Once upon a time, I earned a Master's Degree in Literature and was a Professor of Literature and Composition. I had a wonderful time writing my Master's Thesis about Children's and Young Adult Literature, and I considered earning a Ph.D. so that I could continue to pursue the written word, including British, American, Latin American and other Global Literatures, Children's and Young Adult Literature, all types of genres and occasionally even poetry. But life takes you in unexpected directions, and so now I am working for a non-profit agency (you can read about that on my other blog, A Little Bit of Wonder). Although my job keeps me too busy to post as many book reviews as I would like, Recommended Reading is a place where I can continue to share my literary discoveries and knowledge as time allows.

Please note that I post reviews for books that I recommend reading, just like the blog title says. This means that I typically won't post a review for a book that I completely dislike. This isn't because I shy away from making negative comments, but rather because I don't want to waste your time or mine (I won't even bother to finish a book if it's not any good). For more on this, see the explanation of my Rating System.)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Book Review: Little House in the Big Woods

Although I did not read a great deal of historical fiction when I was a child, the Little House books were once series that I remember enjoying (although I was never a fan of the television series). I’m sure it has been almost twenty years since I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s novels about life in the vast woods and prairies of Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, South Dakota and Missouri. I knew the pioneer life wasn’t something that I was cut out for, but even so, I was fascinated by the descriptions of how the Ingalls family sustained themselves out in the wilderness – and always had plenty of good things to eat.

As I re-read Little House in the Big Woods, I found all the descriptions that had made such an impression on me when I was seven or eight years old: accounts of how Laura’s Pa had cured venison in a little smokehouse made out of a hollow tree, how Pa and Grandpa Ingalls had collected the sap from the maple trees and the family had made syrup and maple sugar candy, how Laura’s Ma made cheese and butter from their cow’s milk, and how Laura and her sister Mary would play up in the attic amongst all the piles of pumpkins and meats hanging from the rafters. I’m always drawn to descriptions of food, since I love to eat so much.

There were other scenes that I remembered as well – scenes that had to do with the family’s happy existence despite their isolation. Laura describes being cozy and snug in their little log cabin in the Big Woods of Wisconsin during the bitterly cold winters. With contentment, she describes how her father would tell them stories while they sat by the fire, then play them to sleep with his fiddle. The wolves were howling outside in the yard, but Laura knew she was safe with Jack the dog and her Pa with his gun to guard their family, and so she always fell asleep feeling warm and happy.

Apparently one editor turned away Wilder’s manuscripts because the stories don’t contain too much drama – even the tales of Ma, Pa, and Grandpa encountering dangerous wild animals somehow don’t feel threatening because Laura’s memories of early childhood are imbued with that feeling of safety. Despite the leisurely pace of the novels, however, I have found them equally engrossing at age seven and age twenty seven. I think that the descriptions and stories appeal to be when I am in a certain mood because the labors and pleasures of the Ingalls family’s lives are so physical, so tangible and so simple. After living in several different metropolitan areas and working very demanding jobs, I sometimes long for that kind of simplicity. She may have only been four or five years old when she was living in Wisconsin, but the beauty and the pleasure of so many aspects of life made an impression on her. Because she was such a content child, when I read Little House in the Big Woods, I felt happy and content as well. I hate to use the phrase “heart-warming,” but this is one of those novels that can actually make you feel as though you’re snuggled down under the covers near a blazing fire on a cold winter evening, and someone is playing you to sleep. Five stars for a novel that can make me forget the fast pace of daily life, at least for a little while.

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