The Little House on the Prairie Read-a-Long officially starts today! I know that many of you are still working on locating copies of the books, and the way I have the read-a-long planned this is no big deal. You can always go back to a previous book, or skip a title all together. For a schedule of books, see this post.
This post and the comments will contain spoilers.
In 1870s Wisconsin, young Laura Ingalls lives in a small cabin in the big woods with her parents and sisters. With very little contact with others, the Ingalls family has to provide for everything they need, and defend themselves against the bears, wolves and winter.
As I was reading Little House in the Big Woods, I was struck by the idea that I could not imagine a current writer writing a story like this for small kids. The book is set over the course of a year and while there are small (very small) moments of suspense, it's more a diary of what happens. There is no climatic ending like we've grown to expect in books, and it's easy to imagine it quietly continuing into another book, as it does. Laura and her family work through the seasons, preparing for winter, stock piling food, adding natural insulation to the house, and making quilts and mittens. They enjoy a festive Christmas with their cousins, and a dance at their Grandparents. Before you know it, it's Spring and they all go to town, and then summer and it's time to harvest. The book concludes with the arrival of Jack Frost and the beginnings of preparations for the next winter.
Here in Pierre, we just had a five day weekend (for the Pirate) and/or a three day weekend (for Mike.) We were all a bit under the weather on Sunday, and then yesterday each of us left the house very briefly, but it was bitterly cold, windy, and very hard to breathe. By the time bedtime finally rolled around, I was more than ready to return to our normal life and send Mike and the Pirate back into the world. All this to say, I can not imagine staring at each other all day every day all winter long. We have lots of toys, lots of technology, and electric heat and it was crazy making. While the book makes it clear that Laura and Mary squabble some, it seems that they all enjoy each others company for long periods of time, and there is little of the fighting that goes on here.
This leads me to another point, one that I think many children (US children anyway) would find shocking- At Christmas, Laura gets her first doll. Prior to this, she played with a corncob and pretended it was a doll. Otherwise, they got a piece of candy and some mittens and they were all thrilled! Here in my immediate family, we celebrate Christmas quietly, but not that quietly. Even my kids would be shocked by this scarcity. They would not find the food to be overly special, because even their favorite foods aren't saved up for a special occasion. In the summer, the girls play outside using acorns and leaves as toys, and while I definitely remember doing that as a child, and I know my kids will do that (only using sticks as swords, not acorns as tea cups), they would be bored with that day after day. This does inspire me to take them out this summer, and encourage more creative play with nature.
As I was reading, I was surprised by just how many of the stories I remember reading as a child. I haven't re-read the books since I was the targeted age, and assumed it would be fairly new to me again, but this turned out not to be the case. The doll at Christmas, the story of the two bears, the picture of Aunt Docia and Aunt Ruby getting ready for the dance, all of that was familiar to me and the rest filled in naturally. I'm thrilled to be reading them again as an adult, and it find much of it to be just as fascinating as I did then. There are just so many details of what life was like without our modern technology, and while I have no desire to live then, I am enjoying reading about it.
And last, this quote from their trip to town:
The sky was large overhead. Laura had never known that the sky was so big.There was so much empty space all around her that she felt small and frightened, and glad that Pa and Ma were there.
I was so sure I had mentioned this on the blog, but I can't find any record of it- when I first moved to South Dakota at age 27, the wide open sky would make me cry. I didn't feel it in Rapid City, but for the first few years if we happened to be driving across the state at night, it would overwhelm me and I'd find myself blinking back tears for no explainable reason. That sensation of being small is very real, when you see how big the sky really is. The picture I used for the Read-a-Long button is only a glimpse of what it's really like. This has mostly gone away with time, and now I am just fascinated by the night sky on the prairie, but I could really relate to Laura in that instance. Have any of you experienced this?
So let's talk a bit. Answer in the comments (or not, as the mood strikes!)
Was this your first time reading the book?
Were these childhood favorites?
What scene stood out the most to you?
Do you think your children could play all summer with two dolls and some acorns?
Do you think kids today like the books as much as we did? As much as our parents did?
Would you take a bite of head cheese?
How different do you think these books would be if told from the perspective of Ma or Pa? (And I don't believe for a minute they would have the same perspective!)
Society would tell us that the fascination to be super skinny was a fairly new thing, but Pa could span Ma's waist with his hands, and Scarlett O'Hara had a 16" waist. What do you think about that? (For comparison, the Princess's waist, which is too skinny to keep up most 2T pants, is 18".)
How would your family handle three days of enforced togetherness? A week? A month?
What about the songs Pa sang? Am I the only one who skimmed those?
What was your favorite moment in the book?
What other thoughts do you have on the book as a whole?
We will begin discussion of Little House on the Prairie on April 1, but this post will remain open for comments and discussion for the duration.
Find the Read-a-Long on twitter with hashtag #littlehouseRAL.