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They Weren't Living, They Were Surviving - A Little House on the Prairie Reflection

Updated: Jul 1

We spent the last year working through reading The Little House on the Prairie out loud with Quinn. We had intentional quality time as a family, usually around the fire, drinking tea or hot chocolate, and learning about an essential historical time. By reading aloud, we helped Quinn understand the art of listening to a book being read and following along with the story. Below, you can see her resting her eyes...this was a one-chapter night.

Mother, daughter and two doodles reading in front of a fireplace

I grew up reading Little House and watching the 70s TV show. I have always loved reading and wanted to encourage that love of reading in Quinn. Currently, she’s reading tons of Junie B. Jones independently. She will wake up at seven and read in her bedroom until eight, finishing the book. We thought she was sleeping in until eight, but we discovered that she was reading for an hour plus on her own accord. I love that she loves reading.

Since the Little House books are a bit higher in reading level than Quinn's, I thought it would be great to use them as a read-aloud to Quinn. She loved them and was very interested, especially when the story was paired lightly with the TV show. She could keep up with the storyline and ask questions along the way.

While reading On the Banks of Plum Creek, we toyed with visiting some of Laura Ingalls's landmarks in the US. So, this summer, we will take a massive road trip, including stops in De Smet and Walnut Grove, among many other stops unrelated to Little House.

Although the Little House books are based on Laura Ingalls's life, many stories are fabricated or exaggerated to make the books more exciting and the plot deeper. The Little House books are definitely fictionalized.

Our favorite books in the series were On the Banks of Plum Creek and The Long Winter.

On the Banks of Plum Creek was full of exciting storylines. It starts with the Ingalls living in a dugout, and soon, Pa builds a log home. They talk about "grasshopper weather," but sadly, locusts wholly eat their crops. Pa has to travel for work because they lost all income with The Locust Plague of 1874. This book ends rather thrilling, with Pa coming home hoping to make it by Christmas, yet he gets stuck in a blizzard and has to find shelter. He eats all the candy he brought back with him to stay alive. When the blizzard stops, and he comes out from his makeshift shelter, he sees that he is within shouting distance of the home but cannot see it because of how thick the blizzard is. This was an exciting book, made even more interesting because the Ingalls moved away from their homestead because of continued failed crops.

The Long Winter has always been my favorite because of how crazy the winters were on the prairie. The amount of snow they would get, especially with their lack of resources, was crazy. I can’t imagine being cold for months with the fear of starving because food is running out, and there is no way to get a train into town. What always grabbed my attention was the illustration of the rope tied between the house and the barn. The blizzards would get so blinding that a person couldn’t get to their livestock and back to the house safely without the possibility of getting lost and consequently freezing to death.

It would be challenging to move constantly and to find work after your crops continue to fail. I often wondered if Pa ever wished he had gone into a different line of work, making it easier for him and his family. Yet, repeatedly, they moved, adjusted, or made do. They did what they had to do to survive.

Sharing these books with Quinn was a highlight of the last year. Being able to cozy in and reread the same books I read as a young girl made it so special. I also found an old bookmark in one of the books (The Long Winter—even as a little girl, I was intrigued) that brought me back to the days of going to the Scholastic book fair at school.

I found it very interesting in the books that Laura did not shy away from the hard times that fell on her family. And on the other hand, she left out a lot of the details of what actually did happen. Yet, prairie life and being a settler in places where few people had settled, or none, was not for the faint of heart. For a while, I had an idyllic view of this prairie life. I longed for the idea of a simpler life, living in a small community, and the friendships that became family. But this idyllic view, I have learned, is miscued. This idea of a simpler life is available today, with adjustments in how we live, getting involved in our church, and choosing to go against the cultural pull. But, I do have to say, cool nights by the fire with freshly popped popcorn in hand, while Pa plays the fiddle, sounds very dreamy.

Prairie life was HARD. Mostly, the settled areas were made up of farmers who had to rely on the land and the weather to have successful crops. With crops failing, money wasn't always available. This made it challenging to buy sugar, coffee, tobacco, tablets, chalk for school, new shoes, and fabric for new clothes. Usually, one doctor dealt with all ailments, traveling around and taking house calls. Although they helped the best they could, they didn't have the resources we now have to treat, cure, and care for patients. Weather always messed up people's living situations, with tornados, blizzards, and droughts.

One of the storylines in The Long Winter involved twisting hay to burn to keep the tiny home warm. Even with the Ingalls making do with what they had on hand, Laura says she was always cold because houses were not insulated like they are now. She said they would have to sit before the fire to take the edge off the cold.

I think about the settler's life and how they worked from sun up to sun down. The women were in charge of the home, keeping it clean, preparing food, storing food for winter, tending the garden, gathering and selling eggs, etc. The men were out working the land, farming their plots, or traveling to find work in other places. They would then finish a long day's work, eat, go out, and do nightly chores.

In all the books, I loved how simple holidays were and how there were always surprise gifts each time Christmas came around. The children never expected anything, yet they received something small at least every Christmas. The gifts were always simple, too, which is something our culture does not practice. The children LOVED what they received and did not complain. More and more gifts, holidays, birthdays, etc., are so extravagant I wonder how the parents will top it the following year. I also wonder if the children even really enjoy the extravagance. I believe kids do not care about extravagance; they care about relationships, memories, and tradition. I also don't think that they will remember much of the extra stuff during their birthday because it becomes something that is not special anymore. With so much extra stuff, it becomes regular, not unique.

I think about our lives and how stagnant they are. Sure, we do our chores; we go to work, grocery shopping, and work out. The settlers didn't need to work out to keep movement in their day-to-day lives; their life was a workout, always moving and always working. We even get to do things that would go under the definition of self-care, whereas when they sat, their hands were still moving, working on mending clothes, darning socks, or making something entirely new. Reading about what they went through made me realize that they were not merely living but surviving. If they didn't garden, if they didn't take care of their livestock, if they weren't careful, if they didn't hunt, they would die.

We have it easy compared to the original settlers of the 1800s. I love reading about them and finding new stories about this era because it sparks my interest, and I love to learn about them.

Although parts of the prairie life sound enticing, because I only know this life, resilience would have to be grown, and the knowledge of homesteading would have to be learned at a deeper level than it is now to survive their lifestyle. Plus, let us not forget the strides our country has made. Today, women can buy and own land. They can vote. Their voices are heard, unlike in the prairie days. There is machinery to plow and harvest crops. Electricity is readily available. I'm thankful for the time I am living in, yet I think with anybody, if we had the power to go back to any year, I would love to visit for a day. For now, we will transport ourselves through words and our imaginations.

We can't wait to go on our Laura Ingalls summer tour. I will follow up on this post with our travel details, where we went, what we learned, and pictures to go along with it. Stay tuned.

The Little House on the Prairie Book Set

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