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The Little House Books: the Library of America Collection Hardcover – Aug 30 2012
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About the Author
Caroline Fraser, editor, is the author most recently of Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution. She has written for The New Yorker, where she was formerly on the editorial staff, The Atlantic, Outside Magazine, Allure, and The Los Angeles Times Book Review, among other publications. Her essays and reviews also appear in The New York Review of Books. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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That was all it took. One Sunday morning, I walked up to the attic, and brought down my set. Since then, I've read straight through them, often into the wee hours of the morning. The writing is outstanding (it actually becomes more grown up right along with the characters), and of course the love story is beautiful, but this series has much more to offer its readers - young and old. For one, you get a much deeper sense of how generations before us struggled, toiled really, to make this country what it is today. And the sense of family is amazing, particularly as Laura becomes old enough to live away from home and realize just how wonderful her family is.
Every child should read them. Better yet, every family should read them aloud, together. I certainly plan to read them aloud to my kids.
Many other reviewers have pointed out the especially wonderful aspects of the books. The narrator ages as Laura grows up. (What a cool concept!) The story of 4 year old Laura's Christmas in Wisconsin is as real and moving as the description of 18 year old Laura falling in love with Almanzo in Dakota Territory. The images are always fresh, and the stories always epitomize wholesomeness. There is a consistency all the way through "These Happy Golden Years" that shows that great care and skill were employed to make the series unwaveringly good.
The real life of Laura was strenuous and uncertain. She was poor most of her young life. She and Almanzo faced great loss and always worked very hard to run their farm. The many moves made by the Ingalls and Wilder families were made to escape difficulties like failed crops or to improve bad situations like poor health. According to available accounts, Laura did not stay in close contact with her family after she left Dakota. Her relationship with Almanzo does not seem to have been remarkable, and her relationship with her only child, Rose, was strained.
However, all of these mundane details coalesced to create some of the best books ever written. Many readers do not know that Rose was the impetus for the Little House phenomenon. She became a writer first, and she saw how she could help her mother to take the story of her life and turn it into beautiful literature. There is controversy about how much Rose helped. Some say that she was a full fledged ghost writer. In any case, it is safe to say that the Little House series was a mother/daughter collaborative effort.
A talented mother and daughter turned the memories of a difficult, pioneering life into books that I could not put down. I read and re-read them until they became part of my life experience. I know that I am one of many for whom the experience made me love reading more, made me wonder more about how other people in other times lived, made me see how good people lived in the world, and made me more alive in some way. I cannot say enough good things about these books.
Every child should read them, and every adult should read them again!
Yes, some elements will appeal more to girls especially Mrs. Wilder's very detailed descriptions of women's clothing. (I generally just read what color the dress was and then skip over the rest of the description.) However, her stories about Indians, wild animals, blizzards, grasshopper storms, bandits, bullies threatening to beat up teachers, unruly students, unhinged farmwives, bossy older sisters, and a whole host of other great stuff will make these books fascinating to anyone interested in pioneer life regardless of gender.
Despite my age I still consider these among my favorite books. They are truly heartwarming classics with the magnificent illustrations of Garth Williams. Laura, the main character, will appeal to almost anyone- honest, principled, courageous, industrious, but with very human elements- including envy of her older sister and holding grudges, especially against snooty Nellie Oleson and her teacher (and future sister-in-law) Eliza Jane Wilder. The books are also a tribute to her father, Charles Ingalls, who emerges as a truly great man and father. A hard-working man upon whom fortune did not always smile, but always was able to remain unbowed regardless of misfortune. He was also a strict disciplinarian, who did not believe in sparing the rod, but also a truly loving father, who would do anything for his girls. Charles Ingalls, as seen through the eyes of his daughter, is a man worthy of any reader's respect.
For those who see images of Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert when they hear the words, "Little House," please give the books a chance. They are really nothing like the TV series. Although Laura Ingalls Wilder infused her books with a great deal of sentimentality- they never descend into the maudlin syrup that was the hallmark of the TV series. One example of how different they truly are would be how they represented how Mary, Laura's older sister, lost her eyesight. In "On the Shores of Silver Lake" Laura describes how scarlet fever robbed her sister of her sight, but also proudly describes how that tragedy never brought Mary to tears. Mary always remained "patient and brave." In contrast, the TV show has Mary wailing, moaning, and carrying on until her family ships her off to a school for the blind. (In the books, Mary does eventually go to a college for the blind, but only after years of being an important and valuable member of the family despite her disability.) Once again, the Little House series is a perfect example of the books being vastly superior to any TV or film conversion.