Monday, June 08, 2015

Pioneer Girl (2014)

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Edited by Pamela Smith Hill. 2014. South Dakota State Historical State Society. 400 pages. [Source: Library]
Pioneer Girl is a must-read for anyone who grew up loving, or perhaps, LOVING, Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books. Pioneer Girl is an annotated autobiography. The book itself is a draft of an autobiography written by Laura Ingalls Wilder circa 1930. Mother and daughter worked with this draft preparing to send it to various publishers (not just book publishers) for a year or two. (There are several draft versions of Pioneer Girl.) Eventually, the focus shifts from writing an adult autobiography to writing a series of historical fiction novels for children. The adult autobiography was "forgotten" as a book itself, and becomes a source--a good source--for mother and daughter to use in their own fiction. I didn't know that Rose Wilder Lane borrowed generously from her mom's autobiography while writing her adult fiction. Lane wrote Free Land and Let the Hurricane Roar (Young Pioneers).

The autobiography shares Laura Ingalls Wilder's earliest memories through her wedding day. (Those earliest memories are of being a toddler in Kansas.) These memories are, of course, in her own words. The writing is natural and casual. Some paragraphs are great at capturing details and specifics of an event. Other paragraphs are more of a rush, a blend, they seem a bit fuzzier, less exact. These are her very personal reflections written first for her daughter, and, then possibly for a larger audience. Wilder has turned reflective. She's older now, feeling that very much. (Her mom died in 1924, her sister, Mary, in 1928. She's wanting to capture these memories, these stories, to hold onto them perhaps.) One also sees the book itself as an act of love, an expression of love, a way of remembering and honoring.

The annotations are wonderful. They provide background and context. The annotations includes notes on a wide variety of subjects a) people b) places c) events d) nature e) culture (songs, dances, fashion), f) writing, editing, and publishing. There are plenty of notes that compare and contrast scenes and events as they appear in Pioneer Girl and as they appear in one of the original novels. Readers see how a memory recorded in Pioneer Girl is shaped and crafted into a finished product with plenty of detail and even dialogue. Readers see how Wilder carefully--oh-so-carefully--crafted the characters of the family. One gets the definite impression that she was purposeful with every scene, every book. It was no accident that Pa is so noble, independent, strong, and bigger-than-life almost.

I learned so much by reading Pioneer Girl. I would definitely recommend it for anyone who has enjoyed spending time with Laura and her family through the years.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Christina T 5:01 AM  

I am looking forward to reading this someday. We finally got a copy for the library and it has been checked out like crazy.

I think the book sounds fascinating. Thanks for your review!

Charlotte 8:23 PM  

I enjoyed this one lots too; it really was well worth reading, and not dry and academic at all!

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