This fall I took an online course on Laura Ingalls Wilder: Laura Ingalls Wilder: Exploring Her Work and Writing Life.* Part of the course requirement was to read the first four books, of which I have finished LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS and FARMER BOY.
I adored these books as a young girl. ADORED THEM. This was my first time to read them as an adult.
A couple of thing stood out:
LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS is quiet. It's episodic. There's no real character arc. And there are lots and lots of Pa stories! I didn't remember this. I also didn't remember Pa calling Laura "Half-pint" in the books -- I thought that came from the TV show. I loved reading it in the text!
FARMER BOY is full of action. We know what Almanzo wants -- a colt of his very own. There are all sorts of animals and life lessons interwoven -- there's farm life and school life and the fair!
What I Learned About Myself: 43 year old me craves character depth and development. I need action and adventure. And I love boy main characters. (Maybe FARMER BOY has something to do with why the majority of books I write feature boy main characters? Even LEAVING GEE'S BEND had a boy main character the first time I wrote it!)
Now I am diving into LITTLE TOWN ON THE PRAIRIE... and most looking forward to ON THE BANKS OF PLUM CREEK, which, I learned during the course, that editor Ursula Nordstrom (If you haven't yet read DEAR GENIUS, go! Read!) found to be the perfect middle-grade book.
The course itself was fascinating.
I learned that Laura and her daughter Rose exemplify what I have often claimed: the mother-daughter relationship is THE most complicated of all relationships. Theirs was even more complicated by adding in the writer/editor layer.
I learned we've come a long way with how we write and think about race relations. Laura Ingalls Wilder's writing represents the time of her life. It's important for young readers today to be aware of that as they enjoy these stories.
I learned I admire Laura Ingalls Wilder all the more for the way she followed Emily Dickinson's advice "Tell all the truth but tell it slant." No, she wasn't writing an autobiography -- she was using her life experiences to tell a story. It's true in the ways it needed to be true, and she wisely left out/combined events/people that would have distracted/weakened the story.
*For those who are interested: you can join the second part of this course, starting on April 6th, 2015. The course will cover the last five Little House books, as well as Rose Wilder Lane’sLet the Hurricane Roar. To receive more information, please follow this link and fill out the following form: http://outreach.missouristate.