Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Little Town on the Prairie

Wilder, Laura Ingalls. 1941. Little Town on the Prairie.

I'm not sure how other fans feel. I've never sat down to have deep philosophical discussions on which books from the series are their personal favorites and bests. But Little Town on the Prairie gets my pick for being an unsung hero. I always, always forget about it when naming my favorites. It gets overshadowed by The Long Winter and These Happy Golden Years. But I would imagine that each and every time I sit down to actually read it, I find myself delighted and surprised.

The book opens almost where Long Winter left off. The Ingalls family have moved back to their homestead. They are living in their claim shanty. They are busy, busy, busy. It seems each book finds them always hard at work, always diligent, always thinking ahead and planning. What is on their minds in this book is getting enough money saved to send Mary to college. Her school for the blind. At the heart of this is Laura's determination to earn money to contribute to the family's savings. At first this is through her work in town helping the seamstress. But it is also in her quiet, steady determination to study hard so that she can earn her teacher's certificate when she is sixteen.

What is so delightful about Little Town on the Prairie is the quiet, peaceful winter spent in town. Here we see Laura attending school on a regular basis. Here we see her making friends. Here we see a return of Nellie Oleson. No longer the "city girl" or the "town girl." Nellie is now the shabbier, poorer neighbor. She's as mean as ever. Or so Laura would have us belief. A nice Nelly? Unthinkable! But above all, Little Town on the Prairie is delightful because of Almanzo Wilder.

"Name Cards" is one of my favorite chapters. It starts out with Nellie being horrid, and ends with a rather subtly romantic first ride for Laura behind Almanzo's oh-so-admired horses. (Laura has been eying those horses for quite a while now.) Almanzo sees her hurrying along to school--worried she might be late--and so he offers to give her a ride. She didn't know he knew she existed. Anyway, pure delight.

Of equal delight is "Schooltime Begins Again" where Almanzo Wilder asks Laura Ingalls if he can walk her home after the revival. The revival lasts all week, and each night he is there by her side waiting to ask to see her home. Around this time, though not quite in this chapter, he asks if she would like to go for sleigh rides in January when his new cutter is finished.

Small beginnings that won't come to bloom until These Happy Golden Years. But beginnings that make you smile and are satisfying in their own way.

First sentence: One evening at supper, Pa asked, "How would you like to work in town, Laura?" Laura could not say a word. Neither could any of the others.

Pages: 307

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