HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Little House in the Big Woods
Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder
Illustrator: Garth Williams
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers, reissued in 1953
Language level: 1 (nothing objectionable)
Reading level: Ages 8-12
Rating: 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little House in the Big Woods (originally published in 1932; reissued in 1953 by HarperCollins Publishers). The “Little House” series is a set of seven books–Little House in the Big Woods in which Laura’s saga begins in Wisconsin, Little House on the Prairie, Farmer Boy, On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, and The First Four Years. It is difficult to know where to place these books. They are “officially” considered children’s historical fiction because the publishers felt that no one could remember events as far back in her life as author Laura Ingalls Wilder did. However, Laura always claimed that they were true and accurate accounts of events as she remembered them. While recollections of her childhood , teenage years, and early married life, they were not written until she was much older and had already produced many newspaper and magazine articles. Their popularity, especially among homeschoolers, is explained by the Elijah Company catalogue. “These true stories not only relate the adventures and struggles of a frontier family, but they also reflect a lifestyle based on Christian freedoms.” On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years all were Newbery Honor Books.
Some have noted negative attitudes displayed by Laura–vengefulness, disobedience to parents, and envy–which they do not wish their children to emulate; but Laura is usually punished or suffers undesirable consequences for such attitudes. Still one might want to point out such flaws while reading. Others have said that Laura was somewhat of a feminist, and it is true that in These Happy Golden Years she wanted the word “obey” omitted from her marriage vows and Almanzo agreed, but that is a far cry from today’s “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar.” Still others have noted that in some of her other writings, Laura appeared to be more of the leader of her household than Almanzo. However, it should be noted that shortly after their marriage, Almanzo had a severe stroke that left him physically weak, and perhaps as little mentally weak as well, so Laura may have had to take a more active roll in leading the household than might have been otherwise necessary. I still think that the books are great.
I doubt that very many homeschoolers need a review of the “Little House” books. In fact, I suspect that nearly every homeschooling family in the country has a set and either has used or will use it as part of its curriculum at some time or another. And there are many resources to help us with this. Cadron Creek publishes Marge Gray’s Prairie Primer, a year’s worth of unit studies on the “Little House” books. Progeny Press has study guides on Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy. The Reading Skills Discovery Series Bookshelf Collections series has a manual on Little House in the Big Woods too. Then there is the “Little House in the Classroom” for use with seven of the nine books. We used the “Little House” books as part of our fifth-grade reading curriculum (living books instead of “readers”), with the Progeny Press guides, and both of our sons, Mark and Jeremy, enjoyed them. My wife Karen also found a reproducible activity book at the library (I can’t remember what it was exactly, but it may have been “Little House in the Classroom”). Interest in Laura’s books has spawned several other sets of books, such as the “Rose Years” which chronicle the life of Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, and the “Martha Years,” the “Charlotte Years,” and the “Caroline Years,” which go back to tell the stories of three of Laura’s maternal ancestors.