I'm posting this early because we'll be off to the Outer Banks of North Carolina this evening and we won't be back until mid-August.
When we asked our readers, which book of the Little House series was their favorite, The Happy Golden Years won by a landslide.
Not quite sixteen, Laura takes her first teaching job at the Brewster School twelve miles away from town. She had never been away from home before, and from the opening illustration to the opening paragraphs of the first chapter, we can see and read the apprehension Laura experienced.
"...Pa did not not say anything.
Sitting beside him on the board laid across the bobsled, Laura did not say anything, either. There was nothing to say. She was on her way to teach school.
Only yesterday she was a schoolgirl; now she was a schoolteacher. This had happened so suddenly."
Those who have read this book remember how homesick Laura was while she lived with Mr. and Mrs. Brewster and taught school. Most of her students were taller than she. And who could forget Laura's excitement at going home when Almanzo arrived to pick her up in his sleigh, or her dismay when she thought Almanzo would no longer come for her once she told him she would not be going riding with him after she returned home for good. But Almanzo continues driving her back and forth to the Brewster settlement, encouraging her because he knows how much she dreads going there.
Mary comes home from college in The Happy Golden Years, and we get to see and read what a young lady she has become and how many things she has accomplished while she was away.
Winter turns to spring and spring to summer. Almanzo and Laura go riding in his buggy and they attend singing school. But perhaps the best part of this book is Almanzo's surprise return on Christmas Eve. By this time, Almanzo and Laura are engaged to be married, and Almanzo, along with his brother Royal, had planned to spend the winter with his folks.
Late on Christmas Eve the snow had begun to fall again and when there was a knock at the door. Laura was struck speechless when she saw Almanzo on the other side. Almanzo comes bearing gifts and admits he didn't want to stay away so long.
Almanzo and Laura marry and settle into their "little gray home". The book ends with two verses from a song that Pa's fiddle often played:
"Golden years, are passing by, These happy, golden years."
It's nice to watch Almanzo and Laura's relationship develop in this book. We see a bit of the hero in Almanzo from The Long Winter, and there is nothing better than a romantic and unexpected return.
While this is not Laura related, it is children's book related, so I feel I can talk about it here. I've been blogging for a few years now, and my book blog, The Book Connection is doing very well.
What I've noticed lately is that I am reviewing an increasing number of children's, Middle Grade, Young Adult and teen fiction books. I decided to branch those reviews off onto their own site. The Kids Book Connection is now up and running.
I am in the process of copying over some of the reviews that appear at The Book Connection. Once that is done, I will no longer be posting children's book reviews there. All of them will be at my new kid's book blog.
Dean Butler brought the Almanzo Wilder from Laura's books to life in Season 6 of Little House on the Prairie. We watched while Laura pined away for Almanzo, a man several years her senior. It would take a new job and Laura's newfound maturity to turn Almanzo's head; but as soon as it happened, their romance flew by, Laura and Almanzo married, and they were busy building a life of their own in Walnut Grove.
For this Little House fan, Dean's portrayal of Almanzo on the show, was the first time any thought had been given to the man with the unique name. But long-time fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books had met Almanzo James Wilder many years before, in the one and only book in the Little House series about Almanzo's childhood, Farmer Boy.
Almanzo is not quite nine years old when we meet him, trudging down the road to school with his older brother and two older sisters, bundled against the harsh New York winter weather in clothes that Mother had made.
We learn a great deal about Almanzo and his family from Farmer Boy: daily life for Almanzo on the farm, his love of horses, his tremendous appetite, the lessons he learned from his parents, and how they celebrated holidays and special occasions.
In this installment you get the feeling of love and importance of family that is prevelant in all the Little House books; and the reader is treated to Christmas with the cousins at the Wilder's house. You'll also learn about Almanzo's trip to the County Fair, a fair that is still held to this day. But it is Father's gift to Almanzo at the end of the book that is perhaps the greatest moment of Almanzo's young life.
Almanzo had admired his father's Morgan horses since the very beginning, and it is his hope that one day Father will see him as big enough and mature enough for Almanzo to raise his own Morgans. After returning Mr. Thompson's pocketbook and earning a two hundred dollar reward, Almanzo asks his father if he can buy a colt with the money. Imagine Almanzo's surprize when Father tells him to leave his money in the bank and that he will give Starlight to Almanzo to break him and drive him, and he will be Almanzo's to sell or keep as he sees fit.
While The Long Winter remains my strong favorite from the Little House series, Farmer Boy also holds a special place in my heart. I remember how tough it is proving you are grown up enough to do things.
In Farmer Boy, the only book of the Little House series about Almanzo's youth, Almanzo and his family rode into Malone to celebrate Independence Day.
This book tells us that everything was different that day as the Wilder family traveled: Almanzo wore his new suit, nobody was working in the fields, everyone was in their Sunday clothes driving to town. The sidewalks in town were crowded, but the stores were closed. Flags were everywhere and the band in the Square played tunes like "Yankee Doodle".
When the band stopped playing, the minister prayed, and then everyone rose, the men took off their hats, and the band played the National Athem, which everyone sung. There was a reading of the Declaration of Independence and two men made political speeches.
Pink lemonade cost a nickle a glass. Almanzo and his cousin Frank get into an argument over whether Almanzo is scared to ask his father for a nickle because Frank had one and bought himself a glass of lemonade, not sharing even a drop.
It is here that Almanzo and Father have a discussion over money. Almanzo asks his father for a nickle to buy some lemonade, but Father takes out a silver half-dollar and asks Almanzo if he knows what it is. Almanzo knew that it was half a dollar, but then his father tells him it is something that Almanzo had never thought of before: "'It's work, son,'" Father said. "'That's what money is; it's hard work.'"
As Father goes on to explain, Almanzo could take that half dollar and buy a suckling pig with it, raise it and then it would raise a litter of pigs worth four or five dollars each. Or Almanzo could buy the lemonade with it, drink the lemonade and it would be all gone.
Cousin Frank and the other boys are surprized and impressed when Almanzo shows them the half dollar, and Almanzo decides to get the most value out of it, like Father suggested.
Then the band is marching down the street, the flags are waving, and the cannons are fired.
The chapter ends with Almanzo and his father having a discussion of how America was made, and I can imagine this discussion made quite an impression on the young Almanzo and his future. Here is the last paragraph containing Mr. Wilder's wise words to Almanzo:
"'This country goes three thousand miles west, now. It goes 'way out beyond Kansas, and beyond the Great American Desert, over mountains bigger than these mountains, down to the Pacific Ocean. It's the biggest country in the world, and it was farmers who took all that country and made it America, son. Don't you ever forget that.'"