While I am no fan of ice and bitter cold temperatures, early February is my favorite time of year, reading-wise. Author Laura Ingalls Wilder was born on February 7, 1867, and died February 10, 1957. I call this “Laura Week” and use the time to read new publications about her or re-read the classic “Little House” series. The world of Laura Ingalls Wilder continues to endure re-examinations 60+ years after her death.
This year I will be reading A Prairie Girl’s Faith by Stephen W. Hines. This book is described as “An extended, in-depth discussion of the Christian faith of one of America’s most beloved pioneer women, Laura Ingalls Wilder.” I recall several scenes in the “Little House” books about Laura attending church services with her family. In On the Banks of Plum Creek, Pa sacrifices money saved for new work boots to contribute toward the church bell. I’m excited to learn how the “real” Laura’s faith shaped her life.
Other recent non-fiction books have taken closer looks at various aspects of Wilder’s life. Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. It puts Wilder and her family in the greater context of the American history they were living. Libertarians on the Prairie by Christine Woodside examines the political influences Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane weaved into the books.
In fiction, Caroline : Little House, revisited by Sarah Miller has been a recent hit for adult readers. This historical fiction novel tells the story of the family’s homesteading attempt in Kansas Indian Territory from Ma’s perspective. You may be familiar with the story from the third book in the children’s series “Little House on the Prairie.”
Many Midwesterners have fond memories of reading the “Little House” series or watching the 1970s Little House on the Prairie TV show, even in reruns. It brings back a comfy nostalgia of simpler times, self-reliance and family togetherness. Those themes seemed particularly significant during a year of quarantining and social distancing. I heard of people turning to Wilder’s The Long Winter to see how her family made it through the 1880-1881 South Dakota winter filled with the blizzards, boredom and monotony — and they didn’t even have wi-fi! It might be worth a revisit for you.
Looking at the “Little House” book series through a modern lens, we see it is not without problems in how it treats Indigenous people and people of color. The American Library Association responded to a re-examination of her work by changing the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award in 2018. Before and after the name change, the award aimed to honor an author or illustrator whose books have made a significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature. If you are interested in an academic approach to Laura Ingalls Wilder, I suggest exploring the Davenport Public Library’s Online Reference & Research Resources. The Educator’s Reference database, for example, has several article’s discussing the ALA decision to change the name of the award. A search for “Laura Ingalls Wilder” generates an article with alternatives to the “Little House” series, such as Betsy-Tacy by Maud Lovelace and the Birchbark House series by Louise Erdrich. There are dozens of other full-text articles about Laura Ingalls Wilder, her work and her writing.