Throwback Thursday: Little House on the Prairie

Posted 1 May, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Little House on the Prairie by: Laura Ingalls Wilder

Source: Owned, at least since 1989. Maybe before.
Synopsis: (Goodreads)

Pa Ingalls decides to sell the little log house, and the family sets out for Indian country! They travel from Wisconsin to Kansas and there, finally, Pa builds their little house on the prairie. Sometimes farm life is difficult, even dangerous, but Laura and the family are kept busy and are happy with the promise of their new life on the prairie.

Laura and her family journey west by covered wagon, only to find they are in Indian territory and must move on.

Okay. So after I finished reading The Girl Little House in the Big Woods she wanted more Laura and Mary, so despite how re-reading it as an adult made me feel (or not feel, as it were) I decided to indulge her. After all, promoting the love of reading is more important in our bedtime stories than how much I’m enjoying the book. 

I have good news and I have bad news. What do you want first? 

Let’s go with the good news. The good news is that this book is a lot less boring than Little House in the Big Woods, it’s more character driven and while there are still a lot of descriptions about the building of the cabin, the camping in the wagon, and other things that we associate with the western expansion of the United States, but Laura gets some more sass, there are some tense moments when we think that Jack the bulldog might be gone forever, and Wilder gives us the glimmer of hope that the whole family might get eaten by wolves one night. (Spoiler alert: they don’t.) 

So as a story, this is a much more enjoyable book for an adult reading it aloud. That’s good.

The bad? Welllll…. this book was first published in 1935 and it’s about a homesteading family (and other white people) in ‘Indian territory’. Do you see where the problem might be? Yep, it gets pretty xenophobic at times. Ma is terrified of Indians*, Pa continually speculates that the government (and soldiers) are always on the verge of clearing the land of Indians (moving them west) so that good upstanding white folk can make better use of the lands than the Indians ever will. It’s true that Pa stands up for the ‘goodness’ of the Indians against his neighbors and tries to reassure Ma and the girls that the Indians (assuming that they don’t piss them off) won’t hurt them. But there is still an undercurrent of fear and loathing. 

There are whole chapters (quite a few of them) dedicated to showing how frightening the Indians are. One chapter talks about an Indian that comes in the house and basically demands that Ma hand over the tobacco and cornmeal. Was settlement during this time period fraught with danger and very scary for white settlers? I’m sure that it was. But do I feel comfortable hammering home the message that Native Americans are ‘less than’  the white settlers? No, definitely not.

How do I address these things with my three year old? How do I emphasize that this wrong? My answer. I don’t know. I just read, trusted, and try to lead by example.

My second issue with the book is one of parenting. There’s a lot of ‘Laura knew she was a big girl and therefore shouldn’t cry.’ ‘Children were to be seen and not heard.’ that’s not my parenting style. I want The Girl to feel comfortable asking questions and knowing it’s okay to cry. Again, I think that this is a product of the book being written when it was written. So I read as is and teach my own values in different moments (or during questions she may ask during the reading.) 

Like I said, it’s better and worse than Little House in the Big Woods.

What do you think, Reader? Do things like xenophobia and outdated practices bother you when reading? What about when reading to a child? Am I nuts? 

*I use the term ‘Indian’ as opposed to ‘Native American’ because this is how the Native Americans are continually referred to in the book. 

April @ The Steadfast Reader


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