Friday, December 31, 2010

Childhood Challenge: ON THE BANKS OF PLUM CREEK

I can't believe this is my last installment for my 2010 Childhood Challenge. I rather enjoyed my year of re-reading my childhood favorites and have a couple in mind for future re-readings when I get some free time. For the 12th and final book of my challenge, I chose to read On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which is the fourth book in the Little House on the Prairie series.

From my memory
The most salient memory I have of any of the Little House on the Prairie books is reading them out loud with my mom and sister. We took turns reading chapters out loud in the evenings, and we read through the entire series that way. We also watched the TV series, which helped to make the entire Little House on the Prairie franchise hold a special place in my heart. However, I couldn't specifically remember any one book, so when I went to pick out one at the bookstore for my re-reading adventure, I relied on a friend who was with me to recommend her favorite book from the series. When she told me about some of the plot line, I was surprised at how little I remembered of the details from any of the books, so I was quite excited to break into this book this month.

After re-reading
When I started reading the book, I was a bit disappointed--the writing style is simple (and can be redundant) and meant for much younger readers than I had remembered (as in, the book read more like a chapter book for beginning readers). Once I got over the choppiness of the writing style, though, I realized why the books are so beloved: They lovingly recreate a time in history that is foreign to most modern readers. Laura Ingalls Wilder pays great attention to detail, describing exactly what the stove looks like that Pa bought for Ma, how the walls in the house drip when the summer weather gets too hot in the summer, how the incredible shifts in weather affected their daily lives--in essence, she provides a picture of daily life in a time long gone.

When Laura goes to school for the first time in her life (at the age of 8), she and Mary (who was 9) walked by themselves to town--a 2.5-mile walk. They had never been to town before and so followed their Pa's oral directions on how to get to the school house. They didn't wear their shoes because their shoes had to stay in good condition for snowy and icy weather. It amazes me that just over a hundred years ago, two kids were sent off by themselves to walk barefoot on a 2.5-mile journey that they had never been on before. But that was normal for them. It is books like these that remind us how drastically our country has changed.

As I read, I began thinking of discussion questions that I would want to go over with kids if I were reading the book with younger readers. Things like, "How did they cook their food before Pa bought Ma their stove?" or "How do you think you'd make a broom if you couldn't buy one?" or "What games would you play if you couldn't turn on any lights as it gets darker inside?" And there were times that Laura Ingalls Wilder describes things that happen without telling why they did; for example, she describes giant fireballs coming out of their stove during a huge blizzard but doesn't say why that happened. That would be an interesting start to a lesson on science spurred by literature.

I now want to go back and read all the other books in the series--to walk down memory lane and to better appreciate what I have in my daily life to make living easier.

Do you have any fond memories of the Little House on the Prairie books?

I hope you all have an amazing evening as we ring in a new year, and I hope your new year brings you a year of reading great books. Happy reading!


Shannon said...

I *adored* the books when I was younger. I think it would be interesting to re-read them again as you are doing. I loved the first book, with its description of the "Big Woods" with the wolves, and snow with maple syrup and Ma's tiny waist Pa could wrap his hands around (the mind boggles!). The set we had also had some of LIW's later writings, such as her description of the 1906(ish?) World's Fair in San Francisco. Very interesting stuff, and definitely more adult (I think they might have been letters?). I never watched the series, partly because I didn't want those made-up stories to conflict with the "real" ones in the books!

Jessie Sams said...

If you do re-read them, let me know. We can have a reading-through-the-series club. :)

You remember much more than I do--the only detail I could remember from your comment is the maple syrup. I think that may have spawned my fascination with eating snow and cooking with things found in nature.

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