A well-written novel can transport you back in time and leave you confused about what year it is. Rereading a childhood favorite can have almost the same effect by bringing you back to childhood. We’ve decided to do a series where all of us here at the office reread an influential book from our childhood and see if the magic is still there.
The very first “chapter book” I read on my own was Little House in the Big Woods by Laura
Ingalls Wilder, and boy was I obsessed. I read the entire series, the spin-offs about her daughter, mother, and grandmother, only to turn around and reread all of them immediately. I asked for every Little House companion I could find, from cookbooks to compilations of Wilder’s letters. I even tried to watch the show, but it just wasn’t the same. Luckily for me, and maybe unluckily for my parents, we lived an hour away from her long-term home in Springfield, Missouri, and I asked to go more often than I can remember. I even had a bonnet, guys…like a real honest-to-god bonnet. Thankfully I don’t think any pictures exist of me in said bonnet, but I digress.
Rereading the book as an adult was a different experience for sure, but that’s to be expected. I never could quite understand as a 5-year-old why my 15-year-old sister didn’t get a kick out of Little House like I did; what do you mean you don’t want to read about a small child whose biggest plot twist was the fact that she got a rag-doll and mittens for Christmas when everyone else only got mittens??
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy rereading the book or don’t think that it has literary significance, just that it was written for a child. Rereading the book actually had its own kind of special magic. While I didn’t necessarily identify with Laura anymore, I was able to see what it was that had drawn me to the book in the first place. While writing in a way meant to engage with children, Wilder is still able to create a world that the reader wants to learn more about. The characters were loving and realistic; I didn’t want anything to happen to Pa when he went hunting, and I wanted to know more about Ma’s struggles to create a home without any of the conveniences of today. I was happy when they were happy, sad when they were sad, and scared when they were scared. I even laughed at some of the more ridiculous stories, like Ma hitting a bear in the dark thinking it was their cow!
I was able to clearly see the lessons that Wilder was trying to impart on her readers. Everything from table manners to being grateful, and that’s what you want in a book for children. There should be lessons embedded within the story, and Wilder knew just how to do that. I was actually surprised at just how much sometimes. This book seemed to critique some of the more problematic aspects of the 1800s to make those issues teachable moments. One particular line comes to mind about gender roles: “It was harder for little girls. Because they had to behave like little ladies all the time, not only on Sundays. Little girls could never slide downhill, like boys. Little girls had to sit in the house and stitch on samplers.” Initially, this line made me cringe for obvious reasons, but as I sat down to write about it I was left with a different impression. Rather than forcing gender roles on her readers, Wilder seems to be telling them to appreciate how far we have come since her grandmother’s day. I think she would be proud of how far we have come since 1932 when Little House in the Big Woods was initially published.
All in all, Little House in the Big Woods is a story I hope future generations will appreciate as
much as I did. Except for the bonnet wearing thing. I don’t wish that particularly embarrassing photo opportunity on anyone. In case you weren’t as weird as I was and aren’t sure what a bonnet is, I’ve provided an example.
If writing children’s books sounds like your thing, be sure to get our book: So You Want to Write a Children’s Book, available on Amazon.