Thursday, March 29, 2012

I'm a Prairie Head

A few books from my "Laura" collection.

I have a major love for Laura Ingalls Wilder. My obsession is so great that my friends poke fun at me. Of course, they are "Twi-Moms," so their vampire love and obsession with futuristic "Hunger Games" is hard to transfer to the adventures of a 19th-century pioneer girl. But I swear, give me an hour, and I will have you (or your daughters) convinced to try out a bit of my Laura.

My love of Laura Ingalls Wilder began in the '70s, when I started receiving the Little House books as gifts from my aunt and uncle. The yellow-edged paperback covers had those charming Garth Williams illustrations of Laura, her big sister Mary and her little sister Carrie. One by one, I read them all. I was just in the single digits then, so when Laura started courting future husband Almanzo, I was not as thrilled as I was with her adventures on the banks of Plum Creek scaring Nellie Oleson with leeches on her legs. But I did read Laura's grown-up adventures anyway. And started back at the beginning again. And read them again. And again. Many times. Over and over.

My original dog-eared copies of the "Little House" books.
By the time I reached adulthood, I have gotten rid of many of my childhood books. But all the Little House paperbacks still managed to remain on my bookshelf, and when I married my husband and moved to my own little house, Laura's books came with me. I didn't crack them open until my daughter was born, and one winter day I started revisiting those now-yellowed pages while my baby napped. Over several cups of coffee on winter afternoons, I was immediately sucked in again to Laura's world. How I loved these books! And what a different perspective I had now, as a wife and mother! Ma's ability to "keep house" on the dirty prairie, create meals from few ingredients at times, make holidays happy without money or stores and raise her daughter's to have a little spunk in a time when girls were not taught to have spunk. And there was Pa's endless upheaval of the family, dragging them all over frontierland, was somewhat annoying to me. I think Ma was a saint. And all those praire chores. God bless modern conveniences.

Despite this, the wisdom of these pioneer women totally shined through the drudgery of the lives. They were strong, brave role models. I knew I wanted my first daughter to know about Laura, so imagine my delight when I came across a series of books called "My First Little House," a series of picture books based on Laura's stories. I searched out every single one of them, and they soon became Big Girl's absolute favorite books. We read them over and over, and over and over, and she was hooked. We watched re-runs of the TV show. When she was a bit older, I read every book in the series to her, chapter by chapter, night after night, until we finished. I explained American history and social history, and we watched videos of places Laura lived and visited on YouTube. I re-read the biographies and researched online to explain to my daughter some of the difference between the books and Laura's real life. We made butter, just like Laura. She wore a "Laura" costume to her preschool Halloween party, much to the delight of her teachers and wore it again to school as she got older for "dress as your favorite book character" day.

I kept collecting books about Laura, including travel books and books featuring artifacts from her family's life. Big Girl could now see pictures to go with all those words. And soon she was reading the books herself. And reading them over and over.

We read The Long Winter during a particularly long, recent snowy winter. It really hit home for both of us, as we kept reading about the family starving and trying to figure it all out in our heads of what that actually would have been like, more than 100 years ago, to be hungry and cold constantly, to twist hay into "logs" to burn for heat while our hands cracked and bled, to shake snow from the bed coverings every morning, and numerous other real complications of 19th-century life.

When Wendy McClure's The Wilder Life was being released, I could hardly contain myself at idea that someone else was obsessed with Laura as much as I was. And as it turns out, there are many people like me, many people who hope to do the "Laura Tour" of all the homesite museums, or attend "Laurapalooza" in the summer. There are countless web sites, books, homeschooling blogs and many others who revisit Laura's pioneer life regularly and analyze what is true and what is fiction, and how it all fits in to our collected history.

-- one of my favorite quotes --

Some may think my love of all-things-Laura is rather silly or old-fashioned, but I don't really care. There are so many lessons to learn from this writer, daughter, mother, pioneer. If you travel beyond the "Little House" books to her journalism work, a reader can really get a sense of who Laura really, truly was. She was a wise lady, who lived a great life, and I am so happy to have "known" her.

Whether you pick up the Little House books or not, encourage your daughter to give it a try. Or just encourage your daughter to find her own "Laura." Share something you love from your childhood with your child. It's all about how you sell it, right? If I was not as excited about Laura's life, my daughter may not have been as fascinated as she is with her. But enthusiasm goes a long way, and along the way, you and your child will share a special bond over a book, or two, or three.

Fellow Prairie Heads should note that Wendy McClure has a new e-book (Kindle & Nook) which comes out Tuesday! The book is Don't Trade the Baby for the Horse: And Other Ways to Make Your Life a Little Laura Ingalls Wilder. The book, which is affordably priced at $2.99, is actually an off-shoot of her recent book, The Wilder Life. I've already pre-ordered mine for my Nook.

And we are not done with Laura and Little House! Look for future Prairie Head posts on this blog.

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