Top 10 Things I Learned From Laura Ingalls Wilder


We’re wrapping up the “Little House” series. The good news is my daughter is now fascinated with all things Prairie — she says she wants to go back in time and live as a pioneer. I much prefer Wilder’s narrative, where one strives for self-sufficiency, than the passive princess storyline she previously used in her imaginative tales. Which apparently she picked up via osmosis from friends, since we don’t allow “waiting for my prince” books in the house? It’s such a battle to try to combat the Cinderella complex…Peggy Orenstein was right. Sigh.

It’s been informative to go back and read the “Little House” stories as an adult. For example, I didn’t remember how important it was to Ma for her daughters to wear the latest fashions. They were on the Prairie! Who cares? Yet back then, families clung to clothes and books and furnishings as a way to feel “civilized” in an unsettled and wild place. Laura is a strangely modern and relatable girl/woman much of the time too: most notably, she pursues a career to help pay for her sister’s college.

(Aside: can we talk about “Blind Mary,” as I began referring to her in my head, because seriously? To Laura, there’s not much more to Mary other than her visual impairment. Example: “Her beautiful unseeing eyes looked at nothing.” If I were Mary and I read the books, I would be pissed.)

Laura teaches school by herself in strange towns, she wants to get in snowball fights even though it wasn’t “ladylike” and she achieves the best grades in her class. (One notable exception to her modernity: she claims she’s not like Almanzo’s sister, who wants the right to vote.) Overall, I found I liked her just as much as an adult as I did when I was a kid.

So here are my Top 10 Lessons I Learned from Laura Ingalls Wilder, because I like lists.

1. All the latest fashions come from Iowa.
2. Always, ALWAYS look in the Northwest for a cloud. You never know when a blizzard might spring up and freeze you to death before you can climb into a haystack. (Getting into a haystack may help you survive a blizzard, BTW.)
3. Don’t play a snowball game with your students if you expect them to respect you as a teacher.
4. Almanzo was HOT. He and Mr. Darcy remain at the top of my literary crushes list.
5. Laura may have liked Almanzo’s horses and sweet buggy more than she liked him. In the beginning, at least. I guess a beautiful team of horses and a pretty buggy were the equivalent of a cool car back then?
6. The best food in the world is oyster soup, especially if you enjoy said soup with some tasty oyster crackers.
7. Pa learned the same hard lesson we all do at some point: your crops (or home or bonus or promotion) is not the same thing as money in the bank until you actually SELL said crops, get the money and put it in the bank.
8. Grasshoppers are EVIL!
9. The most important essentials for surviving a long winter? Wheat, hay and a coffee grinder. And a positive attitude.
10. “All’s Well That Ends Well!” Ma was always saying this after they nearly drowned in their covered wagon crossing a river, or Pa almost got eaten by a panther or an ox fell through their roof. And, it’s good advice for us all, really.

My son wants me to read the Harry Potter series next. The twins are five: is this appropriate? Is the first one OK? If you read me regularly, you probably know I am a HUGE fan of those books, but I am still scarred by the Happy Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It gave me the sads. ADVICE WELCOME!!


Filed under Family

6 responses to “Top 10 Things I Learned From Laura Ingalls Wilder

  1. So true about Mary. That would be like one of our siblings saying “and she looked at me with a barren expression on her infertile face.” So not cool.

    I don’t think my five-year-old is quite ready for Harry Potter, but I think that some might be. I’d say go with your gut.

  2. I would also be hesitant to read HP to them just yet. When I was working in a bookstore, I would regularly recommend that parents wait until their children were in ‘double-digit’ territory before they begin.

    I would add Gilbert Blythe (from the Anne of Green Gables books… maybe a series to consider?) to the fictional crush list. I swooned for him when I was 11 or 12.

  3. Mel

    We’ve been fine with the HP books (we started around 5), BUT we’re stopping with 4 for a bit. I don’t even know if we’ll make it to the end of 4. I told them that we’d pause before the third task and assess how we’re feeling. I wouldn’t go to 5 and beyond at this age.

  4. Gail K

    Yes, I think the first Harry Potter book would be fine for 5 year olds. We have friends that started their daughter on HP when she was 5. They read one book each summer and then she read the last couple on her own now that she is 10. That way, the themes and darker books are saved until the twins get older and you can stretch it out longer. Plus, the family friends watched the movies after reading each book and that was something fun to look forward to.

  5. All my kids love Harry Potter…but they are much older than five! The great thing about the series is that it grew and become darker as the characters aged and became more mature. I would think reading the first story would be fine..but space the stories out over a longer period of time…some of the later themes are very deep..and yes..I cried as I read about Dumbledore dying…and in the final book where Harry meets him again in that ‘between’ place.. So well written on so many levels!

  6. I didn’t read the series until I was an adult, but watched the TV show when I was in Jr. High. I had a big crush on Dean Butler (Almanzo) when I was a kid, and had the opportunity to meet him last summer. Dean now makes documentaries for PBS (many about the real life Laura and Almanzo). And I agree. The literary Almanzo is crush-worthy. 🙂

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