Laura Ingalls Wilder would have turned 150 this year. But in my mind, there is no Laura Ingalls Wilder the grown-up writer, there is only Laura Ingalls: spritely (twinkly-eyed, like Pa), braided (blue bows only, please, except that once . . . ), long-legged (“Snipes!”), and sometimes naughty (and excellent at revenge). To me, Wilder will always be the little girl who ran barefoot through fragrant prairie grasses with her sunbonnet dangling down her back.
My introduction to Wilder’s world was the fourth book in the series, ON THE BANKS OF PLUM, CREEK and it remains my favorite. I doubt that I’m the only one who wanted to live in a dugout and eat vanity cakes (“because they are all puffed up, like vanity, with nothing solid inside”) after reading this book. A lot happens: Laura and Mary go to school for the first time; we meet Laura’s nemesis, Nellie Oleson; we learn how utterly repulsive millions, literally, of grasshoppers can be; and we begin to understand that Pa has a knack for getting the Ingalls family into precarious situations.
By the time I read FARMER BOY, the story of Laura’s future husband’s childhood, the difference between Almanzo’s dad and Pa convinced me that, although charismatic and devoted, Pa didn’t know what the hell he was doing. That said, Pa could play a mean fiddle, and the family’s endless predicaments were always met with bravery, cunning, love, and a whole lot of faith; good lessons then and now.
It must be noted that the Little House series affords many “teachable moments” regarding this country’s treatment of Native Americans and racism in general. If there weren’t a thousand other reasons to read or reread the series, that opportunity for dialogue would be enough.
For those of us who can’t ever get our fill of the Ingalls family, this crop of true and reimagined Little House–themed books for grown-ups is just what Dr. Baker ordered.