The Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge 2016

Welcome to the fourth annual Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge! We hold it in February because her birthday  (February 7, 1867) and the day of her death (February 10, 1957) both occurred in February, so this seemed a fitting time to commemorate her.

Many of us grew up reading the Little House books. I don’t know if there has ever been a time when there wasn’t interest in the Little House series since it first came out. They are enjoyable as children’s books, but they are enjoyable for adults as well. It’s fascinating to explore real pioneer roots and heartening to read of the family relationships and values.

For the reading challenge in February, you can read anything by, about, or relating to Laura. You can read alone or with your children or a friend. You can read just one book or several throughout the month — whatever works with your schedule. If you’d like to prepare some food or crafts somehow relating to Laura or her books, that would be really neat too.

If you’d like to read something other than the Little House books, I’ve listed a few others under Books Related to Laura Ingalls Wilder, but that list is by no means exhaustive.

Let us know in the comments whether you’ll be participating and what you think you’d like to read this month. That way we can peek in on each other through the month and see how it’s going (that’s half the fun of a reading challenge). On Feb. 29, I’ll have another post where you can share with us links to your posts or let us know what you read for the month. Of course if you want to post through the month as you read, that would be great. You don’t have to have a blog to participate: you can just leave your impressions in the comments if you like. And I just may have a prize at the end of the month for one participant. 🙂

My own plans are to read Little Town on the Prairie by Laura and Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Pamela Smith Hill.

I’m looking forward to reading everyone’s plans and impressions! Feel free to grab the button for the challenge to use in your post:

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge
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The Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge 2016

The month of February contains the dates of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birth and death, so it seems a fitting month to focus on her life and writings. This is our fifth year to do so, and I have enjoyed it each time. Many of us grew up reading the Little House books. I don’t know if there has ever been a time when there wasn’t interest in the Little House series since it first came out. They are enjoyable as children’s books, but they are enjoyable for adults as well. It’s fascinating to explore real pioneer roots and heartening to read of the family relationships and values.

On Feb. 1 I’ll have a sign-up post where you can let us know if you’ll be participating and what you’d like to read. That way we can peek in on each other through the month and see how it’s going (that’s half the fun of a reading challenge). You can read anything by or about Laura. You can read alone or with your children or a friend. You can read just one book or several throughout the month — whatever works with your schedule. If you’d like to prepare some food or crafts or activities somehow relating to Laura or her books, that would be really neat too. In the past I think some have made food or clothing from the styles of the day: Annette even had a Little House-themed birthday party for one of her daughters, (and, unrelated to the challenge but just from her own interest she started the Little House Companion blog: you might find some neat ideas for activities and Laura-related books there.

On Feb 29 I’ll have a wrap-up post so you can link back to any posts you’ve written for the challenge or to a wrap-up post. You do not have to have a blog to participate: if you don’t, you can just share with us in the comments that day what you’ve read.

Need some ideas beyond the Little House books themselves? Annette, as I mentioned, has shared several books for children here. I compiled a list of Books Related to Laura Ingalls Wilder, and some others are listed in the comments. Laura fan extraordinaire and historian Melanie Stringer has a treasure trove of information at Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I don’t know how many more years I will continue to host this challenge – at least the next couple, and I’ll reevaluate then. I encourage you to join in before it’s all over – and this year you even have an extra day in February in which to read! 🙂

Have fun gathering your materials and planning what to read and do, and I’ll see you at the sign-up post on Feb. 1!

I am having trouble making a code that you can use to put the button on your site, but in the meantime, you can rightclick on the button below, click on “Save as”, then save it to your computer to use in your post. I’d appreciate your linking back to this post if you particpate in the challenge. Thanks!

Laura Ingalls Wilder 2015 Wrap-Up

It’s the last day of February and so it is time to wrap up our Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge. If you’ve read anything by, about, or related to Laura this month, please share it with us in the comments. You can share a link back to your book reviews, or if you’ve written a wrap-up post, you can link back to that (the latter might be preferable if you’ve written more than one review — the WordPress spam filter tends to send comments with more than one link to the spam folder. But I’ll try to keep a watch out for them.) If you don’t have a blog, just share in the comments what you read and your thoughts about it. We’d also love to hear if you’ve done any “Little House” related activities.

I like to have some sort of drawing to offer a prize concluding the challenge, and as I thought about it this year, I decided to offer one winner the choice of:

The Little House Cookbook compiled by Barbara M. Walker

OR

Laura’s Album: A Remembrance Scrapbook of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson

OR

A CD (hard copy or digital) of music based on songs from the Little House Books: Happy Land: Musical Tributes to Laura Ingalls Wilder OR Arkansas Traveler: Music from Little House on the Prairie. (Thanks, Susan, for telling me about them!)

If none of those suits you, I can substitute a similarly-priced Laura book of your choice. To be eligible, leave a comment on this post by Friday telling us what you read for this challenge. I’ll choose a name through random.org. a week from today to give everyone time to get their last books and posts finished.

For myself, this month I read (linked to my reviews):

By the Shores of Silver Lake

The Long Winter

I also wrote Happy Birthday, Laura Ingalls Wilder with some fun facts and favorite moments and quotes from her books.

I had planned to read the newly published Pioneer Girl, Laura’s first book that had never been published before now. But they quickly ran out of all they printed at first and had to print more, and so far I have not received it.

Thanks for participating! I hope you enjoyed your time “on the prairie” this month. It always leaves me with renewed admiration for our forebears and renewed thankfulness that I live in the times I do.

<strong>The giveaway is closed and the winner is Bekah! Congratulations! I will leave the comments open for those still finishing up their reading and posts for the challenge.</strong>

Book Review: The Long Winter

The Long WinterThe Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder starts out in the summer. The Ingalls family has lived in their little claim shanty through the spring, and Pa is cutting down hay. When Pa comes across a big muskrat house made bigger and thicker than he has ever seen, he takes that as a sign that this coming winter will be a particularly hard one. An early blizzard in October and an Indian’s prediction convinces Pa and other homesteaders that they need to move into town for the winter. Pa had built a building in town in the last book and rented it out. The claim shanty was too flimsy to stand up against a blizzard, and being in town would keep them close to supplies.

But then blizzards start coming one right after another with only a day or so in-between, some times only half a day. Supplies run out and the trains can’t get through. Almanzo comes up with a plan, but it is a dangerous long shot.

This book isn’t a fun read, but it is a good one mainly to see the ingenuity and character of the family in this crisis. But there are a few lighter moments. When the family moves to town, Laura and Carrie have to go to school: they’re frightened at first (though Laura tries not to show it), but eventually they make friends and enjoy their studies. There is still a lot of singing in the evenings, along with other ways of entertaining themselves.

There are also glimpses of the times and culture. When Laura wants to help hard-working Pa to get the hay in, Ma was reluctant. “She did not like to see women working in the fields. Only foreigners did that. Ma and her girls were Americans, above doing men’s work.” But Pa could use the help, so she agreed. I was amused that Ma thought girls “above doing men’s work,” when usually we see “women’s work” demeaned. (And there is a bit of that as well – Almanzo considers cooking women’s work, but since he and his brother are bachelors and have to eat, he pitches in. Maybe each gender thought they had the best of it, though they all were industrious and hard-working). I was interested to read Almanzo’s justification for lying about his age in order to stake a claim. The land agent evidently got that he was underage, yet winked at him and gave him the necessary papers. I did have to smile when he commented once that “Three o’clock winter mornings was the only time that he was not glad to be free and independent” when he had to rouse himself up to do something, when at home his father would do that. Ma’s sending ginger water out when Pa and Laura are working in the hot sun on the hay makes me wonder if the recipe is in the Little House cookbook – it sure sounds refreshing. I’ve mentioned before Ma’s not politically incorrect feelings towards Indians, one of her few flaws grown primarily from fear. It is mentioned in passing again here. Laura has an interesting conversation with Pa when she asks how the muskrats know about the coming  winter, and Pa replies that God tells them. Laura asks why God didn’t tell people, and that leads into free will, independence, the differences in the way God deals with animals and people (he could have said, but didn’t, that one way God did give clues to people was through observation of things like muskrat houses).

I like that Laura is honest about her feelings and faults. “Sewing made Laura feel like flying to pieces. She wanted to scream. The back of her neck ached and the thread twisted and knotted. She had to pick out almost as many stitches as she put in.” She and Mary quarrel some times and she flies off the handle sometimes, but family discipline is such that she does this less often than one might expect.

There are interesting comments about how progress can actually make us less able to cope than our forebears:

“We didn’t lack for light when I was a girl, before this newfangled kerosene was ever heard of.”

“That’s so,” said Pa. “These times are too progressive. Everything has changed too fast. Railroads and telegraph and kerosene and coal stoves — they’re good things to have but the trouble is, folks get to depend on ’em.”

When the train can’t get through, they reason, “We survived without trains before.” Thankfully both Pa and Ma come up with some old tricks to help along the way. But as dependent as I am on electricity modern appliances, and creature comforts, I agree that I would have a hard time surviving in that setting.

A lot of this book is about endurance, and that might not be fun reading for some, but it is important. I think for most of us, our endurance would have run out long before theirs did, and we see some cracks in their armor due to the strain of constant storms, being trapped inside, dwindling food, and monotonous tasks just to keep alive. One of the first times I read this book, it made me quite ashamed that I feel tired of winter and gloomy about the lack of warmth, sunlight, and color – and I have always lived in the southeast, where, though we do have freezing temperatures and bad winter weather, it’s not nearly as bad as what others have to face. As it happened, the several days that I was reading this story this time, we had some of our severest winter weather, and while reading this story reminded me that I have nothing to complain about, in some ways it oddly did add to that feeling of winter weariness. But there is always hope that spring will indeed come again.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Book Review: By the Shores of Silver Lake

Silver LakeBy the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder opens on a sad time. Everyone in the family except Pa and Laura have had scarlet fever, and Mary has been left blind. Pa has no idea how he will pay the bill for the doctor, who has come every day. In the previous book, On the Banks of Plum Creek, the family had experienced a devastating grasshopper invasion, prairie fires, and blizzards. They were about at the end of their rope at this point, when a relative visits with a job offer for Charles. Her husband was a contractor working with the railroads, and needed a good man to be the “storekeeper, bookkeeper, and time keeper” at a railroad camp.  The job would pay $50 a month, and there was an opportunity to claim a homestead. Ma doesn’t want to leave and wants the family to be settled, but agrees this opportunity seems providential. The sale of their farm covers all their expenses and provides a little extra. Pa goes on ahead to start the job while Ma and the girls continue to recuperate and gain strength and then get ready to move. They come later on the train – a new experience for all of them, and I particularly enjoyed Laura’s description of how it both scared and excited her. Laura “knew now what Pa meant when he spoke of the wonderful times they were living in…in one morning, they had actually traveled a whole week’s journey.” Pa later muses, “I wouldn’t wonder if you’ll live to see a time, Laura, when pretty nearly everybody’ll ride on railroads and there’ll hardly be a covered wagon left.”

First they get used to the railroad camp, where Ma instructs the girls to stay away from the “rough men,” but Pa indulges Laura’s curiosity one day and takes her to see the construction and explain it all to her.

Then, when that section of the railroad is done and the camp breaks up for winter, the Ingalls family is offered use of the surveyors’ house for the winter. The surveyors will be gone for the winter but the house is snug and well-stocked, and that will allow the family to save money by staying on instead of having to travel back East. Plus they’ll get a head start on claiming their homestead before spring, when great numbers are expected to travel west. But their nearest neighbor is 60 miles away on one side and 40 on the other. Introvert that I am, that would be a little too isolated for even me! But as it turns out, they do have more visitors than expected, and as they are in the only occupied house on the prairie at that time, they provide a lot of hospitality when people come.

There are dangers with wolves, unruly men, claim jumpers, horse thieves and the possibility that Pa might miss out on his claim. There is a joyous Christmas, lots of violin playing in the winter evenings, the springing up of a new town almost overnight come springtime, meeting new friends and unexpectedly coming across a few old ones.

A few observations:

Laura is almost 13 and starts out a little weary this time, as the main helper to the family after Mary’s illness, though Mary eventually recovers some abilities and helps keep little Grace entertained.

Their parents ask Laura to be Mary’s eyes and describe things to her, and I can’t help but think that sharpened both her skills of observations and her descriptive ability. Mary tells Laura she “makes pictures when she talks.”

There is one remark by and about Ma concerning Indians that makes one wince and would be considered racist today. I think it was primarily motivated by fear: they had had some scary encounters with Indians in Little House on the Prairie, and of course the Indians had right to be upset with the white man’s encroachment on their lands. But their main ways of fighting back were, of course, terribly frightening to white people, so it is no wonder there were bad feelings on both sides that took ages to begin to overcome (and is not completely overcome even now).

I appreciated the way Ma tried to teach the girls to “know how to behave, to speak nicely in low voices and have gentle manners and always be ladies” despite the rough and uncivilized places they lived.

During the days of building a building in town and then a claim shanty were days that would have been very hard for me, as they lived in unfinished places (waking up one morning with a foot of snow on top of them in the house from an unexpected blizzard) and continued building around themselves. It was for them as well, but they took it in stride. Pa comments once, “That’s what it takes to build up a country. Building over your head and under your feet, but building. We’d never get anything fixed to suit us if we waited for things to suit us before we started.”

I am glad Laura included words to many of the songs that Pa played and the family sang. I knew many of them, and that helped me imagine the scenes.

Laura catches a fleeting glimpse of her future husband, Almanzo, but at this point she’s primarily interested in his beautiful horses and has no idea of their future.

Laura shares her Pa’s desire to explore and would rather continue to travel and see new places rather than settle down, but Pa promised Ma they would finally stay put.

I was puzzled by Ma’s suppression of the girls’ outbursts of emotion, laughter as well as anger. The family did laugh quite a lot, but there were times Ma restrained them in situations where, these days, we wouldn’t have a problem. I think that was just what politeness and”ladylikeness” looked like at that time. I am all for teaching children restraint and self-control; it just went farther than what we would consider necessary by today’s standards.

Once again I enjoyed this glimpse into our country’s history as well as into the Ingalls family. There is always much I admire about them. This would be an excellent book for children to read to understand how the Homestead Act worked out in real life and what people had to go through to settle in a new area then. But it is a good book to just read for enjoyment as well.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Happy Birthday, Laura Ingalls Wilder!

Today is the birthday of two of my favorite authors: Charles Dickens and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Sherry at Semicolon posted a great tribute to Charles Dickens that I really enjoyed reading, so I thought I might borrow  a couple of ideas from her format to do the same for Laura. Mine won’t be as extensive because I am just now sitting down to the computer and want to post this today – but maybe I’ll expand on it for next year.

Some facts about Laura you may or may not know:

  • She was born on February 7, 1867 and died February 10, 1957 (that’s why we hold the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge in February).
  • She didn’t start writing the Little House books until she was in her 60s.
  • She had originally written one book called Pioneer Girl, but was advised to expand it. This manuscript has just been published for the first time (it was out of stock when I ordered it and I am eagerly awaiting it!)
  • Laura’s daughter, Rose, was already a successful writer by the time Laura started writing, and the two collaborated on the Little House books. There is a great deal of controversy over exactly how the collaboration worked: some say Rose basically wrote them, others say she merely helped shape them. My opinion, from what I have read, is the latter, and I am wary of writers that claim to “know” one way or the other.
  • Before Laura wrote her books, she wrote a column for the Missouri Ruralist: most, if not all, of those columns have been compiled into a book called Little House in the Ozarks (liked to my review.) There are over 140 articles or columns arranged by topic, and the topics range from WWI, women’s progress, and “the greatness and goodness of God,” but most are just observations drawn from everyday life.
  • There was a Japanese series based on Laura’s novels called Laura, The Prairie Girl.
  • Both Laura and Almanzo were fairly short. She was 4’11” and he was 5’4″. They had the kitchen in the last house built for their height.
  • When asked why she didn’t write more books, one time she replied that the money she received from them cost her more in taxes. “She never found taxes on those who had labored their way to prosperity to be an incentive for even more labor” (Stephen W. Hines, I Remember Laura, p. 97). But another time she said that if she wrote more, she’d have to get into some of the sad times of her life (p. 122).

Some of my favorite quotes of Laura’s from her columns in Little House in the Ozarks:

  • “Let’s be cheerful! We have no more right to steal the brightness out of the day for our own family than we have to steal the purse of a stranger. Let us be as careful that our homes are furnished with pleasant and happy thoughts as we are that the rugs are the right color and texture and the furniture comfortable and beautiful” (p. 37).
  • “It is a good idea sometimes to think of the importance and dignity of our everyday duties. It keeps them from being so tiresome; besides, others are apt to take us at our own valuation” (p. 130).
  • “Just as a little thread of gold, running through a fabric, brightens the whole garment, so women’s work at home, while only the doing of little things, is like the golden gleam of sunlight that runs through and brightens all the fabric of civilization” (p. 207).
  • “Here and there one sees a criticism of Christianity because of the things that have happened [during WWI]…. ‘Christianity has not prevented these things, therefore it is a failure’ some say. But this is a calling of things by the wrong names. It is rather the lack of Christianity that has brought us where we are. Not a lack of churches or religious forms but of the real thing in our hearts” (p. 265).

Favorite moments in Laura’s books:

  • When Mr. Edwards endured an arduous journey to bring Christmas presents to the Ingalls girls.
  • When Pa played his fiddle in the evenings.
  • When they thought they lost their dog, Jack, and he found them.
  • The church Christmas party where Laura gets her fur cape and muff.
  • The girls bringing in all the firewood during a storm when Ma and Pa are away after they heard about a house of children who froze.
  • When Laura admires the kitchen Almanzo built for her in the first home together.

Fun links about Laura:

I think Laura is one of those people who gets prettier as they age. Here are pictures of her at different stages of life:

1884:

laura_ingalls_wilder

1918:

Laura-Ingalls-Wilder-1918

1936:

lauraingallswilder1936

Every time I read Laura’s books, I admire the strength and resolve of their family. It wasn’t a perfect family, but there was love, industry, strength, and much more to respect and learn from.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge 2015 Sign-up Post

Welcome to the fourth annual Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge! We hold it in February because her birthday  (February 7, 1867) and the day of her death (February 10, 1957) both occurred in February, so this seemed a fitting time to commemorate her.

Many of us grew up reading the Little House books. I don’t know if there has ever been a time when there wasn’t interest in the Little House series since it first came out. They are enjoyable as children’s books, but they are enjoyable for adults as well. It’s fascinating to explore real pioneer roots and heartening to read of the family relationships and values.

For the reading challenge in February, you can read anything by, about, or relating to Laura. You can read alone or with your children or a friend. You can read just one book or several throughout the month — whatever works with your schedule. If you’d like to prepare some food or crafts somehow relating to Laura or her books, that would be really neat too.

If you’d like to read something other than the Little House books, I’ve listed a few others under Books Related to Laura Ingalls Wilder, but that list is by no means exhaustive.

Let us know in the comments whether you’ll be participating and what you think you’d like to read this month. That way we can peek in on each other through the month and see how it’s going (that’s half the fun of a reading challenge). On Feb. 28, I’ll have another post where you can share with us links to your posts or let us know what you read for the month. Of course if you want to post through the month as you read, that would be great. You don’t have to have a blog to participate: you can just leave your impressions in the comments if you like. And I just may have a prize at the end of the month for one participant. 🙂

My own plans are to read By the Shores of Silver Lake and possibly The Long Winter if time allows. I’ve ordered Pioneer Girl, the recently published annotated manuscript of Laura’s first autobiographical writing from which sprang the Little House books, but it is out of stick and not expected to ship until the end of February. But maybe it will get here in enough time for the challenge.

Feel free to grab the button for the challenge to use in your post:

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge
<div align="center"><https://barbarah.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/the-laura-ingalls-wilder-reading-challenge-2015/" title="Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge"><img src="https://barbarah.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/liw.jpg"   alt="" width="144" height="184""" alt="Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge" style="border:none;" /></a></div>

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge 2015

The month of February contains the dates of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birth and death, so it seems a fitting month to focus on her life and writings. This is our fourth year to do so, and I have enjoyed it each time. Many of us grew up reading the Little House books. I don’t know if there has ever been a time when there wasn’t interest in the Little House series since it first came out. They are enjoyable as children’s books, but they are enjoyable for adults as well. It’s fascinating to explore real pioneer roots and heartening to read of the family relationships and values.

On Feb. 1 I’ll have a sign-up post where you can let us know if you’ll be participating and what you’d like to read. That way we can peek in on each other through the month and see how it’s going (that’s half the fun of a reading challenge). You can read anything by or about Laura. You can read alone or with your children or a friend. You can read just one book or several throughout the month — whatever works with your schedule. If you’d like to prepare some food or crafts or activities somehow relating to Laura or her books, that would be really neat too. In the past I think some have made food or clothing from the styles of the day: Annette even had a Little House-themed birthday party for one of her daughters, (and, unrelated to the challenge but just from her own interest she started the Little House Companion blog: you might find some neat ideas for activities and Laura-related books there.

On Feb 28 I’ll have a wrap-up post with a Mr. Linky so you can link back to any posts you’ve written for the challenge or to a wrap-up post. You do not have to have a blog to participate: if you don’t, you can just share with us in the comments that day what you’ve read.

Need some ideas beyond the Little House books themselves? Annette, as I mentioned, has shared several books for children here. I compiled a list of Books Related to Laura Ingalls Wilder, and some others are listed in the comments. Laura fan extraordinaire and historian Melanie Stringer has a treasure trove of information at Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Have fun gathering your materials and planning what to read and do, and I’ll see you back here Feb. 1!

Here is a code for a button for the challenge:

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge
<div align="center"><https://barbarah.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/the-laura-ingalls-wilder-reading-challenge-2015/" title="Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge"><img src="https://barbarah.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/liw.jpg"   alt="" width="144" height="184""" alt="Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge" style="border:none;" /></a></div>

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge

Wow, the month of February has really flown! How did you do with your LIW reading? I’m looking forward to hearing about it.

If you’ve read anything by, about, or related to Laura this month, please share it with us in the comments. You can share a link back to your book reviews, or if you’ve written a wrap-up post, you can link back to that (the latter might be preferable if you’ve written more than one review — the WordPress spam filter tends to send comments with more than one link to the spam folder. But I’ll try to keep a watch out for them.) We’d also love to hear if you’ve done any “Little House” related activities.

And, if you’ve participated this month and leave a comment on this post, you’re eligible for the drawing for a copy of The Little House Cookbook, compiled by Barbara M. Walker and illustrated by Garth Williams (the same illustrator for my set of Little House books). I’ll choose a name through random.org. a week from today to give everyone time to get their last books and posts finished. You’re eligible even if you don’t have a blog: just share with us in the comments what you read and a few of your thoughts about it. If you already have this book, I can substitute a similarly-priced Laura book of your choice. (Note: the drawing is closed and the winner is Susan!)

For myself, I read and enjoyed Farmer Boy this year (linked to my review), the story of Almanzo’s childhood. I’m already looking forward to getting back to Laura’s story next year and exploring a couple of other Laura-related books I just heard about this month.

Thank you all for participating! That’s what makes this challenge so fun. I’m looking forward to your thoughts on what you’ve read!

Book Review: Farmer Boy

Farmer BoyFarmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder is the second book published in her Little House series and deals with the childhood of her husband, Almanzo. If I remember correctly, I think I read that  Little House in the Big Woods and this book were all that were planned originally, and when they became so popular, then Laura went on to write other books about her growing up. Since Almanzo doesn’t appear in the rest of the series until a few books later, his story can really be read just about anywhere along the way.

The book covers a little over a year, beginning when Almanzo was almost nine years old. His father was a farmer and his family more prosperous than the Ingalls’ family, but they were very frugal as well. In this book Almanzo was the youngest of four children, though another boy was born to the family some years later.

Farming at this time involved the whole family. Almanzo and his brother Royal helped their father with the everyday chores like milking and cleaning out the animal stalls, and his sisters Eliza Jane and Alice helped their mother in the house, though Alice sometimes helped outside with planting and harvesting (in hoop skirts!) and Almanzo had to help inside sometimes during spring cleaning or other busy times.

Farmers were not busy just in planting and harvesting, though those, especially the latter, might be the most pressured times. They also made repairs, made equipment, broke horses, trained cattle, sheared sheep, cut ice, and many other tasks, while their wives spun thread, wove fabric, sewed, knitted, made hats, made (and sold) butter, etc. etc.

And the children were to participate in it all, both to learn by doing and to learn to pull together as a family. But the children had plenty of fun times as well. They attended school, though the boys could stay home when needed for certain tasks (which Almanzo preferred).

The children were no angels, but I’d say they were pretty normal. When their parents went away for a week, they slacked off on what they were supposed to do and ate a horrendous amount of sweets, then had to scramble to catch up the day before their parents were to come home. Almanzo got into a fight with his cousin (from a literary point of view, he had it coming for a long time: from a Christian and moral point of view, no, that’s not what he should have done) and threw a blacking brush (used on the stove) at his sister, which left a black splotch on the wallpapered wall of Mother’s for-company-only pristine parlor.

I mentioned before that Almanzo’s parents were frugal even though they were considered pretty well off. I remember when I had a job for a while cleaning in the home of a lady whose husband was the vice president of a large company. One day she fussed at me for washing the whole glass door when there was only one spot that needed to be taken care of. Inwardly I kind of rolled my eyes and thought, “As if you need to worry about a few cents worth of cleaner being wasted!” But then I thought, prosperous people don’t get where they are by being wasteful. At an Independence Day celebration, Almanzo was goaded by his cousin into asking his father for a nickel for lemonade. Almanzo was nine and had never asked his father for such a thing before. His father pulled out a half-dollar and asked Almanzo what it was. When all Almanzo could identify it as was a half-dollar, his father said, “It’s work, son. That’s what money is; it’s hard work.” He asked Almanzo a series of questions about growing, harvesting, and selling potatoes, remarked that half a bushel sold for a half-dollar, held up the coin, and then said, “That’s what’s in this half-dollar, Almanzo. The work that raised half a bushel of potatoes is in it.” Then he gave it to him and told him he could either spend it in lemonade or, he suggested, he could buy a little pig and raise it to have more pigs to sell for 4 or 5 dollars apiece. I’ll let you guess which Almanzo did.

One of the major take-aways from this book is what a tremendous lot of work such a life was. It sounds almost idyllic here, but it seemed almost constant. No one complained about it: that’s just how life was. There is something neat about knowing how to use all the parts of a butchered animal (some was frozen in the shed or attic for future use, some was saved for sausage, some parts were used in making soap and candles, the hide was saved for making shoe leather) and which trees were good for what (one kind was used for making sleds and carts, another kind for runners for the sled, another kind for withes or straps for baling hay, etc), and I admire it, but I don’t know that I’d want to go back to those days.

When Almanzo helped his father thresh wheat and asked why his father didn’t buy a threshing machine, his father said, “‘That’s a lazy man’s way to thresh. Haste makes waste, but a lazy man’d rather get his work done fast than do it himself. That machine chews up the straw til it’s not fit to feed stock, and it scatters grain around and wastes it. All it saves is time, son. And what good is time, with nothing to do? You want to sit and twiddle your thumbs, all these stormy winter days?’ ‘No!’ said Almanzo. He had enough of that on Sundays.” Yet they did use some machinery. I guess it depended on what the machine did and whether it helped or wasted goods.

There is a bit of contrast between the Almanzo’s family and his cousins, who live nearer town and wear store-bought clothes, and the shopkeepers who have to “cotton to people,” while farmers are considered (by the farmers, at least) to be “free and independent.” Almanzo’s parents dislike that Royal wants to be a storekeeper. I hadn’t thought of this aspect until I saw it mentioned in a couple of reviews I skimmed through, but town cousins and shopkeepers may have represented the changing society away from being farm-based to being more centered around towns and other goods and services.

Something else that stands out in the book is the way children were treated. It was definitely not a child-centered era. Some of it might come across as harsh by today’s standards, yet the parents were not unkind. Children were not to speak until spoken to at the table or when the parents were talking with other adults and, as I mentioned before, were expected to participate in most of the family work. I don’t think the latter is a bad thing, though these days we wouldn’t require quite so much of it. I don’t remember if I ever read this book to my boys – I should have –  but I do remember telling them, when they fussed over having to vacuum and dust every other Saturday, that there were some kids who had to milk cows and muck out barns every day. 🙂 I do think it is good for children to work around the house, for several reasons: they learn by doing, they learn to be givers and not just takers, they learn to pull together as a family, they learn responsibility and (hopefully) the value and satisfaction of a job well done which will carry through not just in their own homes but in their jobs as well. I get frustrated with sentimental poems that seem to indicate you can have a clean house or you can be a good mom, but not both, or that you’re a bad mom if you don’t stop what you’re doing every time your child wants you to play with him. We do get distracted, with both work and our own “play,” and we need to be reminded not to get caught up in all of that and neglect our children, but there is just as much value (maybe more) in working together with them as there is in playing together. And it doesn’t hurt children to learn to wait for things, either, whether it’s waiting for their parents to finish a conversation before asking them something, or waiting, as Almanzo did when he wanted a colt, for his parents to be sure he was really ready. Though I wouldn’t want to totally go back to how things were in that day, I think there is some good balance between that extreme and the mindset these days.

There were also interesting forays into how some things were done, such as having a cobbler come to the house for a week or two to make the family shoes, how they sheared sheep and made bobsleds and threshed wheat, etc. Sometimes there was a bit too much detail, but overall it was interesting.

I remember not liking this book as well as the others in the series in previous readings, but I liked it quite a lot this go-round.

I read this book for my Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge and for Carrie’s  Reading to Know Classics Book Club as well as the Back to the Classics Challenge.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

This also completes one of my requirements for the  Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate.

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