Saturday, January 13, 2018

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little House in the Big Woods
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1932
Little House-athon via The Vince Review

Little House in the Big Woods is the first book in the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and even though it is written for the youngest of audiences, I could not imagine beginning the series without it. 

The reader is instantly immersed into Laura's world, deep into the snowy woods of Wisconsin. She described the detailed process of smoking deer meat, the sensitive topic of killing a hog for bacon, and the laborious task of churning butter. Ma had an orderly way of running her household:

Wash on Monday 
Iron on Tuesday
Mend on Wednesday
Churn on Thursday
Clean on Friday
Bake on Saturday
Rest on Sunday

Early on readers get to know Pa as a hard-working, tender-hearted man with a sparkle in his eyes; he loved to tell his girls stories about real life. Ma was also hard-working and resourceful. She was a woman with much courage. 

For example, Ma and Laura went out to let the cow into the barn, but in the dark, Ma mistook a bear in the yard for the cow. She gave it a good smack on its hind leg. Suddenly realizing it was a bear, she quietly instructed Laura to walk back to the house, which she did, until Ma caught Laura up under her arm and ran into the house. Ma later trembled as she laughed, "I've slapped a bear!"

(I probably would have fainted.)

Pa's story about his confrontation with a bear in the woods was equally entertaining. In the snowy dark night, he saw what he thought was the silhouette of a bear on its hind quarters. Yelling and waving his arms, Pa could not intimate the animal, until he realized, when he went to club the bear with a tree branch, it was only the stump of a fallen tree. His lesson was that he must find courage because he could not run away from everything that scared him. 

When Laura threw a tantrum because she must sit still on Sunday, Pa narrated the story of her grandpa on Sundays when he could do nothing but catechism. When one Sunday Grandpa's father fell asleep, Grandpa and his brothers snuck out to try their new sled down the snowy hill that went past the front door of the house; however, on their way down, they accidentally picked up a pig who squealed all the way down, right past the door -- and there was their father watching them speed by. The moral of the story was that Laura should be glad that it was not as hard to be good as it used to be, though Ma added that it was even harder than for girls because they always had to be little ladies every day.

There was the chapter on the sugar snow, in which Laura recounted the collection of sap from the trees and the process of turning it into syrup and brown sugar. Following that was the dance at Grandpa's, which was so jovial and lively -- and you know you can hear Pa's fiddle and the boots stomping. 

During the trip to Town, Laura candidly exposed more of her jealousies towards her older sister Mary. Mary was always good and obedient and neat and careful. Mary had beautiful golden curls, but Laura had dirt-brown colored hair.

Later, Laura's deep jealousy caused her to strike Mary, resulting in a whipping from Pa; but it is also important to note that Laura recalled how Pa took her in his arms and hugged her tightly and explained that he had brown hair, too; obviously she never realized that before.

The chapter on making cheese is not my favorite, especially because it involved the killing of a calf. Laura never wanted Pa to kill any of their own animals, which he did not for this particular cheese making time. But someone's calf had to die. Poor thing. 

But my favorite part about that chapter is how Ma and Pa complimented each other. After the extensive, complex cheese making process, Pa looked at Ma and said,
Nobody'd starve to death when you were around, Caroline.
And she replied,
Well, no, Charles, not if you were there to provide for us. 
In the harvest, Pa went to help Uncle Henry in his field, and Ma and the girls went, too. Cousin Charley was supposed to help the men, but was a naughty boy, to put it mildly. He cried wolf one too many times and certainly deserved what he got when he finally received it.

When it was Pa's turn to do his own threshing, he completed three weeks work in one day with the new threshing machine. He exclaimed,
That machine's a great invention! Other folks can do old-fashioned ways if they want to, but I'm all for progress. It's a great age we're living in.
And finally, it was winter all over again.

Mid pleasures and palaces, though we may roam, 
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.

Have you read Little Town in the Big Woods? What is your favorite memory?


Gently Mad said...

What a delightful review of this book! You have reminded why it is such an old favorite. Now I'm going to have to dust off my collection and reread them.

Michelle Ann said...

I first read this series a few years ago, as an adult, and loved it. I think that is one of the tests of a classic children's book - they can also be enjoyed by adults.

Paula Vince said...

I love how the Ingalls family learn life lessons from these episodes. I felt the same as you about the little calf who had to be sacrificed for the cheese. Laura really highlights things we might not have known otherwise. And yes, Cousin Charley probably didn't 'cry wolf' again for some time. When I first read the books, he seemed like such a big boy at 11 years old. The re-read puts things in perspective. I have my review up today too. I think we notice new things every time 💓

Ruth said...

Frankly, the cheese process was so complicated, I convinced myself that it wasn't worth it. Personally, my kids and I did a Little House year, and we tried to make cheese (without the calf), and it was disgusting. Long story short, I gave it up before we were done. Leaving curd out on the counter for a few days was nasty.

I left a comment on your blog, too.

Ruth said...

You can't hear me, but I'm yelling, "Do it, do it. You have to reread them." : D Even though today my 18-year old told me I cannot tell her "You have to read this," b/c then it becomes a chore. But really, reading Little House is not a chore. It's such easy, fun reading and thinking. So in other words, I hope you do reread them, and then write about them.

Ruth said...

Yes, Michelle, I agree. Its easy reading, but the ideas and lessons are mature enough for adults.