Friday, April 12, 2013

Reasons Why the Little House Books Are Still a Must Read for Kids (and Adults!)


"Are We There Yet?" They Seemed To Say....

When I was nine, mom got me the entire collection of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House Books. Most of you who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s probably had the same collection: all nine books were housed in a thick yellow box. The spines were yellow too. That shade of yellow hardwired me to think of Little House. Although the collection later got a colorful update some years later, I was never able to see that specific color of canary yellow without thinking of Laura, Mary, Pa and Ma, and the rest of the Little House gang.

Lesson 323 of Childhood: YELLOW MEANS LITTLE HOUSE. (Ignore Bambi.)


One of the things I did to celebrate my poem "Caregiver Burnout" being published in The Cancer Poetry Project 2 that was reviewed favorably in The New York Times was to buy some goodies for myself. Among the purchased goodies was a leather bound Barnes and Noble copy of the first five Little House books: Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, Farmer Boy (did anyone ever read Farmer Boy?), On the Banks of Plum Creek, and On the Shores of Silver Lake.


The First Five Books. (Did anyone read Farmer Boy?)


But why on God's creation should kids still read Wilder's Little House books? Isn't it enough that they are reading Twilight and The Hunger Games and love stories about what teens do when they fall in love with werewolves? Well, I'm always a fan of anything that gets kids reading - and books about post apocalyptic games and star crossed human/vamp/were romances have their place in the world. But here are a few reasons why the Little House books are still a must read.



1) A Time Without Facebook

Yep, Mary and Laura lived without Facebook and Twitter (although someone made her a hilarious Twitter feed). In fact, they lived without electricity and a big Ingalls evening consisted of Pa's fiddle tunes, maybe some popcorn balls, and the knowledge that they'd survived Scarlet Fever/hunger/blight for another 24 hour period. Seriously, these books are like paperback Valium - although as the books continue, things get darker.  (See #3.)


2) Details, Details or "Demonic Grasshoppers!"

We all remember the wonderful descriptions in Little House, don't we? That was half the fun of Little House - Little House in the Big Woods' "sugar snow" that Ma made for Christmas by dipping a pan into snow and then making designs with maple sugar? The fantastic scene when Laura gets back at Prairie Bad Girl Nellie Olson by tricking her into playing in a leech filled pond? Or what about the are-you-fricking-kidding me creepy-as-hell grasshopper destruction scenes from On the Banks of Plum Creek? (Raise your hand if you remember the scene when a grasshopper plague - really Rocky Mountain Locusts, according to Wiki - wipes out the entire Minnesota prairie and then thousands of them walk over Laura's house on the way out. Yeah. Not ok.)


Here There Be Creepy Locusts


3) Wait...Did You Say "Demonic Grasshoppers"?

Yes, yes, I did. That would be book four - aka On the Banks of Plum Creek (seen above). The Ingalls family has finally settled in Plum Creek, Minnesota. They lived in a cozy, little dugout for a while and then they moved to a freshly built house. The little "sweet shepherdess" of Ma's is finally back on the mantelpiece, which, as avid Little House readers know, always indicates that everyone is happy and cozy and settled.

And no sooner has Pa planted a crop that would have made them hundreds of 19th century dollars richer.......... enter these guys. Thousands, if not millions of them.

"Laura and Mary, find your Bibles! Let's exorcise the prairie!"

I won't lie to you. When I reread this scene last week, for the first time since I was a kid, I was seriously ready to stockpile Raid cans. I mean, picture this for a moment, ok?

You're cozied down with your sister Mary and listening to Pa's gentle fiddle music. Baby Carrie is snoozing in Ma's arms. All is right in the prairie. And then you here a rushing of ...wings? Ma says something like "Land's sake, Charles! What is that?" Then everyone runs around shutting precious glass windows and sh*ting bricks because you look out the window and, rather than see and hear the roar and thunder of Plum Creek, you hear the buzzing of thousands of wings and you see THIS.

Ignore the building in the distance. Focus on the thousands of locusts.
(And Katness Everdeen thought she had problems.)

I mean, forget Voldemort and the Cullen Family and District 12. That is creepy.



Alison Arngrim (Nellie Olson) is a comedian, child advocate, and author of this fantastic book.


4) Nellie Olson: Little B*tch on the Prairie

Nellie Olson is synonymous with Prairie evil. She's not as bad as the locust swam, but she's close. And thanks to Alison Arngrim's infamous portrayal of the tween/teen blonde Mean Girl, it's impossible to read the Little House books without picturing Arngrim's sneering face. The books and the first few episodes of the classic Little House/Michael Landon show dovetail, so when you watch Arngrim snarl "Country girls!" at Mary (Melissa Anderson) and Laura (Melissa Gilbert) in Season One's "Country Girls" episode, you will never be able to picture the pint-sized villain as anyone but Arngrim.

However, credit where credit is due. Our beloved "half-pint" Melissa Gibert grew up to star in tv movies with titles Shattered Trust and Against Her Will (although she did resurface to star as "Ma" in the musical version of Little House) Alison Arngrim grew into a cancer-fighting badass who is now a stand up comedian, children's advocate, AIDS activist, and author of the hilarious and heartbreaking Confessions of a Prairie Bitch. Confessions tells of Arngrim's life on Little House and also of the shocking abuse suffered at the hands of her brother. It is not often that I read a celeb bio that's anything above fair to middling.  But this was amazing and her tongue in cheek humor mixed with her life's sorrows read like Augusten Burroughs On the Prairie. A must read.

Wilder Life author Wendy McClure Understands Why Yellow Means Little House!


5) The Wilder Life

I'm not the only person who was obsessed with Little House as a kid. Neither are you. Go ahead and pick up a copy of The Wilder Life, a woman's exploration of her Little House obsession. (She understands the YELLOW MEANS LITTLE HOUSE thing too.) Fantastic and funny - another must read. Pick it up when you pick up copies of Little House for your kids. I won't tell they're really for you.






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