Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Growing up, I was fortunate to have two bookworms for aunts. They were always happy to encourage and indulge my reading habit. One of the most significant moments in my life was when they handed me a stack of Little House of the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I believe that I am a teacher now because of how enthralled I was by Laura’s own teaching experiences. As a child, the Ingalls family and the world that surrounded them was real to me, as real as my own family and my own town. I could relate to Laura and her experiences even though it was decades and miles apart from my own life.
In preparation for writing this review, I reread many of books. Everything came flooding back to me: Laura’s treasured ragdoll Charlotte, the buggy rides with Almanzo, and Mary’s struggles to attend college. It was still clear and vivid, but I did notice some things that escaped me as a child.
Throughout the series, the language develops and becomes more complex as Laura ages. Since it is from her point of view, it only makes sense that as she grows so does the richness of her language and observations. I also find Wilder’s writing ability grows drastically throughout the series and the last three are my favorites because of this.
The series is also a wonderful commentary on the time and places in which the Ingalls family lived. Although the father Charles values, respects, and loves his family, the gender roles are typical of the time and are an interesting topic of discussion. To me Caroline, Laura’s mother, is an interesting character. Being a woman of her time, Caroline defers to Charles’ judgment; however she does not remain quiet when standing up for her children. In the beginning of Little Town on the Prairie, Charles asks Laura if she would like to work in town which Caroline responds saying “No, Charles, I won’t have Laura working out in a hotel among all kinds of strangers.”
I also noted the treatment of Native Americans and African Americans. Shockingly, there is one scene where Charles entertains the town by impersonating an African American in Black Face. I can’t say I remembered that particular scene and was uncomfortable with the accompanying illustration. However, as a children’s book I think serves as an opportunity to discuss how groups of people were treated throughout history. In schools we discuss big events and concepts like slavery, segregation, Jim Crow laws, but as many teachers and parents note, it’s the specific, personal events that allow children to examine those big concepts.
Little House on the Prairie is ultimately a classic for a reason. Wilder has taken the richness from her own life and allowed other people to experience it. There is no better way to stroll through late 1800s mid-west then by reading Little House on the Prairie.
Malory Hom is a first grade teacher in New York City. She is currently earning her Master’s degree in Childhood Literacy. Little House on the Prairie continues to be one of her favorite book series.