A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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?
- Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Illustrator: Garth Williams
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, Great Girl Role Models, History
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
- Publication date: January 1, 1932
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 7 - 12
- Number of pages: 256
- Available on: Paperback, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: ALA Best and Notable Books
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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