Laura Ingalls Wilder is proof you don't need a fancy education to be an excellent writer. In her case, the fact that she never completed high school was probably an asset, since she was able to spend her time experiencing life on the American frontier rather than poring over books about other times and other places. Still, she must have read enough to develop her engaging and spirited style.
The Little House books with which her name has become synonymous are approaching 100 years old. The first in the series, Little House in the Big Woods, was published in 1932, and the rest were published about one per year till 1943. They're among the most universally beloved children's novels in the United States, as much for their heartwarming qualities as for their realistic depiction of frontier life in the late 19th century.
Like a fairy tale, the first book begins in an ancient forest with the words Once upon a time.... The Ingalls family began in Wisconsin, and moved slowly Westward until they reached De Smet, South Dakota, a farming community on the edge of empty wilderness. These are no fairy tales—while Laura (and her daughter and trusted editor, Rose Wilder Lane) added details here and there to enhance the narrative, these are essentially Laura's memories of her childhood, youth, and early married years.
None of the books are strictly autobiographical, however. They read like good stories (probably because they are good stories), told simply but with an attention to detail that sends us back to the Midwest of the olden days, when men were still men, women were strong and capable, and children worked alongside their parents in the dark soil.
One of Laura's foremost talents as a writer is her ability to compile interesting lists. She talks about the different tools Pa used to make their various houses, the different children in the schoolhouse, the songs Pa plays on his fiddle, and food. The food lists are the best ones, and if they are a little exaggerated we don't care because her sumptuous descriptions of hot buttered rolls, turkey, corn-on-the-cob, lemonade and roast beef are their own reward.
Few other books in the American children's canon have achieved the popularity or longevity of the Little House series, and with good reason. They're well written, historically fascinating, and just plain fun. But more than that, they promote ideals of family, faith, character and hard work that have long since disappeared from children's fiction, and that are increasingly scarce in society at large. Let these books remind you that goodness exists, even as they entertain you with stories of a far-off place that isn't so far, and a long-ago time that isn't that distant. Listed below you'll find all the original titles, plus other writings of Laura and her daughter, picture books, study guides, musical CDs, and more.