When I was about my daughter’s age, 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.
Although the story of the Little House books is primarily the story of the Ingalls family from the period of about 1870 to 1886 over the course of nine books, in Farmer Boy Laura deviates from that theme a bit. In it, she describes the life of the man who would become her husband, Almanzo Wilder.
Unlike Laura’s family, Almanzo’s family was larger and more well-off than Laura’s. Although actually from a family of six, Laura chose to make his family only a family of four. One of the reasons was that one of Almanzo’s sisters was also named “Laura” and deleting her character seemed to be a good idea to cut down on confusion with the woman who would become his wife. The other child was a brother quite younger than the rest of the siblings, so the time period she focuses on could easily be before his birth.
Almanzo is a dreamer. He longs to grow up and do the things older boys do, such as handling the horses and other privileges which seem reserved for his older brother, Royal. There is an intense rivalry with his sister, Eliza Jane, but there is also a great love between the siblings. Almanzo and his sister Alice seem to be closest of all.
There are wonderful stories of a much simpler life and time in Farmer Boy. 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 the life was like back then so well and at the same time it brings up interesting discussions of the differences.
Something as simples as white sugar, which my children take for granted, was a big deal for the Wilder family. When Almanzo’s parents go off visiting for a week and leave the four children alone, one of their biggest fears is Mother and Father returning home to find out they’ve used up the entire barrel of white sugar – mostly on ice cream! At the same time, the parents had enough confidence that their children, with the oldest probably not much older than 13 or 14, could handle the entire farm by themselves for that time.
It’s interesting to read this book after reading all of the other books in the Little House series, simply to contrast the life Almanzo had with the life Laura did. Christmas was so different between the two families, as was the level of work on a farm for a boy over a girl.
My new edition of Farmer Boy 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 beautiful brown eyes and coat of the calves Almanzo works with, the colorful wallpaper of his mother’s parlor, the bright orange of the award-winning milk-fed pumpkin Almanzo brings to the fair. 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.
The font in the new full-color collector’s edition of Farmer Boy 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.
I think Farmer Boy will interest a boy more than any other novels in the Little House series. Girls will enjoy it too, but I don‘t know how much a boy would like hearing the story of three girls growing up. I‘d start reading this novel to my son when he‘s old enough for us to read these together and hope that it gives him an interest in the rest of the books. 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 which will spark lots of conversation and questions about life so many years ago.
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