Most people know Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories, if not through her books, then through the long-running television series, Little House on the Prairie. A a pioneer child who wrote down her experiences and later had them published, Ms. Wilder wrote nine Little House books, originally published between 1932 and 1943. The series resonated with girls and young women and is popular to this day.
Little House in the Big Woods is the first book in the Little House series, and introduces the reader to the Ingalls family: Laura, her older sister, Mary, baby sister, Carrie, and parents, Ma and Pa (Caroline and Charles). The family lives in the Big Woods in Wisconsin in the later part of the 19th Century, shortly after the Civil War. (Laura even mentions a family member who is “wild since he came back from the army”.)
We go through each of the seasons with the Ingalls family and learn how families lived, ate, and had fun. There are family dances and visits, trips to town, and encounters with bears and bees. There is always time for work, though, and this is where the book acts as a primer. Laura details the process of preserving meats and vegetables to keep the family fed through the lean winter months; how Pa prepares an animal skin to be used as leather goods; how to get sap from a tree, and how to smoke bees out of a hive to be able to get to the honey. It’s a fascinating look at a different time, and while it is written with a girl’s voice, this is should not be considered a “girl’s book”: boys and girls alike can learn much about the wildnerness life.
Laura writes in a clear voice, drawing her readers in because her stories are real. The love of family and nostalgia as she looks back on her life bring to mind the feeling a child gets when listening to a parent or grandparent talking about their childhood. Black and white drawings by Garth Williams add to the book.
There is a wealth of information about Laura Ingalls Wilder online. Wilder’s home in Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri, where she wrote the Little House books, is now the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum and word finds, quizzes and coloring pages. The Little House Books website features a family tree tracking the girls of the Little House series from Laura’s great-grandmother to her daughter, Rose. The site also offers games and craft ideas, as well as information for teachers interested in teaching the book.