If you’ll pardon the repetition, I need to talk about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books just a bit more. As I mentioned before, reading The Wilder Life last month has made me want to reread the entire Little House series. Wyatt and I are reading them together for the time being, but I have a feeling he’ll need to take a break somewhere in the DeSmet years, probably around The Long Winter or Little Town on the Prairie. As much as I’d like to believe that my six-year-old boy will be interested teenage girls buying calling cards, attending literaries and curling their bangs with a slate pencil, I have a feeling that might not hold his interest.
When I decided to read the series to Wyatt, my first stop was the library. Our local branch has multiple copies of all the books, but the first few obviously get a lot of action because we had to visit several times before I could get my hands on Little House in the Big Woods. I still haven’t seen a copy of Little House on the Prairie! I looked into buying a set, but then I realized that my parents probably still had my own books from my childhood. After a call to my dad, a package arrived yesterday holding the yellow cardboard box with nine faded Harper Trophy editions of my beloved Little House books.
As I pulled each book out, their covers brought back so many happy memories of the hours I spent in Laura’s world. I used to sit in a rocker and read them on our front porch in the summers (quaint, huh?) and I would stay up late reading them in my room too. My parents’ bedroom was downstairs and mine was upstairs, so once they fell asleep they had no idea that my light was on and that I was staying up until 2:00 am reading about life on the prairie. (At least I think they didn’t know. Mom? Dad?)
I also played Little House with my friend Nancy a lot. She lived a block away from a small creek (or maybe it was a stream? I’m not sure what the difference is.) and we would take turns pretending we were Laura, Mary or that delightful witch, Nellie Oleson as we jumped around in our very own Plum Creek. Sometimes we even wore our extremely fashionable prairie skirts while we played. Remember those? Mine was brown corduroy.
The Little House books aren’t without their problems, of course, and some of those issues are front and center in my mind as we delve into Little House on the Prairie. The Ingalls’ relationship with Native Americans and the way Laura writes about it is troubling. Pa built a homestead in “Indian territory” by his own admission, for pete’s sake! And Ma — everyone’s beloved Ma — is about as bigoted as a person can be. Even the language Wilder uses is uncomfortable. We’ve just finished chapter one and already Laura has decided that she wants her very own “brown Indian papoose.” Ugh.
But I believe that the best books make you think and expose you to things you didn’t know about before, so along with discussions about sacrifice, industriousness and johnny cake, Wyatt and I will be talking about racism, stereotypes and the crimes against Native Americans that were perpetrated by our county. Also on the menu: poverty, grasshopper clouds, malaria, near drowning, disability and a whole town’s near starvation. Admittedly heavy stuff, but with a little guidance I think he can handle it.
Do you have memories of the Little House books? Was there another book you read as a child that you’ve never forgotten?