Book Reviews

Book Review – Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder: Finally in Full-Color!

When I was about nine, a friend of the family gave me my first Little House book. I was immediately captivated by the stories within and read them over and over through the years. The copy I had contained wonderful illustrations to accompany the story by Garth Williams. I gave my set to my oldest daughter and it soon became scattered in their room. I purchased a second set about twenty years ago.

About a year ago I wanted to read the books again for myself. Unfortunately, as I was going through boxes of books, I could no longer assemble a complete set between them. I wanted a set of books for ME now that would be hands-off to the rest of the family. This time, my set of books was a huge upgrade from our two previous collections

The story of the Little House books is the story of the Ingalls family from the period of about 1870 to 1886 over the course of nine books. The family in Little House in the Big Woods is made up of Pa, Ma, and sisters Mary, Laura, and Carrie (Caroline). They live in a log cabin in the Wisconsin woods.

In great detail, Laura describes the rituals that kept the family alive as well as their life. It is such a different life from the life I grew up with or that my children are growing up with. To them, eating pork or bacon means buying it from the supermarket or taking it from the freezer. Laura describes here butchering a hog and the “treat” the kids had of roasting the pig’s tail over an open fire.

Yes, the children, just about ages five and six, roasted a tail over an open fire. Laura also helped Pa make bullets for his rifle. To keep her girls entertained, Ma would sometimes make paper dolls and Laura was horrified when baby Carrie ripped one in two. Their Christmas was simple – Laura actually got her very own rag doll instead of the corncob she pretended was a doll up until this point. The family gathered and preserved their own food to survive each winter. As a family, they sang together while Pa played the fiddle or listened to him tell them stories. A big event was a sugaring dance at Grandpa’s house which meant a trip through the woods.

Visits with the family that lived in the area were a common happening as everyone pitched in and helped each other out so they would make it through the next winter and life would not be quite as hard. I still don’t quite understand the making a treat out of the maple syrup and snow – I’ve been intrigued enough to think about trying it myself but every time I contemplate it, it seems like it would end up being a big mess. My girls have asked about it, too, and I don’t have an explanation for it. Maybe there was something special in the snow one hundred years ago.

My new edition of Little House in the Big Woods is a paperback-bound book with the same beautiful illustrations by Garth Williams that I grew up with. The difference is that they are now in color, rather than the pen-and-ink style drawings I first saw all those years ago. They are the same drawings, but now we can see the “golden” color of Mary’s hair, the yellow of the wheat being threshed, and the tawny color of the maple syrup. It gives a bit more life to the drawings themselves without taking away from the great memories I have of them nor the feeling of looking at a drawing, not a photograph.

Laura Ingalls-Wilder has an amazing talent for describing the scenes in enough detail to enable both me and my children to imagine the scene without the pictures, though. At the same time, the stories are not overwritten to the point where it feels repetitious or boring.

The font in the new full-color collector’s edition of Little House in the Big Woods seems larger than the other editions, making it easier for little eyes to read. When I read the story with my girls, the chapters were the perfect size to read one each night at bedtime.

Little House in the Big Woods is the perfect place to start reading the series to or with your children. In some ways, the girls being at a younger age makes it easier for younger children to relate to them. I believe seven is the youngest age I would try to start reading these books with a child. Even then, it is sometimes hard for them to comprehend a life so different from their own.

If you’ve never read the books, I definitely feel they are worth it for adults as well. I am enjoying reading them again just by myself for the first time in years. If you have children, it’s a wonderful experience that will spark lots of conversation and questions about life so many years ago.

Next book in the series (link): Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

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