Blogger: Mary Keeley
Location: Books & Such Chicago office
Weather: Cloudy and blustery; 30 degrees
I enjoyed all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, but my favorite was The Long Winter. My mother would read a chapter to my sister and me at bedtime—two chapters if we could talk her into it. Technically this isn’t a Christmas story, but the savage winter of 1880-1881 in the Dakota Territory delayed the celebration of Christmas, and that was a big deal in my young mind.
I hung on every word as the author showed in story form the true account of the hardiness and resourcefulness of her family and community. In the midst of unrelenting blizzard conditions and near-starvation, the townspeople cared for each other, and there still were joyful hearts in the Ingalls family.
I recall the bravery of Almanzo Wilder (Laura’s future husband) and his brother, Cap Garland, who risked their lives by venturing out in the severe cold to search for a store of wheat; the inventiveness of twisting hay to use as fuel for fire; and the admirable qualities and devotion to family, sustained by a deep faith in God, that these people displayed.
In the story, spring finally comes and trains arrive with desperately needed supplies. The story ends as the Ingalls family gathers together with happy, thankful hearts to celebrate Christmas in May, complete with turkey dinner. The combination of the author’s first-hand knowledge of her topic, vivid storytelling, and inspiring characters endeared this book to me, then and now. It is a story worth reading every Christmas for its evidences of what really matters in our lives.
Reading about these characters and others like them gave me a sense of security as a child and a confidence there was goodness in the world. Hmm…Perhaps the current trend to make characters more realistic focuses too heavily on showing their flaws. We’re all flawed; so we can easily connect with them. But do they leave us on a horizontal plane of commiseration at the expense of inspiring us to a higher level of character by example?
Before Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the Little House books, she wrote articles for the Missouri Ruralist. On November 15, 1923, she wrote: “Mankind is not following a blind trail; feet were set upon the true path in the beginning. Following it first by instinct, men stumbled from it often in the darkness of ignorance even as we do today for we have much to learn. But even more than for material blessings, let us, with humble hearts give thanks for the revelation to us and our better understanding of the greatness and goodness of God.”
This deep conviction is reflected in her characters.
Do you think readers hunger for inspiring characters?
What is your favorite Little House book?
We moved to Green Bay, WI not too long ago, and I made sure to attend the Laura Ingalls Wilder Days here. Oh, it was so cool! If you ever have a chance to come, please do. Here’s a link to this year’s festival: http://www.heritagehillgb.org/calendar/special/laura-ingalls-wilder-days/10
I have the Long Winter on my list to re-read this winter.
I enjoyed reading about Laura and Almanzo when they were courting. Such a great way to gain perspective on history.
As soon as I saw the book cover on Facebook, I clicked on your post. THE LONG WINTER has long been a favorite of mine, and the one that I have read and re-read many times over.
I agree, I think readers, myself included, hunger for those characters that “keep on keeping on” when things are hard.
Thank you so much for highlighting what should be named a classic of children’s literature!
I loved the Long Winter. That was probably my favorite of the Little House Collection. I remember being a little girl (growing up in the not-very-snowy Pacific Northwest) imagining how terrifying it would be to be lost in a blizzard. Brrr.
Mary, I was so delighted to see that you contributed today’s article!
I love the Little House books. My boxed set is falling apart from re-reading it to my children. So many scenes are burned into memory–making maple syrup, the exploding potato, the shanty with thin board walls (no insulation, of course). My family visited cousins last summer on the Minnesota side of the Big Woods, so of course we’ve scouted out the site of Laura’s cabin and drove out to see the dug-out on the banks of Plum Creek. The plum brambles are still there. As a kid in Texas, though, I always liked to read The Long Winter during the hottest days of summer. Those scenes were so vivid they could evoke a shiver and make me grateful for the heat.
I appreciate what you said about the hardiness and resourcefulness of family and community. It’s in the struggle that we grow most. Makes me wonder if sometimes by seeking to alleviate hardship we don’t cripple and weaken people in the long run. The heroes in these stories didn’t have all they wanted, but they learned to want and be grateful for everything they had.
“But do they leave us on a horizontal plane of commiseration at the expense of inspiring us to a higher level of character by example?”
That sentence is worth the price of admission!
Teresa from NanaHood
My mother was a sixth grade reading teacher and the Little House books were her favorite. In 1989 at the age of 50 mom was diagnosed with colon cancer and she died the next year. I donated a set of Little House books to the school and the library in town in her memory. She gave so many children the gift of loving to read that it seemed a good way to honor her. They are great books!
I actually have never read any of the Little House books. (Shocking, I know!) I haven’t avoided them; I just haven’t ever picked one up for some reason. This one sounds fantastic though. You describe it with great feeling and detail.
I hope that readers desire inspiring characters. I definitely think they want characters who they can relate to and find similarities with. Sometimes I feel like people may be looking for validation for their own faults, which they might find in flawed characters. A good balance between realistic (which means flawed) and inspiring is necessary. We need to desire to grow and change and have characters who encourage us to do just that.
I agree with Bill. That line of yours is the one that struck me the hardest.
I’m partial to Little House in the Big Woods, but maybe that is because we live in the big woods of Wisconsin and even have Ingalls family members in our church. I think Little House in the Big Woods was the first chapter book I read aloud to my girls when they were very young. They sat very still leaning right up against me, attentive to every word. Hmm. Maybe it is that memory as much as the book itself that makes it so special to me.
I think Plum Creek is my favorite–probably because I first read the books when I was Laura’s age at Plum Creek. But also because I loved the idea of living in a dugout in the creek bank. I still do love that idea. I can’t imagine a better place to live. That little Laura had her own Hobbit hole, almost. Hers wasn’t quite as comfortable.
I read the books to my children and husband in the long Alaskan evenings one winter, using an oil lantern for light. So much better than television.
Yes we need good characters. One of my favorite characters is Sarah Crewe. She was a little princess before that was a bad thing. I adored her and wanted her to succeed because she was so good.
We seem to have decided storybook children should be bratty now. I think the Narnia movies have made the Penvensie boys out to be petty and petulant.
My favorite was Little House on the Prairie. I have an older sister and often felt like Laura!
I recently borrowed a companion book to the Little House series. It contained personal photos and a thorough history of Laura and her family. I cried! I’m so sappy!
Agreeing with Bill and Caroline. Meaningful point, Mary.
After reading The Long Winter, my two sisters and I incorporated it into our play around the big apple tree in our backyard. The first thing we did was get rid of the parents because nobody wanted to play the parents. So we sent them to the store in a storm, out to the barn when they had to use the ropes to find their way back. We didn’t want to kill them, just get them out of the way so the kids could have adventures.
I still remember the corn cutting through the underarms of the coats when they made the sticks to burn. ah, memories.