Who else loves Laura Ingalls Wilder?

lilhouse“What is all this about? you ask in bewilderment. “Who would harbor such strong feelings of any kind toward Melissa Gilbert?”

There, there, Little Flutterbudgets. We’ll get to Melissa Gilbert and that controversy momentarily. But first… If you didn’t know this before, here me now. I, Sarah, am a gigantic fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. I first read the books when I was eight or nine. It was hard not to notice these books in the school library; they were prominently displayed right up front on a card table. You practically had to crawl over the Laura Ingalls Wilder table to even enter the library. It would seem that the hopeful school librarian wanted us to read these books so badly that she couldn’t bear to put them on a regular shelf where they might get lost in the crowd. However, I hesitate to romanticize the intentions of the school librarian because she was a scary, Nurse Ratched type (you can read a little bit more about her here).My elementary school librarian

My elementary school librarian

Come to think of it, the librarian was so terrifying that perhaps she wasn’t human at all. Perhaps she was the Grasshopper Plague from On the Banks of Plum Creek. That would explain why she was (a) such a malignant force and (b) so intent on the children reading these books – so that her locusty evils would be known and reviled by a new generation.

On the day that I would check out my first Laura book from the library, I had been moping around the library because all the Babysitters Club books were checked out. I noticed the ever-available Laura Ingalls Wilder books stacked up on their special table and I sighed and headed over there with the same kind of dejection I felt when I woke up too early on Saturday mornings and the only cartoon on was Rocky and Bullwinkle. An oh-jiminy-my-life-is-so-hard-I-hate-this-and-I-wish-I-was-dead feeling. I picked up Little House in the Big Woods and stared at the cover with little interest. There were all these weird people looking at a little girl with crazy hair who was cradling either a baby or a doll.

LittleHouseBigWoods Call me Nellie Oleson, but that cover looked decidedly…homemade. It reminded me of the jams shorts with matching tank tops made of the same tropical-patterned material that my mom would sew for me. Or the “Cabbage Patch” dolls she craftily made from old socks. Homemade, indeed. Not only that, but the cover art for Little House in the Big Woods lacked the sort of realism I was accustomed to with Babysitters Club covers. Say, for example, Boy-Crazy Stacey, where hunky lifeguard Scott looks like a blonde Elvis.

boycrazy

As for Little House in the Big Woods, fortunately I ignored my gut instinct that was telling me these books were going to be lame and I checked it out. This makes me wonder, what the fuck is wrong with my gut instinct? You’d think it would sense that I was holding in my hands what would become one of the sacred texts of my youth, but instead it was like, “Eh, maybe there are some Mercer Mayer books you could check out instead?”

Never mind my misgivings in the library. As Laura’s Ma would say, “All’s well that ends well.” From the first chapter, I loved the world I found in Little House in the Big Woods and tore through the other books. Laura, the vibrant, outdoorsy girl who loved the open prairie and who knew hunger and hard times, would become one of my all-time Girl-Power heros. I would find that that the homespun look of the covers that had initially made me say, “pshaw, whatever,” was actually a warm, cozy fit for books that were about a cheerfully pragmatic pioneer family alone together on the plains. The artwork was done by Garth Williams and his illustrations were not merely peripheral to the writing; they were like lean-tos for the stories themselves. For me, these drawings served as another way in. I would get lost in those drawings, trying to imagine what being Laura would have been like.

And! These books hold their value when you re-read them as an adult. That’s not always the case with childhood treasures. Their sentimental value may increase as you get older, but their everyday practicality and appeal often decreases. That’s actually what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians – he put away childish things when he became a man because he found that he was no longer interested in playing with his Jesus Barbies. It happens. However, Paul would not have felt this way about Laura’s books. He would have found them relevant throughout his life, for these books have a way of maturing with their readers, if that makes sense. They are easy and engaging for young readers, but have a number of situations and themes that I personally didn’t really get until I read the books as an adult.

Now that I have talked and talked and talked about my devotion to the books, it’s time to get to the real point of the discussion: the infamous TV show. But not today. It’s nearly bed time. Man, I’m such a slow writer.

To be continued…

6 Comments on Who else loves Laura Ingalls Wilder?

  1. Haley
    January 23, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    OMG- I LOVE you. Everything you ever say, makes so much sense to me…!!!! First of all, I will admit- I never did read these books. BUT- my sister had all of them in a boxed set and she is 5 plus years older than me. I used to look at the covers of the books and WISH that I could read just like my big sister could. I loved the LOOK of these… I remember both of those covers so well that it flooded back so many memories. Then you wrote the words; Babysitter’s Club. More memories! Oh my goodness. You are hilarious.. Boy Crazy Stacey aka Future Slut… subtle Ann M. Martin.. very subtle.
    Now, I don’t want to you to get upset with me… But Laura Ingles in the t.v. world was okay…… until she got those buck teeth and then I just… couldn’t. stand her. Then she had to marry MANLY.. who names their child MANLY!? You’re just ASKING for people to tease him and question his manhood. “Hey Manly!?… why did your mama name you MANLY is it because she had to make it clear to us that you are a MAN.. cause you look and act like a GIIIIIIRL?! (Did I mention that I was never all that good at being a bully.. I think I made that clear……..)

    Anyways, the blog world is so sad and lonely without you in it… referencing Laura Ingles, The Babysitter’s Club and Little Critter’s books. I love that we share so many of the same interests. It makes reading your blog so effortless!

    • Sarah
      January 29, 2014 at 5:43 pm

      Ha ha. “Future Slut Stacey” would have made a great Babysitters Club book. Man, I wanted to be Stacey so bad! I would have settled for Dawn or Claudia. You know, I bet you if I went back and read those books, my favorite character would be Mary Anne because she is the one most like me, whereas Stacey was the one I most wanted to be like when I was a kid. Question: what babysitter would you most want for Alina? I would suggest Mary Anne or Kristy.

      I take no offense to Laura’s buck teeth. I can understand why that was a deterrent. I actually never watch the show when I was younger for reasons of my own. I hate those opening credits. And Manly…short for Almanzo…all I can say is, poor guy.

      And I feel the same way about your writing! So much I can relate to, even if the experiences are a little different. Pretty awesome for two people who have never met in real life! And thanks for your words of encouragement. One of these days I’m going to be a super blogger like you and be prompt and consistent in all things blogging. One of these days!

  2. Sydney R.H.
    January 23, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Oh my gosh. (repeat, calm down)
    I love Little House on the Prairie.
    Mr Edwards is probably my favorite character.
    I heard Melissa Gilbert wore her braces on the insides of her teeth because of filming schedules. That’s pretty BA.
    I can talk anyone into watching Little House with me.
    I can even win people over to the show and then talk them out of going to classes in order to watch it.
    In the fall of 1998, I may or may not have created a class schedule so I would be able to watch Little House three days out of the week.
    I had home made jams and matching tank tops.
    I regret not reading more as a child.
    I will check out these books at my local library asap.
    I cannot wait for part 2!

    • Sarah
      January 27, 2014 at 5:24 pm

      Whoa, we have some eerie parallels going on in our lives. Little House on the Prairie, homemade jams with matching tank tops, we both have GoGirls. That’s practically a recipe for how to be cool.

      Okay, Mr. Edwards is awesome! He pops into a later book (The Long Winter, maybe) and just stays long enough for dinner, but he gives Mary a $20 bill for college. According to the inflation calculator I just checked, that would be $357.79 in 2012 dollars.

      Did you know that Allison Arngrim, Melissa Gilbert, and Melissa Sue Anderson have all written autobiographies about being on the show? One of these days I plan on reading all. Reviews suggest Allison’s is the most entertaining, but that Melissa G doesn’t skimp on the hollywood details. She dated Rob Lowe and apparently had sex with John Cusack. Nice!

      Your devotion to the TV show is so impressive, were Michael Landon alive he would be wiping away his tears right now. 1998 was well before TV on DVD, so if you wanted to watch, you waited for it to come on TV and prayed you got the channel. You are a Little House warrior.

      I can’t wait to hear your take on the books! If I had to list the order of my favorites it would be in descending order: The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, Little House on the Prairie, Plum Creek, Little House in the Big Woods, Shores of Silver Lake, The First Four Years. I have not read Farmer Boy.

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  1. […] Last week I was intending to write about the TV show Little House on the Prairie, but I felt it critical to first establish how much the classic books by Laura Ingalls Wilder meant to me. […]