Spending time around Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House on the Prairie fans, I've heard some interesting things over the years. One thing that came up recently is the continued popularity of the Little House series with a generation of children whose regular book picks include paranormal and fantasy titles.
When browsing through Amazon's bestsellers over the past couple of weeks, I discovered that The Complete Little House Nine-Book Set can sometimes be found on their Most Wished for list in Children's Books.
If I visit the set's Amazon page at http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Little-House-Nine-Book-Set/dp/0064400409/ it is listed as a bestseller in the Number 1 spot in two categories: Children's Books, Literature, Short Story Collections (that is an odd category for these) and Children's Books, History & Historical Fiction, Fiction & United States, 1800s. It also ranks as #20 in Children's Books, Literature, Classics.
Why is it that the books remain popular when GenYers and GenZers are coming farther and farther away from the times in which Laura lived? Perhaps one of the elements is what Dean Butler spoke of during our interview. He mentioned that Little House was old when it was new. That's one of the glories of historical fiction. But I also have to believe it largely has to do with the way the books are written. Wilder shared the pioneering experience--its struggles and triumphs--but as Dean pointed out, she did so with a healthy dose of romance and optimism. The sense, he said is, "that if we’re together, and if we stick together and work hard, we will survive and we will do well. We love each other so we are going to stand up for each other and help each other."
I know that's what attracted me to the show, and then to the books. Perhaps our children are looking for those ideals too.
What about you? Why do you believe the books remain popular? Do you know children who are reading them right now? What do they say about them?
I uploaded a new fan fiction story to fanfiction.net that takes place during Season 7. It is set on Christmas Eve. The residents of Walnut Grove get stranded at Nellie's hotel and share some favorite memories.
Here's an excerpt:
Mr. Oleson stood and walked over to Percival, patting him on the back. "Where were we? Oh, yes, who would like to share a story of Christmas past?"
In the corner, the voices of a husband and wife rose in discord. The woman was nudging him forward as he tried to convince her he wanted to do anything but what she wanted him to do.
"They hear from me all the time," he said.
"Telling them a story from your childhood will mean so much more than a sermon," she replied.
As they came to stand near one of the two turned up kerosene lamps, Anna and Reverend Alden were lit enough for everyone to see them. His head shook and his hands were raised in protest. One of her hands patted his chest. Her wide smile danced along with the sparkle in her eyes.
Nels waved him over. "We would love to hear a story from you, Reverend."
Reverend Alden shrugged. "I can't guarantee it will be any more engaging than one of my sermons."
The crowd laughed. Some people walked about getting a sandwich or a cup of coffee before settling in to listen.
Reverend Alden felt a bit strange without his pulpit. He didn't seem to know what to do with his arms, so he stuffed his hands in his pockets.
"As some of you know, my father was a minister. While I could never hope to be as good a speaker as he, whatever skills I have in sharing the Word of God came from him."
"We love you, Reverend," said a man from the back of the room.
Reverend Alden's lips curled into a smile. "Thank you." He pulled his hands out of his pockets and wiped them on his black jacket.
"I was at the seminary when I received a wire that my father was gravely ill. School was to be let out at the end of the week for Christmas, but my mother asked that I return home immediately. I knew then that my father couldn't have much time left."
Reverend Alden lowered his head. He breathed deeply and a few moments passed before he continued. "I took the first stage out of town, but I was a few days away. I spent most of that time praying I would make it home before my father passed on."
People around the room held their loved ones a little tighter.
"When I finally arrived in town, I ran all the way home. My mother met me at the door. It was as if she had aged ten years since I went away. She had cared for my father for months. I almost didn't go to the seminary because I didn't want to leave her to care for him alone, but she insisted I answer God's call to the ministry. She told me that it would do my father good to see his only son follow in his footsteps.
"Standing in front of her, seeing her hair scattered about her face in a loose bun, her shoulders bent from exhaustion, I was sure I never should have left.
She embraced me and said I should go see my father right away."
I believe every fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder, whether that person is a fan of the books, the TV shows and movies, or both, has a Laura story: the moment when she discovered Laura, connected with her, and how it changed her life. Wendy McClure shares her story with readers in The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie.
A senior editor for Albert Whitman & Company, McClure brings the reader through her journey as an adult of rediscovering these beloved classics from her childhood.
A year after the death of her mother, McClure's eye catches the yellow spine of Little House in the Big Woods in her apartment. She picks the book off the shelf and begins reading. Her boyfriend, Chris, brings home a new set of the Little House books and together they read, explore "Laura World," and embark on a trip by car to visit the many Laura Ingalls Wilder homesites across America.
The Wilder Life is both touching and irreverent. The author's lifelong obsession leads her on this terrific journey into a world that is familiar, yet, altogether new. From tracking down a "crock and dash" churn so she can make butter like Caroline Ingalls, to wading in Plum Creek; from purchasing numerous sunbonnets, to meeting girls competing in the Laura-Nellie Look Alike Contest at the Wilder Pageant in Walnut Grove, MN; and from a surprise during her trip to De Smet, SD, to the meaning found in a visit to the Wilder farm in New York, readers will enjoy following McClure's travels.
This is the kind of book that you have to consider as a whole. There are moments when it feels like McClure is poking fun at the whole "bonnethead" obsession and some of the people she meets along the way. She occasionally uses words that were not made for family TV back in the 70's. She also has her own vision of what faith meant to the Ingalls family versus how it was portrayed on television in Little House on the Prairie and the 2005 mini-series of the same name.
But when you take those moments and blend them into the entire narrative, you come up with a funny, engaging, and moving look into the impact Wilder's books had on McClure's life, and how Wilder's legacy continues to touch the lives of people everywhere. I am thrilled to have The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure as part of my Laura Ingalls Wilder book collection.
Title: The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie
Author: Wendy McClure
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (April 14, 2011)
SRP: $25.95 (Hardcover)
Will also be available in a Kindle edition and as an audio book.