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Reviews: Two books that revisit the Little House of Laura Ingalls Wilder

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Sarah Miller has gone inside the mind of Caroline Ingalls, mother of Laura and wife of Charles, to tell her side of the Little House story. Set at the time the Ingalls leave the Big Woods in Wisconsin and head out of for “free” land in Kansas, the book takes us thru the harrowing journey  we think we know. There is the powerful current that horses must “swim” the wagon across. There is Jack seemingly lost.  But I’m getting ahead of the story.

One of my few complaints of the Little House books is that Caroline, “Ma,” is too good to be true. She never, ever, forgets something she is taught by Scripture to do or be. This always seems at odds to me with the walk of normal Christian. She works so hard to keep pride out of her children’s character that she is nearly a killjoy. Nearly. Not completely.

When a neighbor, Mrs. Scott, is there helping after a “medical matter” [no spoilers] Caroline notes that Mary, the beautiful first born daughter, is seeking attention in a normal manner from the visiting lady.  This is traumatic for Caroline:

“A flush of mingled shame and pity crept up Caroline’s neck as she grasped her own mistake: in trying to keep Mary unconscious of her beauty, Caroline had instead marred it with another kind of conceit.”

Wow! That’s quite a heavy hair shirt to wear! Her own husband was often boastful, rarely though of what his need for freedom would mean for his family, but Caroline must take on keeping a 5 year old from conceit! All while living in a crude cabin the size of a modern suburban bathroom.

She  had to tamp down her very real fears of running out of food, her hatred of Native Americans and deal with what had to be nearly cripplingly loneliness. By today’s standards her life was as hard or harder than that of people in refugee camps. She hauled water, made every bit of clothing and scrubbed it all by hand, had to watch her family sometimes exist on as little as stale cornbread and molasses, dealt with terrifying weather and yet found faith enough to obey the Scriptures and give thanks in all circumstances.

Her marriage to Charles, a classic “good” bad boy,  good girl romance, was a severe trial. His need for freedom, his inability to allow anyone to control him, makes me think his childhood was abusive and that the abuse made him unable to live with normal levels of “control.”  This is my personal theory–I haven’t read anything about his childhood. But he willingly puts his family in harm’s way over and over again to satisfy his thirst for freedom.

One funny note: I’ve never heard “stays” called “steels” before. Corsets of that day had a variety of stiffening materials it is  true. But “steels” was a new one.

Caroline is an officially sanctioned novel authorized by the Trust that oversees most things Little House. It is one Little House fans will not want to miss. Sarah Miller’s writing is superb. Each word is carefully chosen, each phrase is the work of fine craftswoman. I look forward to anything further books she produces. Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller.

You can listen to an excerpt from the book here.

 

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I did not believe that Susan Wittig Albert could surpass her Eleanor Roosevelt novel,  Loving Eleanor, (read my review here)but she did. A Wilder Rose, is superb. Rose Wilder Lane, the only surviving child of Laura Ingalls Wilder, has long been known to have made her mother’s writing into the stories we know today as the Little House on the Prairie books. But just as Sarah Miller makes Caroline Ingalls come alive, so does Susan Wittig Albert make the real Rose–the Wilder Rose–come alive in this fictionalized account of the writing and publication of the Little House books.

Haunted by guilt from a childhood incident, Rose is forever looking to improve the lot of “Mama Bess” [her mother, Laura]. A successful writer and journalist, Rose Wilder Lane, published novels and short stories throughout the Great Depression–earning a very handsome $25,000 for one piece at a time when the average national income was under $2,000 and most people had little hope of even seeing that. [Writers today would be thrilled to earn that for a piece of short fiction.]

Rose had led a colorful and exciting life–living in Albania for a while, traveling, researching and writing to build a successful career at a time when most women did not do such things. She took in strays–always teenage boys and helped them to achieve. At the time of this book she had returned to her parents Rocky Ridge farm in Missouri with a female friend to try to help her parents financially and to survive the damage the Depression was doing to the magazine industry. Finally the time had come to turn her mother’s childhood memories, carefully handwritten in ordinary tablets of paper, into a sale-able manuscript that might lessen her parents dependence on Rose’s financial help. What happened instead was a publishing phenomenon.

I just plain loved this book. Not a word wrong! Rose was so alive and so believable to me that I hated for the book to end. This book is currently on sale for Kindle for $3.99. At the time I purchased it the Audible audio–also superb–was on sale or free as well.  This is another one that true Little House fans won’t want to miss. Wilder Rose: A Novel by Susan Wittig Albert

 

7 thoughts on “Reviews: Two books that revisit the Little House of Laura Ingalls Wilder

  1. Excellent reviews! Okay, I’m going to read Caroline. You’ve convinced me 🙂 She did kind of seem too good to be true to me — although I think that quality was probably fairly common among pioneer women. I did feel bad for her with Pa always wanting to uproot the family. I liked Wilder Rose overall, but felt it was pretty harsh on Laura to the benefit of Rose.

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    1. I don’t know–when you think of all that Rose did, not only for the books, I’m not sure Wilder Rose was that harsh. Laura the mother wasn’t Half Pint on tv with Michael Landon. She was pretty…. ummmmm…. well…. not the greatest mother? lol [I’ve read a couple of other books on her].

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  2. Oh wow! About 7 years ago, my son and I finished reading all the Little House books, including the ones written by other people. We started when he was in 1st grade and we had so much fun reading them at night before bed. At 15, I doubt he will want to do that now, but I sure do! I can’t remember if it was Caroline who had a fit when her husband (Charles) bought her a new fangled stove and she was spotted in the back purposely damaging it because she didn’t want to use it. Do you remember that? Thanks for sharing these titles.

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