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Laura Ingalls Wilder is proof you don't need a fancy education to be an excellent writer. The fact that she never completed high school was probably an asset, since she experienced life on the American frontier firsthand rather than poring over books about other times and places. Still, she must have read enough to develop her engaging and spirited style.
The Little House books synonymous with her name are almost 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 beloved children's novels in the United States, as much for their heartwarming qualities as their frontier realism.
Like a fairy tale, the first book begins in an ancient Wisconsin forest with the words Once upon a time.... The Ingalls family moved slowly Westward from there to 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 to enhance the narrative, these are essentially memories of her childhood, youth, and early marriage.
None of the books are strictly autobiographical, however. They read like good stories (they are good stories), told simply but with an attention to detail that sends us back to the Midwest of olden days, when men were men, women were strong and capable, and children worked beside their parents in the dark soil.
One of Laura's most engaging talents is her ability to compile interesting lists. She talks about the tools Pa used to make their various houses, all the children in the schoolhouse, the songs Pa played on his fiddle, and food. The food lists are the best ones, and if they're 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 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 fun. They also promote ideals of family, faith, character and hard work that have long since disappeared from children's fiction, and are increasingly scarce in society at large. Let these books remind you that goodness exists as they entertain with stories of a far-off place that isn't so far, and a long-ago time that isn't too 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.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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