Books That Have Influenced Me #3 – Laura Ingalls Wilder

As an avid reader, my local library and school library were vitally important to me in childhood. I got through books at an alarming rate, nagging my grandad to walk me to the town library every Wednesday teatime (and hoping for an ice cream on the way home), and looking forward to our class visit to the school library each week.

So you can imagine my disappointment at the age of nine when I saw the state of the small classroom library in Year 4. The books on the shelves were ancient. Seriously ancient and seriously dull.

It seems our young, forward-thinking class teacher felt the same way and somehow managed to purchase one shelf’s worth of brand new paperbacks, which we were allowed to borrow if we were very careful.

I don’t remember all that she bought. But I do vividly remember a series about a nurse called Sue Barton which I read over and over (and wanted to be a nurse for a while. Ha! I can’t stand the sight of blood!) . . . and the whole series of Laura Ingalls Wilder books. At that point, I hadn’t seen the Little House On The Prairie TV series – although I loved it later – but I absolutely adored those books.

laura-ingalls-wilder-books-hp

Laura Ingalls Wilder transported me to another time and another place so completely, I wanted to be her. I was fascinated by what the family ate (codfish gravy for breakfast, anyone?); what they wore (and the fact that they sewed it all by hand); how they played, turning everyday objects into toys for a while.

For someone who has not got a technical mind, I was intrigued by the methods Pa used to build their houses with limited materials. I was as excited as Laura and Mary on their first trip to town, struggling to understand why they were so gobsmacked by the number of houses and the goods in the general store – I couldn’t imagine living somewhere where you had to travel for hours just to buy (or trade for) provisions, or sometimes even just to see a neighbour. I loved the idea of the small, cosy schoolhouse, teaching across the age ranges, with its warm heater in the middle of the room keeping the frost at bay.

I bought the set for myself when I was in my early twenties – I couldn’t bear not having them on my shelves – and then shared them with my daughter as she was growing up. 

laura-ingalls-wilder-little-house-in-the-big-woods-hpMy favourite in the series is the first – Little House In The Big Woods.

It has that innocence of young children at play,  their natural sense of wonder and a certain oblivion to the stresses of the grown-up world.

I love the cosy log cabin, making butter and cheese (not so much slaughtering the pig!), the stories Pa tells to the girls, and I remember the  “sugaring off”, pouring maple syrup onto snow so it hardens in squiggly shapes, and the dance that follows.

laura-ingalls-wilder-the-long-winter-hpIn an opposite kind of way, I also love The Long Winter.

The hardship that slowly creeps upon the family, their real struggle for survival, near-starvation, Pa’s inventiveness just to keep a small corner of their home heated, Almanzo’s interepid expedition to bring wheat to the town, blizzards so severe that you couldn’t see more than inches ahead and could be lost forever on the open prairie, the arrival of their Christmas turkey in May . . .

It certainly puts my suburban, centrally-heated, well-fed life in perspective! 🙂

So, beyond this obvious enjoyment, why or how did Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books influence me?

As with Enid Blyton’s books (see link below), they taught me that a writer can transport their reader to a whole other world. The fact that Wilder’s books were based on her own childhood made no difference – to me, a child growing up in the UK in the seventies, the distance in time and miles was still great. I didn’t mind the detailed description – it helped immerse me in Laura’s life.  As I’ve grown older and occasionally reread them, the books always make me hanker after a simpler kind of life . . . for a while. After all, I know I wouldn’t last two minutes with all that hardship and the bears and the walking goodness-knows-how-many-miles to school and waking up with snow covering my bedding and  the . . . well, I keep getting stuck on the idea of codfish gravy at breakfast. Eugh!

Any other Laura Ingalls Wilder fans out there? What am I saying? I know there are thousands of you! Form an orderly queue, please! 😀

If you missed my previous posts about books that were important to me, you can catch up here:

Books that have influenced me #2 – childhood poetry

Books that have influenced me #1 – Enid Blyton

 

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34 thoughts on “Books That Have Influenced Me #3 – Laura Ingalls Wilder

  1. Jill's Book Cafe says:

    I think I virtually lived in the library at the age of 9/10 as I was allowed to go on my own. I joined the Bookworm Club which meant reading from a prescribed list to earn a badge. Sadly I never read these as I think I’d have loved them. At the time I think I was obsessed with Heidi.

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Thanks for visiting, Jill 🙂 Yes, I liked Heidi, too – again, a book that took you to another time and place. I understand why libraries are less used nowadays, but I do think it’s a shame that younger people will miss out on that special feeling we enjoyed when we were young.

  2. Melanie says:

    Fell in love with these as an American kid in the same era; I wanted to know how my life would equate to her time, or what I would have to introduce her to if she could time-travel to mine. It sparked my love for history, and I spent an inordinate amount of my life researching historical context of her life and works. A few decades later I began putting that knowledge to use as an educator. I present first-person history as an adult, but not-yet-famous, Mrs. Wilder.

    Wondering: do you not enjoy FARMER BOY, or was it not available in the UK? I’m within a day’s drive of Malone, NY and visit Almanzo’s birthplace there several times a year. It’s restored to a good approximation of what the house and barns would have looked like during his childhood and operates as a museum in summers. It’s also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Such a bucolic setting; highly recommend anyone interested in LIW visit there!

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Goodness, Melanie, what a wonderful way to put such a specific interest to good use! I know we have such educators here in the UK – bringing people like Florence Nightingale to life – and I think it’s a brilliant way of making history exciting and relevant to children.

      I have read Farmer Boy in the past and it is available here. I’m not sure why I didn’t buy it or whether I just didn’t enjoy it as much. I’d have to reread it sometime to find out! Almanzo’s birthplace sounds like a wonderful place to visit. 🙂

      • Melanie says:

        All of her homesites have something to offer, and some are more professionally presented or artifact-rich than others, but Almanzo Wilder Farm is my favorite. Perhaps I’m biased because of proximity?

        I’m of the persuasion that anyone of any age can learn quite a bit from first-person history so I never limit my work to children. In fact, I find the liveliest and most compelling exchanges come from audiences with a wide range of ages and a healthy dose of adults. Libraries are especially good venues for that, as all of my programs are interactive and I am known to coax even the most curmudgeonly patron into participating. Luckily for me, my region of the US (New England) has an abundance of historians who present such programs, so our audiences tend to be agreeable to the notion of participation. In some other areas, audiences are often rather shy, and reluctant to speak out or ask questions. How do you find the audiences in the UK? Would you say they like to participate or do they prefer a passive lecture?

      • Helen Pollard says:

        That sounds fantastic, Melanie. I only have experience of such things from when my children were in school (and when I worked in a school office for a while) – so not of something like you mention, aimed at a wider age range. As a family, we visited a history festival a few years ago which was fantastic, with a lot of reenactments etc. from different eras, and you were welcome to ask the participants questions. I also enjoy taking guided tours when we visit stately homes and castles, as you get so much more out of the visit and can ask questions, rather than going round by yourself (although I do enjoy that too). I wrote a blog post about one such visit a while ago:

        https://helenpollardwrites.wordpress.com/2015/09/13/a-little-enthusiasm-please/

        If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that adult UK audiences probably do have a natural reserve and would be rather shy in coming forwards to ask questions and participate!

  3. Melanie says:

    Reblogged this on Just As I Am…Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder and commented:
    Did you know that Laura published her first magazine column #OTD 18 February 1911? She was 44 years old, and it launched two decades of a journalism career, writing as a columnist and editor at The Missouri Ruralist and The St. Louis Star, as well as publishing articles in numerous national magazines, just as her daughter Rose was doing. Rose was a much more well-known author all the while…and Laura wouldn’t begin writing and publishing her now-iconic series of books until she was what we now consider “retirement age.” Her first novel, LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS, was published in 1932 when #LauraIngallsWilder was 65!

    This fan from the UK describes her initiation to the world of Laura, and it seems a fitting tribute:

  4. Bonnie Hauser says:

    Thank you for sharing. I read the books as a young lady. Wrote my own pioneer story for a Young Authors conference at the age of 11. I subscribed to thevLaura Ingalls Wilder Lore newsletter. I have been to several of the sites. My highlight came when I met Neta Seal. She and her husband drove Laura and Almanzo to places when they were no longer able to. She had a water pitcher that Laura gave her. Neta allowed me to hold it hold it. Oh…that was neat. 3 years ago, I was able to view the hand written manuscripts of the Long Winter at a Detroit Michigan library. Thank you

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Thanks for visiting, Bonnie 🙂 It certainly sounds like Laura Ingalls Wilder inspired you! Your visits must have been fascinating – and to hold that pitcher and see those manuscripts . . . Wow!

  5. Connie Ryle Neumann says:

    Such a nice remembrance, Helen! Thanks for sharing the “Little House” books with your readers, especially in this, Laura’s 150th birthday year, 2017. I’ve collected several UK versions of the series and have almost all of the ones pictured here.

    You might be interested to know that there is a research and study conference coming up this summer, called LauraPalooza, to meet in Springfield, Missouri. Check our website at http://www.beyondlittlehouse.com. We have several members from the UK!

    Happy Trails and Reading!

      • Connie Ryle Neumann says:

        Helen, I shared your article with several of my British friends through the Beatrix Potter Society of which I am also a member. Last fall I presented a paper to the BPS in London comparing Beatrix and Laura’s parallel worlds – I titled it “Rabbit Tales & Pioneer Trails.” 🙂 It’s been a very fun comparison of how both of these women accomplished similar things in life (authorship, farming and preservation) through very different circumstances but similar temperaments.

      • Helen Pollard says:

        Thank you for sharing, Connie 🙂 I love that title of the paper you presented! I’d never thought to compare the two women, but now that you lay it out, I can see where there would be parallels.

  6. rosgemmell says:

    Oh my daughter and I absolutely loved the TV series and never missed an episode – much like with Anne of Green Gables. Funnily enough I’ve never read the Little House books but did read all the Anne books! As for libraries – I devoured all the books I could carry from our local library. Thanks for the nostalgic post, Helen!

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Rosemary 🙂 It’s lovely that you and your daughter enjoyed the TV series together. In my early teens I would rush home from school to catch the second half of each episode! I honestly can’t remember reading Anne of Green Gables, though . . . :/

  7. Marie Bristol says:

    What a lovely tribute to Laura’s legacy. I am so fortunate to be able to work at the LIW Museum in Mansfield, Missouri and hear memories such as yours almost daily. Laura’s books and fan’s stories from all over the world inspire me to be a more humble and loving person.

  8. meredithvigh says:

    I too adored these books as a child. I recently read an article on Laura Engels Wilder and was surprised to hear how much of an influence her daughter Rose had on the books actually being written, and on some of their contents. My favourites were ‘The Long Winter’ for the same reasons you as, and ‘Little House on the Prairie’. Fascinating insights on what life was like then

  9. lizannelloyd says:

    I borrowed lots of Sue Barton nurse books from the Library during the 1960s. I also have Cherry Ames nurse books (she was American), All the Little House books were in my first classroom when I started teaching. I love them though not quite as much As Anne of Green Gables.

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Gosh, Lizanne, I’ve never yet come across anyone who read those! Yay! I’ve not heard of the Cherry Ames ones. Another classroom with all the Little House books? That school had good taste! 🙂

  10. Rebecca Stonehill says:

    Hi Helen, hope you’re well. I must confess I have never read any of these books BUT funnily enough, I had decided that it was about time I changed this so recently borrowed Little House in the Big Woods from a friend. Once we have finished reading Little Women, I am going to be reading this to my 3 kids! Looking forward to it,more so after your glowing review 🙂

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Hi Rebecca, thanks for dropping by 🙂 I hope you and your kids enjoy the Little House book. And would you believe, I have never read Little Women! Disgraceful, I know. I keep meaning to . . .

  11. Rae Cowie says:

    I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder too, Helen. Your description of The Long Winter certainly took me back to time spent tucked up under the bedcovers, worrying in case the family wouldn’t make it through! Such a special collection. : )

  12. D. Wallace Peach says:

    I hate to admit I never read these! From all the comments, it seems I missed out. I didn’t start reading until I was about 15, so missed a chunk of reading years. I loved hearing about how these books affected you (and others). 😀

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