by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Unconditional Recommendation: Young Laura Ingalls and her family make a living working the land and hunting the woods in 1871 Wisconsin.
Genre: Historical, Autobiographical Fiction
Little House in the Big Woods, depicts life through the seasons while living near the woods in Wisconsin. It takes the reader to the not-so-distant past where life consisted of hard work and simple pleasures. This sweet book has the wonderful quality of making simple things like drawing on frosted windows and taking a trip to town special.
This beloved story of a pioneer girl and her family begins in 1871 in a log cabin on the edge of the Big Woods of Wisconsin. Laura lives in the little house with her pa, her ma, her sisters Mary and Carrie, and their dog, Jack. Pioneer life is sometimes hard for the family, but it is also exciting as they make their own homemade toys and treats, do the spring planting, bring in the harvest, and visit town. And every night Laura and her family are safe and warm in their little house, with the happy sound of Pa’s fiddle to send them off to sleep. Based on the real-life adventures of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods is the first book in the award-winning Little House series, which has captivated generations of readers with its depiction of life on the American frontier.
There aren’t any historical events in this book, but there are old ways of living and cooking! Included in this book are: using a hollow log to smoke meat, making a balloon out of a pig’s bladder, enjoying the delicacy of a fried pig’s tail, making headcheese, churning cream to make butter, hand making bullets from bits of lead, using molasses, sugar, and snow to make candy, and the list goes on!
On Sunday, Ma reads Bible stories to Laura and Mary and they aren’t allowed to shout or be noisy, make new dresses for their paper dolls, or sew, etc. on that day.
Family – It’s so nice to read a book about a family who loves each other, works together, and builds a life together. So many children’s books are about orphans! In this book, children are contributing members of the family no matter how young they are. Mary and Laura both help Ma with her tasks around the house or in the kitchen. Children are expected to obey their elders and are disciplined (spanked) in love not anger when they disobey. Mary and Laura love their parents and Laura says, “But the best time of all was at night, when Pa came home.” This book paints a beautiful picture of what a safe, peaceful and happy home could be like.
Survival/Ingenuity/Self-sufficiency – It’s amazing what Pa and Ma had to do to make a living working the land with the technology of the time. The dedication, responsibility, and hard work that went into living are inspiring. It’s such a contrast to our convenience-driven, technology-laden culture today and it’s so good to read about how things were once done because it brings new pleasure to all that we have in today’s world.
This book doesn’t have an overarching plot—it’s more a collection of stories and various records of what everyday life was like for the Ingalls family as they go through a year living in the “big woods.” Each story is fascinating, entertaining and simply told. This would be a great book to read aloud with kids before bedtime because each chapter concludes nicely (no cliff hangers) and the stories are calming. Reading this book reminds me of telling family stories around a campfire.
This story has the same experience for me as Love Comes Softly. It’s slow-paced, gentle, and a quiet sort of story. I found it very calming and very rooted in reality. I really enjoy reading about the everyday tasks of living in that time because it makes me appreciate what I have. Learning about the long processes and hard work that went into creating something inspires me take a second look at these products and being amazed that I can just buy them in a store. It makes me notice the simple things in life that would otherwise go unnoticed—like a perfect stick of butter (no churning required).