Revisiting Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder and the Little House on the Prairie Television Series
Little House Sampler
Rediscovering the Little House Author
My Little House "journey" began last spring at a book sale to benefit our local library. I enjoy reading biographies, and I picked up a rather tattered paperback copy of A Little House Sampler by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) and Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968.) My first thought was that a children's book had been mixed up with biographies. I took a longer look at the cover, the photos of Laura and her daughter Rose and the sub-title "A Charming Collection of Early Stories and Reminiscences, Some Never Before Published. A recommendation by the San Francisco Chronicle that the book was a sampler of anecdotes, and the photos of the two strong independent women, convinced me to buy the book.
Although most of the book is nonfictional accounts of the lives of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane, with comments by the editor William T Anderson, the book reads like a fine group of short stories. After the introduction and some family photos, the book alternates autobiographical stories as told by Laura and then an autobiographical story by her daughter Rose. Many of their stories amazed me; beginning with the fact that for many years after Laura had finished teaching and concentrated on being a farm wife, most of her life was spent, raising and writing about chickens and other aspects of being a farm wife in her column titled "As A Farm Wife Thinks.". Laura became a columnist writer for Missouri Ruralist and Sunset magazines around 1917, but it would not be until 1930 that she would publish some of her stories about her childhood. Getting her stories polished and published was accomplished with the help of Rose acting as Laura's editor and through the publishing connections that Rose had established through her own writing. By 1931, Laura received word that her book, Little House in the Big Woods would be published. As readers discovered and loved her pioneer stories, one book followed another. Laura died at age 90 in 1957.
Rose Wilder Lane, was the only child of Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder. (A son had been born and died while the couple was living in the Dakota Territory. Rose wrote the most unusual and rather shocking short story titled, Innocence, which appears in Little House Sampler.. Rose considered Innocence which had been published in Harper's magazine in 1922, her finest short story of all time. The story which explores such themes as jealousy, a brother gone wrong, poison, bootlegging, and attempted murder was based upon a family, (suspiciously like Laura, her husband Almanzo, and Rose) who travel to Florida for the husband's health and a fresh start just like the actual Wilders did. Rose certainly proved herself as a woman ahead of her time and as an author. She edited her Mother's Little House books, which brought a number of questions for critics and readers. How much did Rose edit or alter her mother's stories? The Ingalls real life was much harsher than Laura's books and certainly not as "warm and fuzzy" as the television series, Little House on the Prairie based upon Laura's books. Certainly, the temptation would be there as it was for me when I edited my mother's autobiography. In my case, I wanted my mother's autobiography to be more honest about the problems and hard times she had faced. In the end, I let my mother's autobiography pretty much as she had written it with a few corrections in grammar.
The end result of reading "A Little House Sampler" was two fold. I did a little research on both Laura and Rose, and I felt compelled to re-visit the "Little House on the Prairie" television series to compare it to the autobiographical stories I had just read.
As for Laura Igalls Wilder's "Little House" book series, they continue to delight adults and children. The Library of America founded in 1979, which specializes in publishing American classics in cloth bound volumes announced in April 2012, they issued a boxed two-volume set of the "Little House" series.
Laura's Album A Remembrance Scrapbook
Little House Books
Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Museums
Proof of readers' interest in Laura Ingalls Wilder and the places she wrote about is found in the fact that several places that she lived have become thriving museums. There is a museum in Pepin Wisconsin where Laura was born. Another museum is located in Walnut Grove Minnesota which was the site of the Ingalls' dugout home and many of the stories in the television series supposedly took place in the Walnut Grove area. Finally there is the Rocky Ridge Farm Historic Home and Museum located in Mansfield Missouri. This Museum has included many items of Rose Wilder as well. The museums have websites for more information.
Little House Television Series
Little House on the Prairie Television Series
The "Little House on the Prairie" television series began with a 2 hour pilot movie in the spring of 1974. It was successful, and on September 11th of 1974 the Little House series appeared on NBC. During its nine season run, 203 episodes and 5 specials were produced. Five directors worked on the series, and following the first season, the show consistently placed in NBC's top 30. The family drama was set in Walnut Grove, Minnesota during the time frame of the 1870s through the 1880s. Michael Landon filled the role of Charles Ingalls (Pa) Karen Grassie played Caroline Ingalls (Ma) and Melissa Gilbert played Laura. After the death of Michael Landon and the departure of Karen Grassie, the show focused on the life of Laura and her husband Almanzo. The sweetness and goodness of the Ingalls family was counterbalanced by the snooty and spiteful Mrs Oleson (Harriet) who ran the general store in Walnut Grove with her husband. The Oleson children, Nellie and Willie were always spoiled and usually up to making trouble for the Ingalls. Of course by the end of each episode all wrongs had been made right.
It had been over 20 years since I'd watched Little House, but a scan of the channel menu showed that the Hallmark Channel ran two episodes every weeknight. I expected to watch one episode to see if the story line had any relevance to Laura Ingalls Wilder's real life and to my delight, it did. Because Little House was and is set in a historical time frame, the show didn't seem dated to me. In fact, it was refreshing to watch a family working together with respect for each other and for the others in their community. In addition to the Hallmark Channel syndicating Little House, it is shown on a variety of local stations and on stations around the world.
Little House fan clubs exist, and one web site that I especially enjoyed visiting was Prairiefans.com. On the site, was Prairie Chat for and by fans of Little House, interviews of former cast members,a trivia question contest and information on episodes.
American Library Renames Laura Ingalls Wilder's Book Award
The American Library Association decided to rename the Laura Ingalls Wilder's Book Award to the Children's Literature Legacy Award because some of the language was found to be derogatory to Native Americans. The rationale was that children should be taught to be inclusive. I do believe that children should be taught to be inclusive, but I also resent that instead of the language being used as a teaching tool in a historical context, children should be shielded from actual history. While claiming not to be a form of censorship, it seems to be an attempt to whitewash history and the historical context.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Biography
Author's Special Recommendation
For those of you who enjoyed the TV series Little House on the Prairie, the Hallmark channel has produced the series When Calls the Heart based upon the book by Janette Oakes. The producer of the series is Michael Landon Jr.the real life son of PA (Michael Landon) on the series Little House on the Prairie. When Calls the Heart is set in a small town in Canada in the early 1900s and has many of the same type of town characters as Little House. For further information on the series, please visit When Calls the Heart website for episode guides, actors, bloopers and photos.