Recent Reads: Little House books

I bought the Little House series (the proper edition, illustrated by Garth Williams) for Young Indiana last year for Christmas, thinking that sometime in the next year or so he might be about ready to start having them read to him. A few months ago he got LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, brought it to me, and said, “Maybe we could read this book! It has a FEW pictures!”

I told him we had to start with LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS, but that I would love to read them to him. So he went and got BIG WOODS, and we read it. He was *enthralled*, absolutely enthralled, by Laura and Baby Carrie and Mary and Pa and Ma, more or less in that order. He even asked if we could bring it to Grandma and Grandpa’s house when he stayed the night there earlier this year, so Grandma could read him more of the story.

Several days after we finished reading it, we were putting some of his very round-nosed crayons away, and I tipped the box on end so they would stack up on top of one another, and out of nowhere Indy said, “They’re like bullets!”

My jaw fell open. I said, “How do you know that?” Indy said, “They’re like bullets! Like Pa made, and Laura helped!” Holy crap. Talk about retention and comprehension!

The books have FARMER BOY listed second, so Indy insisted we should read that next. I was dubious, and tried to explain that this book was about Almanzo, the man Laura married when she grew up, when he was a boy, but no, Indy was determined. At least, he was determined until I got about two paragraphs in and he said, “But where’s Laura?” I said she wasn’t in that book, and he disdainfully removed FARMER BOY from the reading list and went to get PRAIRIE. :)

PRAIRIE has some more difficult waters to navigate than BIG WOODS: Ma’s fear and hatred of Indians, the word Indian at all, 140 years after the events of these books happened (and 80 years after their publication!), the fact that white settlers like the Ingalls were coming into ‘Indian Territory’ and taking over the land. All of that is in its way addressed in the book: Laura is rightfully concerned that the Indians might be mad that they’re being pushed off the land, and Pa, who doesn’t share Ma’s xenophobia, lets that discussion go on a bit before shutting it down, and Pa constantly reassures Ma that there’s no reason to fear their native neighbors, so that, from a modern reader’s POV, is something, at least.

Mostly I’ve been dealing with it by elliding the comments about Ma’s *fear*, and by talking about each chapter when we finish reading it, both to see how much Indy has retained (answer: LOTS. He acts out big parts of each chapter when I ask question :)) and to put a little bit of context to the situations. He’s mildly interested by the context,

For my own part, I haven’t read the books since I was a teen, and possibly not since I was 9 (the last time I *remember* reading them for certain was then, when I re-read the whole series one day during the summer), and it’s kind of fascinating to see what I remember and what I don’t. The scene that’s always stuck with me is when they all catch malaria, and Laura goes crawling across the floor to get water for Mary. In my mind she’d done a lot more care-taking for her family than that, and also she was older (it’s possible there’s another family-wide illness in one of the later books), and I had no recollection at all that a doctor had tended to them, much less that the doctor was black.

I went and looked him up, of course. Dr George Tann’s parents Bennet & Mary were among the Ingalls’ neighbors in Kansas, and Dr Tann was visiting his parents during the malaria outbreak. Good thing for the Ingalls’, apparently, and everybody else in the area, to whom he evidently also attended. So that was a fairly cool discovery in the re-read.

We’ve just finished the chapter where their neighbor Mr Edwards saves Christmas (Ma has baked the girls little cakes with white flour and sugar, there’s been an unholy gale and between the rain and the risen creek even the girls understand that Santa isn’t going to make it this year, but Mr Edwards arrives at the Ingalls’ home early Christmas morning, having walked the 40 miles to Independence in the midst of the gale and buying Laura and Mary each a new tin cup and a candy cane as a gift, then returning to ford the dangerously-risen creek): Ma and Pa and Mr Edwards acted as if they were almost crying. Laura didn’t know why. So she gazed again at her beautiful presents.

I *remember* that scene, of course, but it’s a much different scene as an adult and a parent two weeks before Christmas. And also as someone who’s been stressed out and tearing up over all sorts of things, admittedly, but man. #snif

Anyway, we’ll be finishing up the first book, which involves the Ingalls and the Indians all being thrown off the land, soon, and I’m kind of hoping Indy wants to run off and grab the next one immediately, although he took a break between the first two. :)