“Barnum Walks.”

Want a laugh? Have you ever seen the read-alongs over at Beyond Little House? They are timeless. On a personal note, Erin Blakemore and I had a great time posting chapter summaries together. One of our favorites is a summary for “Barnum Walks“—everyone’s favorite chapter in These Happy Golden Years (maybe even the series), because of what takes place in it: Laura’s and Almanzo’s engagement.

We had a lot of fun writing these.

Making My Little House Art

I’ve spent the last day or so watching, in spurts, Neil Gaiman’s commencement address at the University of the Arts. It’s twenty minutes long, but it was well worth making the time. The speech, which includes a transcript, is being widely shared, and I can see why.

If you want to go watch it, right now, go. Please. I’ll wait.

As a writer, and a freelancer at that, Gaiman’s wry references to the freelancing trenches caught my eye (and ear). But the rest of it—about art and goals and the convergence of the two—was brilliant, too. I reached the end of the speech with two thoughts:

  1. I must share this with my children.
  2. I am doing the right thing with Little House Travel.

Two things Gaiman said struck at my heart.

If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that.

There are certain places, both physical and emotional, where I feel comfortable. The older I get, the clearer this is to me. And some of these places are more “me” than others. It’s not about right or wrong or this or that, it’s about home. To me, when I am at the Little House sites, I feel at home. Not every moment, and not to the point where I want to stay; I happy I live somewhere else. But the rest of the joy is in the return. I love moving within Laura’s world. I loved it the first time I did it over a decade ago, and I’ll love it the next time I do, this summer. Unlike other trips I’ve taken that I simply checked off the list, the Little House sites, as I expressed to Wendy McClure in her book The Wilder Life, are places I always want to return to.

They are also places I want to share. People who love the Little House books want to see where Laura lived, and I want to help these people and their families experience, in as painless a way as possible, the same heartstopping moments I do. Showing people how to travel in Laura’s world and what to see when they go is my way of giving back what Laura has given me.

Make your art. Do the stuff that only you can do.

Laurafans that I know do amazing things, and they do them well. They educate young students on her impact and importance. They dig around in courthouse basements for old documents. They provide more information than you’d ever think possible on her life. They dress in nineteenth-century clothing and help us understand the world she lived in. They talk about the weather in her books. They physically guide groups of people on trips to her homesites.

And me? I write. I parent three children. I love to research, but not necessarily facts or history. My interest is people. So when I write, it’s not enough to me to write about Laura. By connecting her books to real life—today’s real life—I write about her fans and what they value, and what they enjoy, and what about Laura’s world makes them forget to breathe for a moment. No one’s skills and experiences converge in quite this way, because no one else is quite like me. No one can do this the way I can.

Are You Ever Too Old to Read the Little House Series?

One of my colleagues asked this question a while ago:

Why should an adult who has never read the Little House books read them?

I’ve thought about this question for a while, and I haven’t come up with a good answer. I know what I think as an adult reading them, but that opinion is colored by over 30 years of reading the books, particularly in childhood. To me, childhood—mine in particular—is entwined with the Little House books. I grew up with Laura ten, maybe twenty separate times while I was growing up myself. I always found something to fall in love with on each reread of the series. (I definitely did during the readalongs on Beyond Little House, discovering or noticing phrases or feelings I’d never quite discerned before. I love that.)

But I don’t know what a first-time reader would think, as an adult. Would it come across as strictly a children’s book series? Or would it transcend age, the way it always has and always will for me? I admit, I can’t decide. I couldn’t say definitively what an adult first-time reader would get out of reading the series.

What do you think?

(I just thought of someone who read—and loved—the Little House books as an adult: Dean Butler, who played Almanzo on the TV show. He even wrote a comparison on his blog of These Happy Golden Years to the way the TV show treated Laura and Almanzo’s courtship. And here’s another two: Kara Lindsay (Broadway! Wicked! Newsies!) and Kevin Massey, who played Laura and Almanzo, respectively, in Little House: the Musical, which toured nationally in 2009-2010. And who got married later on.)

Gas Prices Going Up this Summer

The news is that gas prices are rising, and expected to be up a lot higher by summer. Which just so happens to be high season at the Little House sites.

Still, road trips to the Little House sites are worth it. I used to love to fly. Now, what with the changing security regulations and the never-know-what-‘s-coming nickel-and-diming the airlines seem to do, I’ll do almost anything to avoid flying.

Like drive. Over the years, I’ve discovered that I really love to drive. Notsomuch with my two oldest kids bickering in the backseat, but if they keep it to a dull roar, it still just beats flying.

And the Little House homesites? Perfect driving trip. Two hours, give or take, between Walnut Grove and De Smet. Major highways just a little south of each.

Traveling to the Little House sites is like getting a tattoo. Once you do it once, you need to do it again. And again.

The Songs of Pa’s Fiddle on PBS

If you read any of the Little House books, you know that you couldn’t go three chapters without encountering the lyrics to some old-time American song or hymn. Music was entwined with Laura’s memories; she couldn’t write about her family without including the music.

Dale Cockrell understood this. A musicologist from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, he decided to record these old-time songs under the umbrella of Pa’s Fiddle Productions. This past January, a musical event was taped at the Loveless Barn in Nashville celebrating Pa’s music. (It was the one Little House Travel trip I didn’t take — the only reason is sleeping in the other room and probably is close to needing a diaper change.) Live versions of many of the songs taken from the pages of the Little House books were recorded by country, Americana and gospel musicans. Come June, we’ll all have a chance to see it — on PBS.

Starting June 2 — that’s in about two weeks — the special will air during a pledge drive for PBS, thanks to producers Dean Butler and The Pa’s Fiddle Project – The Music of the Little House Books. If you’ve ever wondered what “The Sweet By and By” sounds like — or any of the other songs mentioned in the Little House series — you won’t want to miss it.