Like many young girls, I read and re-read the Little House series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Though her world was, even then, far removed from the one in which I lived, the stories of grit and family values, even in the face of adversity, were inspiring and timeless. Like many others, my family gathered weekly to watch the television series based on the nine novels
Reading The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion, A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide by Annette Whipple, brought me back to simpler times, both that of my childhood and even further back, to a world 150 years ago. I heard about this book months ago and looked forward to its release; I was not disappointed.
This book is, as the title suggests, a companion book. It is meant to read alongside Wilder’s novels. It weaves in anecdotes and additional family history that Laura Ingalls Wilder left out of her books and also provides contextual notes for some of the terms and traditions that may seem strange to modern readers. Whipple challenges readers to read critically, reminding readers that these books are novels; though they are based on actual characters and events, they do not necessarily present everything factually. Each chapter ends with things to think about, to “dig deeper” and possible discussion points to get the whole family involved. The recent controversy surrounding the books is addressed head on. In the author’s opening “A Note for the Reader,” she says, “We need to think about these issues even when they make us uncomfortable.” Throughout her book Whipple points out culturally insensitive phrases and words that Wilder used in the novels, explaining why they should not be used today.
Personally, my favorite part of each chapter is the “Live Like Laura” section. Here, Whipple highlights her research. She shares activities, crafts and best of all, recipes to help readers experience a taste of pioneer life. With 75 activities that come straight from the novels, readers can enjoy hours of screen-free fun, either on their own or with their parents (some activities note parental supervision is required for safety). Whether readers of this book are new to the Little House books or parents sharing their childhood favorites, it’s almost certain every reader, will learn something new. (Did you know there is no wheat in buckwheat and that vinegar pie is sweet? And there are Laura Ingalls Wilder-related sites to visit in 7 states?)
As a history and photography lover, I can’t end without mentioning the illustrations. The drawings and photos (both vintage and more recent) enhance the text, providing a clearer image of the people and places Laura Ingalls Wilder brought to life almost 100 years ago. Older fans of Wilder’s books will recognize this new title as a book they wish they had when they were kids.
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