Little House in the Big Woods

Book review by
Carrie Kingsley, Common Sense Media
Little House in the Big Woods Book Poster Image
Beloved classic follows a frontier family for four seasons.
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 6+
Based on 10 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 13 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

While the harsh realities of everyday life on the frontier are glossed over to keep the book age appropriate, the story is packed with details about food, clothes, farming, and more.

Positive Messages

Hard work and good character are held in high regard, but so is kindness and a mischievous twinkle in your eye. Family, and creating a good life together, is a big theme.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The adults here are loving and committed to their families, if a bit formal. You won't find Ma cracking jokes or even taking a day off.

Violence & Scariness

Twice in the story, children are whipped for being disobedient, and there are several hunting scenes that could be tough for sensitive readers. Guns are present but as part of hunting and survival and are in context.

Language

Occasional use of racist terms, such as "darkey" and "Injun." Although in the story they're not intended to be insulting, they'll strike today's readers as offensive.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there's a reason Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods is a beloved classic. It's warmly crafted with characters who come to life and lots of details about frontier life, based on the author's own childhood in Pepin, Wisconsin, in the early 1870s. Some of the most interesting scenes are when young Laura describes the long process of making food, such as cheese and bread, that we take for granted, along with our ability to store meat in refrigerators. There are moments, though, when the writing reflects too well 19th-century ideas about gender and race (mentions of "darkey" and "Injun," for example). And the notion that children should be seen and not heard is laughable these days. This first installment in the series is gentler than the rest and so could reach a slightly younger audience. Each chapter is a self-contained story about the Ingalls family, so it could be read aloud to young readers or would not be too challenging for those new to chapter books.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 4 and 8 year old Written bykaloren September 25, 2009

Great series, fun, historical and great family values.

I remebr reading these as a little girl. I loved the spunk of Laura and her little adventures. I alos loved the history and being able to learn about life dur... Continue reading
Parent of a 3 year old Written bywholegrainmommy June 22, 2010

Even really young ones can love it.

I started reading this to my 3 year old and found that she LOVES it. She has certain chapters that she likes me to read over and over again, like each chapter... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byMisty waterfall January 4, 2011

Ok book for me

I have 2 say i think its for people that arent like me. I dident like it that much.Maybe its just me. I hope other people like it better than i did.
Kid, 10 years old March 6, 2013

Sweet Book

This is really a sweet book I read it when I was seven. It does talk about hunting and wolves but, I think it is fine if your child is not easily scared

What's the story?

In LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS, young Laura lives with her Ma, Pa, and sisters Mary and Carrie in a small cabin on the frontier. The book follows the family for a full year, through all the seasons, starting with fall and getting ready for winter. It's obvious that basic survival was the biggest worry the Ingalls family had: Every chapter either mentions a sweet treat the girls had (a single peppermint stick) or is dedicated to storing food for winter (a pig slaughter or wheat harvest). The close-knit family celebrates Christmas with relatives, Pa plays the fiddle and jokes with his girls, and, late in the book, they start to see more neighbors, setting the scene for the family to move further into the frontier throughout the series.

Is it any good?

This charming classic gives readers a vivid idea of frontier life and stresses the value of working together as a family. The theme that runs throughout Little House in the Big Woods is that life is hard and serious work, but that it's OK to have fun at times and important to keep a twinkle in your eye. There's much about young Laura's life that readers will find foreign: that children should be seen and not heard, that one small rag doll is the best Christmas gift ever, that hot potatoes in pockets and irons from the fire are the way to be warm when heading home from your cousins' house.

This installment is gentler than the rest of the Little House books, and the sexist and racist ideas that pop up throughout the series are mostly absent here. Children do get whipped twice, and there's a huge emphasis on children being obedient, but in Little House, it's wrapped in kindness. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how much work goes into making every meal in Little House in the Big Woods. How do you think our lives would be different if we had to make butter and cheese, kill animals, and salt the meat for winter, get maple syrup from trees, and more?

  • What do you think of the idea that children should stay quiet and not speak unless they're spoken to? How are things different now?

  • What other books about history do you like? Do you think everything in this book is true?

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