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By Cindy Schuchardt, Reference Department
“The ‘Little House’ books are stories of long ago. Today our way of living and our schools are much different; so many things have made living and learning easier. But the real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with the simple pleasures; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.”
—Laura Ingalls Wilder
On February 7, 2017, Laura Ingalls Wilder would have been 150 years old. Though she died in 1957, she lives on through her beloved Little House on the Prairie books. This enduring children’s fiction series gives readers a glimpse of life in another time, based on Wilder’s experiences from her birth in Pepin, Wisconsin, to her childhood as a pioneer girl traveling through the upper Midwest, to her life as a young teacher and wife in De Smet, South Dakota.
I was in fourth grade when I first discovered the Little House books. I was in a new school – with a new library – and I remember seeing the books on a shelf to my right as I walked into the room. The cover illustrations by Garth Williams first drew me in, but it was the colorful word pictures created by Wilder that kept me transfixed. I kept returning to the library, reading each book in the series until I had completed them all. We didn’t have American Girl dolls or books in those days, but I think that many from my generation thought of Laura and her sisters Mary, Carrie and Grace as our American girls.
As fictionalized autobiographic material, the books don’t give us an entire or entirely accurate picture of history. This was a limited picture of America (an approach that took on a largely hushed tone about Native American and black history) but one that many still find valuable and enjoyable. I know that Wilder’s words helped me to travel to another time and place, to experience things that I would never experience in my lifetime – from traveling in a covered wagon and living in a log cabin, to churning butter, harvesting maple syrup, and smoking meat. I felt as though I knew the Ingalls family and was right there with Laura (a.k.a. Half-Pint) as she experienced each new task, trial or tribulation.
The story of how Wilder came to write the books is in itself an interesting one. In midlife, Wilder wrote a biweekly column for the Missouri Ruralist, which featured her opinions on country life, housekeeping, and marriage. Her adult daughter, Rose, a reporter for the San Francisco Bulletin and already a published fiction writer, encouraged Wilder to write about her childhood. That autobiography, Pioneer Girl, was rejected by several publishers at the time.
The tide turned when an editor at Harper & Brothers asked Wilder to reframe the autobiographical material into a fictionalized children’s book. With help from Rose, Wilder did exactly that. The editor liked the revised manuscript for Little House in the Big Woods and published it. It was 1932, and Wilder was 65 years old. (For adults who are aspiring fiction writers, this is an especially encouraging fact!)
Wilder’s first book was quickly successful, and she was asked to write more. Rose helped her mother, although the extent to which she served as editor or ghostwriter is a subject of debate among literary experts. By 1943, the core eight novels of the series had been published: Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, Farmer Boy, On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years. The final book in the series, The First Four Years, was published in 1971, almost 15 years after Wilder’s death.
The Little House series opened the doors of history to girls and boys across the country – and later, around the world. Wilder died on February 10, 1957, three days after her 90th birthday, on her farm in Mansfield, Missouri. Yet she lives on today through her literary legacy. About 60 million copies have been sold of Little House in the Big Woods alone, and her books have been published in 30 languages.
In 2014, the South Dakota Historical Society Press published a hardcover edition of Pioneer Girl, the autobiography first refused by Wilder’s contemporary publishers. The text, annotated by Wilder biographer Pamela Smith Hill, has sold more than 140,000 copies. For 2017, Harper Collins is releasing new, anniversary-themed editions of the books – a testament to their enduring popularity and appeal.
Want to Know More?
The library is a great way to learn more Laura Ingalls Wilder and get acquainted (or reacquainted) with her Little House books. Ask one of our children’s librarians for the “Laura Ingalls Wilder Bibliography,” which lists titles and locations of the original books, as well as non-fiction companion books, and books by other authors based on the lives of Wilder’s female relatives.
Upstairs, in the nonfiction area, we have a variety of writings by Wilder, as well as books about her by other authors. Stop by the reference desk and ask about them. We’ll be glad to help you!
By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department
Here at WCPL, we host a variety of story times for young children: Snuggle Bug Lapsit Story Time for infants through eighteen months, Toddler Time for eighteen months to three years, and Preschool Story Time for three to five years. These story times are carefully planned and conducted by our children’s librarians using current early literacy research, and each story time is jam packed with fun and engaging age-appropriate stories, rhymes, songs, and aspects of play. And we absolutely LOVE story times! For me, story time is one of the highlights of my week, and I probably get way too excited about certain songs, rhymes, and books.
But why don’t I let you in on a little secret? As much as we love story times, we don’t do it because we love it so much or because that’s just what libraries are supposed to do. Actually, story times aren’t about us at all. Story times are all about YOU! Literacy begins at birth, and we know that it can be difficult to find time to figure out exactly what you’re supposed to do to help foster your child’s development. Hence, story times! We’re here to show you how you can introduce these early literacy skills to your little ones.
Still need convincing that story time is as awesome as I think it is? Luckily for you, I’ve listed several reasons why story time is important for children and parents.
- Songs and rhymes are a great way for children to hear the sounds of language. Singing slows down language and allows children to hear the smaller sounds and syllables of words, which helps children sound out words when they learn to read.
- Children learn how books work as they listen to stories being read to them. They learn how to hold a book and turn the pages. Even when babies play with board books in ways we find unconventional (chewing, pulling, pushing, etc.), they’re developing print awareness, a skill research has shown is an important part of a strong foundation for reading.
- Books, songs, and rhymes help develop children’s vocabulary. The language used in books, songs, and rhymes is richer and uses different words than we use in conversation.
- Children can learn and develop their communication skills by interacting with other children and by watching their parents interact with other adults.
- As children have fun in story time, they learn to enjoy books. Children are more likely to stick with learning to read, even if it’s difficult, if they find books enjoyable.
- Children are exposed to different cultures and countries during story time, which broadens their horizons and adds to background knowledge that helps them understand what they read as they get older.
- Sitting still and listening to books during story time boosts children’s listening skills and helps them increase their attention span.
- Story time is great way to meet new people and make new friends.
- I’ll admit that libraries can be intimidating to navigate sometimes, and many older kids—and even adults—struggle to find what they’re looking for, ask for help, and check out books. Exposing children to the library when they’re younger ensures that they will know how to use a library.
- Story time can be a great way to simply get out of the house. We don’t mind if you use us for a change of scenery.
So what are you waiting for? Come join us for story time!
Toddler Time (18 months to 3 years): Tuesdays, 10:00 am and 11:15 am
Preschool Story Time (3 to 5 years): Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10:00 am
Snuggle Bug Lapsit Story Time (birth to 18 months): Fridays, 10:00 am