Little House in the Big Woods is the first book in the Little House series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Since I've never read the series, I decided to start with this first book for the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge at Stray Thoughts. It was a fascinating look into the lives of ordinary people in the mid-1800s. This book covers the year that Laura turned 5 years old, although I've read that she was actually only 3 years old when these events took place. Her publisher seemed to fear that no one would believe she could remember with such clear detail happenings when she was so young! Personally, I'm amazed she could remember them so clearly at 5 years old!
Little House in the Big Woods begins with the daily activities of the family during the fall harvest and slaughter season. I was impressed with how much food they managed to preserve and set aside in their little home - and all without electricity or running water! We follow their lives through the long winter, enjoying their family Christmas celebration, then the early spring celebration of "sugaring off," when the sap began to run in the maple trees. Summer days outside soon follow, with gardening chores, making butter and cheese, and days of running barefoot under the trees of the Big Woods.
I enjoyed the simplicity with which Laura told her stories. She made even the most complicated undertakings, such as Pa building a corner shelf for Ma, seem easy. I could picture each scene as she described them.
I found it interesting that, although Mary and Laura were very well-disciplined, that wasn't the case with all children of their time. An incident with one of their older cousins illustrated that, even back in 1872, there were spoiled children who insisted on their own way! Overall, though, children were "seen and not heard" and "minded their manners." To some that may seem harsh, but Mary and Laura were by no means abused or mistreated. Their parents clearly loved them, as illustrated by Pa taking time to sit with the girls on his knee at night, playing games with them on the floor, and playing the fiddle for them at bedtime. And this book illustrates that Pa and Ma worked hard to make sure there was plenty of food supplied and that basic needs were cared for. Whenever possible, there were special treats, such as candy and "store-bought sugar." Far from missing out on anything, I think Mary and Laura were much wealthier in things that really matter, such as love for the family and working together to make a home, than most children in our day.
I loved the insights into Charles and Caroline Ingalls' relationship. Charles loved to make and buy special things for Caroline, and she always showed deep appreciation for anything he did for her. I thought it was funny that, although Caroline was quiet and submissive to Charles all the time, just a soft-spoken "Charles!" from her would stop him in his tracks!
Although this book is written for young children, it isn't childish. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it from an adult perspective, and I think it's worth reading if for no other reason than to remind us of the hard work and perseverance of our ancestors. Add in its entertainment value, and it's definitely a worthy book.
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