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11 December 2015 @ 04:20 pm
Recent Reads: Little House books  

I bought the Little House series (the proper edition, illustrated by Garth Williams) for Young Indiana last year for Christmas, thinking that sometime in the next year or so he might be about ready to start having them read to him. A few months ago he got LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, brought it to me, and said, “Maybe we could read this book! It has a FEW pictures!”

I told him we had to start with LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS, but that I would love to read them to him. So he went and got BIG WOODS, and we read it. He was *enthralled*, absolutely enthralled, by Laura and Baby Carrie and Mary and Pa and Ma, more or less in that order. He even asked if we could bring it to Grandma and Grandpa’s house when he stayed the night there earlier this year, so Grandma could read him more of the story.

Several days after we finished reading it, we were putting some of his very round-nosed crayons away, and I tipped the box on end so they would stack up on top of one another, and out of nowhere Indy said, “They’re like bullets!”

My jaw fell open. I said, “How do you know that?” Indy said, “They’re like bullets! Like Pa made, and Laura helped!” Holy crap. Talk about retention and comprehension!

The books have FARMER BOY listed second, so Indy insisted we should read that next. I was dubious, and tried to explain that this book was about Almanzo, the man Laura married when she grew up, when he was a boy, but no, Indy was determined. At least, he was determined until I got about two paragraphs in and he said, “But where’s Laura?” I said she wasn’t in that book, and he disdainfully removed FARMER BOY from the reading list and went to get PRAIRIE. :)

PRAIRIE has some more difficult waters to navigate than BIG WOODS: Ma’s fear and hatred of Indians, the word Indian at all, 140 years after the events of these books happened (and 80 years after their publication!), the fact that white settlers like the Ingalls were coming into ‘Indian Territory’ and taking over the land. All of that is in its way addressed in the book: Laura is rightfully concerned that the Indians might be mad that they’re being pushed off the land, and Pa, who doesn’t share Ma’s xenophobia, lets that discussion go on a bit before shutting it down, and Pa constantly reassures Ma that there’s no reason to fear their native neighbors, so that, from a modern reader’s POV, is something, at least.

Mostly I’ve been dealing with it by elliding the comments about Ma’s *fear*, and by talking about each chapter when we finish reading it, both to see how much Indy has retained (answer: LOTS. He acts out big parts of each chapter when I ask question :)) and to put a little bit of context to the situations. He’s mildly interested by the context,

For my own part, I haven’t read the books since I was a teen, and possibly not since I was 9 (the last time I *remember* reading them for certain was then, when I re-read the whole series one day during the summer), and it’s kind of fascinating to see what I remember and what I don’t. The scene that’s always stuck with me is when they all catch malaria, and Laura goes crawling across the floor to get water for Mary. In my mind she’d done a lot more care-taking for her family than that, and also she was older (it’s possible there’s another family-wide illness in one of the later books), and I had no recollection at all that a doctor had tended to them, much less that the doctor was black.

I went and looked him up, of course. Dr George Tann’s parents Bennet & Mary were among the Ingalls’ neighbors in Kansas, and Dr Tann was visiting his parents during the malaria outbreak. Good thing for the Ingalls’, apparently, and everybody else in the area, to whom he evidently also attended. So that was a fairly cool discovery in the re-read.

We’ve just finished the chapter where their neighbor Mr Edwards saves Christmas (Ma has baked the girls little cakes with white flour and sugar, there’s been an unholy gale and between the rain and the risen creek even the girls understand that Santa isn’t going to make it this year, but Mr Edwards arrives at the Ingalls’ home early Christmas morning, having walked the 40 miles to Independence in the midst of the gale and buying Laura and Mary each a new tin cup and a candy cane as a gift, then returning to ford the dangerously-risen creek): Ma and Pa and Mr Edwards acted as if they were almost crying. Laura didn’t know why. So she gazed again at her beautiful presents.

I *remember* that scene, of course, but it’s a much different scene as an adult and a parent two weeks before Christmas. And also as someone who’s been stressed out and tearing up over all sorts of things, admittedly, but man. #snif

Anyway, we’ll be finishing up the first book, which involves the Ingalls and the Indians all being thrown off the land, soon, and I’m kind of hoping Indy wants to run off and grab the next one immediately, although he took a break between the first two. :)

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

Alix (Tersa): Arwen Reading (tersa)tersa on December 11th, 2015 03:58 pm (UTC)

The Little House books are some of my favorites...and if you want to talk food porn, FARMER BOY is it. :D (many years later, I saved a copy of the birdsnest pudding recipe I stumbled on in college because the description of it in that book stuck with me forever.)

It's been fascinating falling down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia and reading some of the more non-fictional recounts of Laura, Rose, and how those books came to be.

it’s possible there’s another family-wide illness in one of the later books)

You're probably thinking of the scarlet fever that hits them between PLUM CREEK and SILVER LAKE. And, yes, I still know just about every book (helped by the fact that I've re-read them at least once as an adult).

It was fascinating to discover that the jump in time between those two books also glossed over the birth and death of the Ingalls' only son and a move to Iowa before returning to Minnesota.
Lauratavella on December 11th, 2015 04:59 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the stuff with her daughter Rose is very interesting, and amusing in a way. She was an early libertarian, so when editing and reshaping her mother's autobiographical writings, she carefully edited out most of the substantial government support they got as settlers, or so I recall. Down the memory hole!
kitmizkit on December 11th, 2015 05:06 pm (UTC)
Yeah, FARMER BOY is just hungry waiting to happen. :)

I got Mom a copy of PIONEER GIRL, the annotated LIW autobiography, for Christmas last year. I don't know if she's read it all, but I've read bits and it's *fascinating*. And also mind-bending.

I'm sure I'm thinking of the scarlet fever, yeah. I knew it was an incident, anyway, since it's blamed (incorrectly, as it turns out) for Mary's blindness. It'll be interesting to get to it and re-read that. :)

Apparently for a lot of the time frame an uncle and aunt were living with them too, so they were actually trying to support a family of 8 on the generally limited Ingalls income, too. And also apparently at least twice they lit out of town in the middle of the night one step ahead of the creditors, which strangely enough isn't mentioned in the books... :)
Alix (Tersa): Arwen Reading (tersa)tersa on December 11th, 2015 10:17 pm (UTC)
I didn't even know PIONEER GIRL existed until I looked her up on Wikipedia recently. Now I want it like burning. :P

lol. What Tavella mentioned in the comment above is probably part of that white-washing... :)

Still, for all of the parts that suffered creative revisionism, they're great books. :)
Lauratavella on December 11th, 2015 05:03 pm (UTC)
I should reread them some day. I've been a bit reluctant to do so in case the Suck Fairy had visited, especially given my understanding of exactly what the Ingalls were doing (illegally homesteading on NA land, with a distinct chance that Pa was involved in killing natives), but things like braiding hay into firesticks will always stay with me.
kitmizkit on December 11th, 2015 05:07 pm (UTC)
They were certainly homesteading illegally. If Pa was out killing natives I think I'd rather not know. :)
Laura Anne Gilmansuricattus on December 11th, 2015 05:26 pm (UTC)
Yeah - re-reading those books with an actual knowledge of American history puts an entire new layer on events....

That said, they are still fascinating, and well-done, and formed the first basis for me writing SILVER, so there's that. :-)

And FARMER BOY was a fun read, once Young Indy is ready for it. A very different perspective, considering it's done in the same voice and style. And not simply because it's a "boy's story."
Lauratavella on December 11th, 2015 07:22 pm (UTC)
I don't think there was any specific evidence, just a historian noting that a number of Osage in the area who tried to push back against the illegal squatters including the Ingalls got killed by whites. He might have been involved or he might not, same as anyone else among the settlers, but either way it's pretty likely he knew the perpetrators.
Deborah Blakedeborahblakehps on December 11th, 2015 07:15 pm (UTC)
I loved those books. My home ec class (yes, that was when they had such things) cooked some of the dishes out of the books, which was a great tie in to the reading.