Sherwood Street, Peter Abrahams
A middle-grade spin on the Robin Hood story set in modern-day New York (with a bunch of teenagers as the “merry men”). The plot requires a serious suspension of disbelief – and I was left wondering about a few things – but since this is the first in a new series, the author will probably explain those points later. Fun premise and entertaining characters.

(NB: I am a brand-new IndieBound affiliate, and this post contains affiliate links. That means I make a small commission if you purchase a book through one of the IndieBound links above. Plus, you’ll be supporting local independent businesses!)

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I’ve been reading a lot this month, even for me – and many of the books are short. So here’s Part III of my January reading roundup. (Look for a post on my Little House reread, coming soon!)

You Are Here, Jennifer E. Smith
Another lyrical, enjoyable story from Smith – this one about Emma and her shy neighbor Peter, who take off on a road trip from New York to North Carolina for reasons neither of them can fully articulate. Not as smooth as her other two, but a fun ride, with likable characters (including the stray three-legged dog they pick up along the way).

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, Eva Rice
This was my “backup book” on our New York trip (in case I ran out of books) – and I did start it on the ride home, then savored it before bed for nights on end. How I love the story of Charlotte and Penelope and Harry – rock’n’roll, chic clothes, young love and exciting parties in postwar London. A favorite.

Finding Our Way Home, Charlene Ann Baumbich
A lighthearted story of an aging ballet dancer recovering from a serious injury, and her young, klutzy-but-endearing assistant, who form an unlikely friendship. Though quite different, they’re both struggling to regain confidence, find love and figure out the next step in their lives. A bit predictable, but fun, and I liked the characters (and the nods to Boston).

Bunheads, Sophie Flack
Flack is a former dancer with the New York City Ballet, and her debut novel explores that world through the eyes of Hannah Ward, who’s been dancing all her life. At 19, Hannah loves her life as a corps dancer in the Manhattan Ballet, but she starts to wonder if there’s more to life than just dance. Flack’s writing perfectly captures the complicated relationships between the dancers (a mix of mean-girl cattiness and deep, solid friendship). And the details of ballet life feel authentic and rich. Well-written and absorbing. (And oh, I liked that handsome NYU student who steals her heart.)

On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura Ingalls Wilder
I always loved this volume of Laura’s story – so many adventures here. Playing in the creek; going to school; meeting the town girls and that awful Nellie Oleson; exploring the Minnesota prairie; sitting around the fire in the “snug and cosy” clapboard house. Even the blizzards don’t seem so bad when Pa’s playing the fiddle and his blue eyes are twinkling.

Extra Yarn, Mac Barnett
I rarely review picture books – but I couldn’t resist mentioning this one. When Annabelle finds a box of colorful yarn, she begins knitting sweaters for everyone in her black-and-white town – first the people, then the animals, then even the houses and mailboxes. The illustrations are charming, and as a knitter, I understand the impulse to knit for others – and the way there’s always a bit of extra yarn.

By the Shores of Silver Lake, Laura Ingalls Wilder
I’d forgotten how much I loved this middle volume in the series – the descriptions of the wild, lonely, empty prairie are so gorgeous they make my throat ache. And I love the scene of Laura and Lena riding the black ponies, and the scene where Laura runs ahead to the surveyors’ house to see where they’re going to spend the winter. And the Christmas scene is gorgeous, and of course I love all the songs on Pa’s fiddle. Most of all I love watching Laura grow up, learning to think for herself and take on more responsibility and believe in her own opinions, no matter what anyone says. (We have similar stubborn streaks, which is one reason I love her so much.)

The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder
I picked this up last year during my own long winter. This year (thank heaven) it didn’t hit quite so close to home, but I still love the story of the little town in the winter, and the sheer grit and ingenuity of the settlers “weathering the blast” that lasted seven months. I also love watching Laura make friends in town, and getting a glimpse of Almanzo Wilder as an adult. I hadn’t remembered quite so many songs – but of course they survived that winter because of family and music and hard work. The important things.

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Summer means time to sink into luscious, juicy reads – whether I’m savoring them on my daily commute (because I do still have to work), or on my solo lunchtime picnics in the Public Garden, or sprawled out on the couch at home. I adore summer reading. And I’ve found some gems so far this month, including:

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, Wendy McClure
I adored the Little House books as a child – the same yellow-covered Harper Trophy editions that McClure read and reread. And I loved her tale of visiting Laura’s homeplaces, trying to separate the myths, fictions and facts, and searching for a glimpse into the “Laura World” she’s always loved. I learned a lot about the writing of the series, the TV show, Laura’s life (and her daughter Rose’s), and the various Wilder homesites. Fascinating, funny and quite well done.

Joy for Beginners, Erica Bauermeister
I loved Bauermeister’s debut, The School of Essential Ingredients, so was thrilled when Dawn offered to pass on her ARC of this book to me. And it did not disappoint. To celebrate their friend Kate’s triumph over cancer, six women each take on a life challenge – chosen by Kate. (In turn, she has to go whitewater rafting with her daughter, which terrifies her.) Each woman’s story is uniquely absorbing, full of the evocative sensory details (and love of good food) that permeate Bauermeister’s writing. Love, love, love. (Here’s my review from Shelf Awareness for Readers.)

The Paris Wife, Paula McLain
It’s rare that I love a book while knowing it will end sadly – but this one was so beautifully written, so rich with detail, so full of love and loss and longing, I fell head over heels. I knew enough about the facts of Hemingway’s life to know what was coming – but I loved reading the story of his first marriage from Hadley’s perspective. (And, of course, Jazz Age Paris continues to fascinate me. I mean, I read A Moveable Feast on the train to Paris, once upon a time.) Brilliantly written. Highly recommended.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling
Reread in preparation for the eighth movie – and after I finished it, I immediately wanted to go back to Philosopher’s Stone and start the whole series over again. (I may do it yet.) I think this is the best Harry Potter book – the characters, and Ms. Rowling, have grown and matured so much over the length of the series. And while it breaks my heart, it’s action-packed and triumphant and just. so. good.

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared, Alice Ozma
A quirky, fun, heartfelt account of a single dad, his geeky second daughter, and their nine-year reading streak. I would have liked to hear more about the specific books they read and their impact on Alice (who was, it appears, kind of an obnoxious kid), but it was sweet to witness their bond deepening over the years of “The Streak,” as they called it. Made me even more eager to read to my own children someday, as my parents read to me.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
After rereading Deathly Hallows (see above), I was irresistibly drawn back to the beginning of the series, the sheer joy of discovering the world of wizardry, the first rumblings of the saga that (for me) really splits wide open at the end of Prisoner of Azkaban. As a stand-alone book, this first one isn’t my favorite, but it lays the groundwork for what’s to come – and it’s amazing to read this one knowing the end of the story.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling
A great sequel, and the beginning of Hermione’s willingness to go along with Ron’s and Harry’s harebrained schemes. And, of course, the first real hints of that mysterious connection between Harry and Voldemort – and Harry’s wonderful loyalty to Dumbledore.

The Borrower, Rebecca Makkai
After hearing Makkai read at the Boston Public Library, I bought her debut novel, and read it in less than 24 hours. Compelling, heartwarming, heartbreaking and funny, with a lot of moral ambiguities and many riffs on children’s books (a chapter in the style of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, a Choose Your Own Adventure chapter, etc.), it was great fun to read. I wish the ending had somehow been different – and I wish Lucy, the narrator, had a little more spunk – but overall I loved it. Especially the bookish references sprinkled throughout.

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