Book Reviews

Book Review: Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder – Color Illustrations Bring the Story Alive

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 for my now nine-year-old.

About a year ago I wanted to read the books again for myself. Unfortunately, my daughters could no longer assemble a complete set between them. I wanted a set of books for ME now that would be hand-off for the rest of the family. When we traveled to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum in Mansfield, Missouri I saw exactly what I wanted.

Little House on the Prairie seems to pick up almost where the first book in the series, Little House in the Big Woods ended. The Ingalls family, consisting of Pa, Ma, and sisters Mary, Laura, and baby Carrie are leaving their home in the “big woods” of Wisconsin. Laura characterizes her father as not liking the feeling of civilization closing in on the family as more and more people are settling around their home in Wisconsin.

Pa decides to sell their home and many of their possessions which can’t go with them on the journey between Wisconsin and what Laura calls “Indian Country”. Her writing evokes her sense of wonderment and also a degree of fear and uncertainty she felt about the journey, along with the blind faith children often show their parents. The life of the family is described to reflect the close-knit feeling they have when they are often dependent only upon each other not just for their daily needs, but for all of their entertainment as well. There are cozy evenings around the campfire as they travel.

The journey itself takes place in a covered wagon and is described in detail, as is their life once they’ve arrived at their new home. There are perils in the new land Laura never experienced before. In addition to the Native Americans who live all around them, the family copes with bouts of malaria, a terrible fire in the chimney which threatens their home, wild animals, exposure to deadly gas while digging a well, as well as fires on the prairie itself.

Laura uses the now politically-incorrect term “Indians” when describing the Native Americans. Although her Ma never loses the distaste she has for them following evens in Little House on the Prairie, Laura often writes about them more with a sense of wonderment and respect. I don’t believe she ever meant to use the term in a mean way, it’s just that times have changed since the book was first published in 1935. If you are particularly sensitive to using this term around your children for whatever reason, you might want to discuss this prior to reading.

I enjoyed the book and then contrasting how Laura portrays these events to how they actually played out as was detailed in the book Laura by Donald Zochert. There’s also some controversy about how much of this story was actually written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and how much was written by her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. It’s believed by some that the reason this book seems so much more fraught with peril than Laura’s previous novels is Rose’s influence in trying to jazz up the story a bit.

In any case, the book reads quite well and was a pleasure to read with my daughters. They enjoyed the story as they tried to envision the life Laura describes. 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. Laura manages to describe in great detail the daily chores and lifestyle of a time long ago. At the same time, I don’t find her descriptions to be overwritten and bogged down, but fascinating. I love reading this book with my children because we can all imagine what life was like back then so well and at the same time it brings up interesting discussions of the differences.

My new edition of Little House on the Prairie 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 I can see the beautiful greenness of the prairie grasses, the wood tones of the home Pa builds for them to live in, along with many other details I hadn’t thought of before. There’s one drawing that seemed to be colored rather odd. Laura’s bulldog, Jack, had Mr. Edwards cornered on a woodpile and Jack’s fur is colored blue! Overall, the colorization of the drawings 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.

The font in the new full-color collector’s edition of Little House on the Prairie 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.

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.

Previous book in the series (link): Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Next book in the series (link): Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

6 replies »

  1. My sons had to read Farmer Boy in 3rd grade as part of their “Pioneer Days” study that Indiana requires in the curriculum. It did lead to them reading The Little House on the Prairie but that was enough for them… Some of the girls in the class wanted to read all of them and then there was the TV show (in reruns/syndication that everyone watched too…)

    • The TV show is so unlike the books, really. I got angry and stopped watching after a while. I’m reading really good book about the influence of the books and just how much was crafted by Wilder and her daughter to push their political view. It’s quite god and I can see where I get some of my Libertarian tendencies from now.

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