Our Little House Journey: In the Big Woods

We just finished our first two weeks of homeschool this year (AO Year 2 and Year 4), and I’m happy to say learning is happening. More about that in the future, but for now I just want to begin gushing about our family’s budding read aloud journey with Laura Ingalls Wilder.
The Little House in Mansfield
LIW home
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Historic Home in Mansfield
I read and loved the Little House series as a child. In fact, I grew up just a few miles away from where Laura lived when she wrote the books (my grandparents were very well acquainted with her), so early exposure to the books was a given. Wilder’s home in Mansfield, Missouri, is now part of a museum that includes many artifacts from Laura’s day, such as her writing desk, some of the tiny clothes Laura wore (she was VERY small), and other items belonging to Laura and Almonzo, including the entire Rocky Ridge Farm where the two lived.
The museum also houses an exhibit dedicated to Rose Wilder Lane, Laura and Almonzo’s daughter who was a famous author long before Laura wrote her books. In fact, it’s pretty widely received that Rose encouraged and helped her aged mother write the Little House books — to what degree is hurricaneunknown. That’s a touchy subject for some hardcore Laura fans, but I don’t think anyone is suggesting that Rose did all the work. Obviously, the books contain Laura’s own childhood memories, full of lengthy descriptions, a skill Laura doubtlessly learned to employ as a child when helping her blind sister Mary encounter the world. It’s mostly likely that Rose heavily edited Laura’s writings, helping to pare down real-life memories into a limited cast of characters and locations for young readers. Rose, an established author with ties to the publishing industry, was also very instrumental in getting the Little House books published.
Rose is sort of my hero, so I will avoid that digression and just say if you are unfamiliar with her, do a Google search sometime. She’s fascinating, and perhaps her most famous book, Let the Hurricane Roar (recently reissued as Young Pioneers), is quite affordable. In fact, if you look very much into Rose’s novels, you will see that she pretty much wrote all the events of Laura and Almonzo’s young adult lives long before her mother wrote her own books. Another of her books you might look into is Free Land. Also quite affordable if purchased used.
Annual Wilder Day Festival
Okay, before I move on past the museum, I must tell you that the most fiddleexciting exhibit you will only see in Mansfield is Pa’s fiddle! There are a handful of Laura Ingalls museums or historic sites in the Midwest, including one in De Smet, South Dakota, and another in Lake Pepin, Wisconsin. But, if you want to see Pa’s fiddle, you’ll have to go to Mansfield. And, if you plan you visit in the fall, you can attend the annual Wilder Day Festival (always the third weekend in September) and see Pa’s fiddle taken out of its case and played — this is only done one day a year. Also on Wilder Day there is typically a fiddle competition, a prairie girl costume contest, a craft fair, and an outdoor pageant called “Laura’s Memories” performed in the city park. As ubiquitous as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books and life have become, Mansfield is still a very small town with all the charm and ease of access that you would expect to find. It’s also right along a major highway.
Our Family’s Journey So Far
little-house-in-the-big-woods-cover-imageOur family recently began reading the Little House books together and just finished the first in the series, Little House in the Big Woods. Actually, we have opted to listen to Cherry Jones read them aloud, which I think is a really great method. For years this version was only available on CD, so I’m very thankful that they are now available on Audible.
Laura’s books are so descriptive, despite the fact that they are written at a lower elementary reading level, that having a professional narrator is a delight. In addition to Jones’ narrating talents, we are also enjoying her ability to sing in her voice for Pa all of the songs snippets included in the book, such as Buffalo Gals and Pop! Goes the Weasel. Pa reminds me so much of my own father who is always singing a little tune. With the audio book, we got to hear the songs from the book sang with a fiddle in the background, which is really an immersive experience. I’m so glad Jones has performed all of the Little House books. There’s nothing like having to switch narrators in the middle of a series (I’m looking at you, Lemony Snicket books!).
I feel slightly conflicted about my children not encountering the lovely Garth Williams danceatgrandpasillustrations as they hear the books. We do own the paperback set, so I’m hoping my kids will someday read through them individually. In the mean time, though, I’m very pleased to find that there is a series of picture books called My First Little House Books that each contain dozens of full-color illustrations inspired by Williams’ original illustrations. I think J4 and and L6 are really going to love re-encountering Little House in the Big Woods (and Farmer Boy and Little House on the Prairie, when we get that far) through this lovely set. Best of all, our local library owns them, so we can just borrow instead of buy. Here is a list of books in the My First Little House Books set:
  • County Fair (1997) – contains stories from Farmer Boy
  • Christmas in the Big Woods (1995) – contains stories from Little House in the Big Woods
  • Dance at Grandpa’s (1994) – contains stories from Little House in the Big Woods
  • The Deer in the Wood (1995) – contains stories from Little House in the Big Woods
  • A Farmer Boy Birthday (1998) – contains stories from Farmer Boy
  • Going to Town (1995) – contains stories from Little House in the Big Woods
  • Going West (1996) – contains stories from Little House on the Prairie
  • A Little House Birthday (1997) – contains stories from Little House in the Big Woods
  • A Little Prairie House (1999) – contains stories from Little House on the Prairie
  • Prairie Day (1997) – contains stories from Little House on the Prairie
  • Sugar Snow (1998) – contains stories from Little House in the Big Woods
  • Summertime in the Big Woods (1996) – contains stories from Little House in the Big Woods
  • Winter Days in the Big Woods (1994) – contains stories from Little House in the Big Woods
  • Winter on the Farm (1996) – contains stories from Farmer Boy
  • Winter Tales (1994) – (a compilation of Winter Days in the Big Woods, Christmas in the Big Woods, and Dance Grandpa’s)

 

Ironically, Watching Little House

Traditionally, if we read a book that has been adapted into a quality film, we follow the reading with a movie night, but, sadly, no one has made a film adaptation of Little House in the Big Woods. We’ll have to wait until we read Little House on the Prairie to watch a film. (I realize the irony of watching a family struggle on the prairie while we sit on the couch and eat popcorn.) I think when that time arrives we will opt to show the 2005 mini series to the boys. As much as my own mother loved Michael Landon and my sister grew up watching the 1970s TV series, the book lover in me prefers a more faithful adaptation.

 

Not Just for Girls

If you are familiar with my family or this blog, you already know that we are a family pa axfull of boys. Dear Husband and I have three sons, to be exact, so you may be surprised that we enjoyed Little House in the Big Woods so much.

I have heard some families lament that they could not connect well with the Little House series for various reasons, such as lengthy descriptive language, dated racist language or motives (Ma Ingalls is very afraid of “Indians”), or incidents of animal cruelty (hunting). These are common obstacles to be overcome in many books. But, one reason I hear frequently is that the narrator (Laura) is a girl.  I would like to take this time to encourage families containing several boys that this series is more than what it appears. Literally, judging these books by their covers (prominently featuring girls) would be a mistake. Yes, Laura is the narrator of the books, but she is not particularly overtly feminine. In addition to being a tom boy, Laura greatly admires both of her parents, and Pa Ingalls is very much a main character in every book.

As a boy-mom, I know sometimes it can be a struggle to get my sons excited to read “a book about a girl,” but if you’re in the same boat I challenge you to give it a shot and employ whatever methods of diversion you need to sneak past the fact that these are often labeled “girl books.” This series describing frontier life is too important and too well written to be missed. My boys lovingly referred to “Big Woods” as “The Adventures of Pa in the Big Woods.” I conveniently did not show them the book cover or take them to a prairie dress pageant. 😉

I hope you’ll join us on our Little House Journey. I can’t promise that we will speed through the books (because we have other books on our hit list), but I do plan to blog about our experiences.

Until next week (or so).

I’m reading:

Novel:

Moderately challenging books:

Stiff books:

Diana

 

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5 thoughts on “Our Little House Journey: In the Big Woods

    1. I have not been to the other sites, but I would love to do so. A friend of mine went to Walnut Grove and Plum Creek this summer and shared some terrific pictures. I enjoyed reading a book called The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure. I’m afraid that and Pioneer Girl by Pamela Smith Hill are the closest I’m going to get to visiting the other sites. I literally have nothing in my life pulling me towards Wisconsin or South Dakota.

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