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.)

Read Along with Other Little House Fans

It’s a pretty safe bet to assume that anyone reading Little House Travel is a significant fan of the Little House series. I’m one of the founders of the site Beyond Little House, a blog dedicated to Laura, her homesites, and everything related therein.

One of the things readers of the blog love to do together is read-alongs, where we choose a book and take turns summarizing and commenting on the chapters. Check them out here.

 

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.

Little House Fan Glossary

When you’re in the presence of Laurafans, Bonnet Heads, the Laurarati, etc., you might likely come across some words that you don’t recognize. Indeed, the world of severe Laura fandom has a language all its own that for the uninitiated, would appear to lack context. Here’s a cheat sheet to the terms that get thrown around:

Al-MAN-zo. See this post.

Big Slough. Yes, it still exists. It’s in De Smet, between town and Ingalls Homestead. Pronounced “slew.”

Bonnet heads. Like Deadheads or Trekkies, the name given to Little House uberfans. Since I’m not a fan of sunbonnets (I know, the horror!), I prefer the term Laurarati, which may or may not have been coined by The Wilder Life author Wendy McClure.

Dugout site. In Walnut Grove, the place you can drive to (not that far outside of town, but you do want to drive) to see where the Ingalls dugout is believed to have been located. There’s no cost to go there, but donations are recommended. There’s a place to donate on the way in.

Ed Friendly. Genuine Little House fan who started the Little House TV show with Michael Landon, but left when the show started going off the rails, story-wise. We love Ed Friendly (RIP).

Homesite. What we call all the places Laura lived throughout her life. She has several of these homesites throughout the country.

Hoover. A researcher’s paradise. The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa, thanks to Rose Wilder Lane’s connection with Herbert Hoover, holds the largest collection of Wilder/Lane materials in the world.

Highway 14. Running east to west across southern Minnesota and South Dakota, this road is also called the “Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway” and essentially connects Walnut Grove to De Smet. Also referenced in Laura biographer John E. Miller’s book Looking for History on Highway 14.

Laura. Fans of the book series tend to call Laura Ingalls Wilder “Laura.” Not Wilder, not Laura Ingalls Wilder, just “Laura.” I don’t quite know why. We just do.

Laurafan. Similarly, this phrase has become one word in the world of Little House fandom.

Laurarati. My personal preferred name for fans. May or may not have been coined by by The Wilder Life author Wendy McClure.

LIWMS. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, located in De Smet, South Dakota. Arguably the most well known Laura memorial society in all the homesites. The Society in De Smet runs a gift shop and provides tours through the Surveyors’ House and the house Pa built in town.

The Musical. Back in 2009 and 2010 Little House on the Prairie: the Musical went on a national tour, starring current Broadway stars Kara Lindsay and Kevin Massey as Laura and Almanzo respectively, and TV Laura Melissa Gilbert as Ma. (Kara and Kevin fell in love on set and are still together and I will tell everyone about this forever because I love their story THAT MUCH. I also wrote about them twice in the newsletter I published for ten years, the Homesteader.) Rumor has it the musical will have new life, with different stars, starting in fall 2012.

Pageant. Outdoor, evening plays, the best-known of which are in Walnut Grove and De Smet. De Smet’s is far more casual while Walnut Grove’s is a full-blown production; both are worth seeing for different reasons.

Pioneer Girl. The unpublished manuscript Laura Ingalls Wilder submitted for publication before she wrote the Little House books. It was soundly rejected (lucky for us). (The website “Pioneer Girl” is different; it’s run by Nancy Cleaveland, a full-time Laura researcher who knows more about Laura Ingalls Wilder than anyone ever on the planet–even, I daresay, Laura herself. If you have a few hours, I suggest visiting there.)

Rocky Ridge. The name Laura gave her farm in Mansfield, Missouri, where she moved with Almanzo and their daughter rose in 1894.

Third Street house. The house Pa built in De Smet (on Third Street, natch) after he proved up on his claim and the family moved to town for good. (Yes, they did!) Both Ma and Pa lived there until the end of their lives. (Incidentally, it’s just a few doors down from Prairie House Manor, a lovely bed and breakfast in De Smet.)

Ingalls Homestead. Not to be confused with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society (LIWMS), which handles tours of buildings associated with the Ingalls family and houses museum artifacts, Ingalls Homestead is the actual quarter section Pa homesteaded in the 1880s. It’s located just outside of town and is an experience all its own–particularly fabulous for children.

Good and Bad Literary News in Laura’s World

Bad news first, shall we?

Amy Lauters’ Rediscovered Writings of Rose Wilder Lane, Literary Journalist is one of many Laura-related books published by the University of Missouri Press

The bad news in the world of Laura comes from The Columbia Daily Tribune in Columbia, Missouri. The University of Missouri System announced earlier this week that it was going to shut down its press. This is sobering for the Laura Ingalls Wilder community, as many books—William Holtz’s Ghost in the Little House, Amy Lauters’ The Rediscovered Writings of Rose Wilder Lane, John Miller’s Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Stephen Hines’ Little House in the Ozarks among them—were published by the University of Missouri Press. (Rose Wilder Lane herself had personal ties to the University of Missouri.)

Bummer.

But the good news—it is fabulous. Pioneer Girl is going to be published! That’s right, the autobiography Laura wrote before the Little House books were published is going to be available through the South Dakota State Historical Society Press in the summer of 2013.

We’ve been waiting a long time for this one. Die-hard fans have copies of the manuscript, which has always been available through the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. But obtaining it has never been easy. The SDSHS Press has negotiated a deal with the Little House Heritage Trust to publish an annotated version of the autobiography, largely on the strength of 2010 LauraPalooza speaker Pamela Smith Hill’s extraordinary 2007 biography Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life.

Pre-order your copy (cost is $35) by emailing the SDSHS Press at orders@sdshspress.com.

One door closes, another opens.

Endings and Beginnings

Today feels momentous. It’s the last day of the month, certainly. From a personal perspective, it’s also my kids’ last full day of school. In the world of Laura, it’s the last day of registration for this summer’s second-ever LauraPalooza conference.

But the blog has just begun.

This guy wore a sunbonnet to report from LauraPalooza 2010 for a Minneapolis TV station. What a sport! Think he’ll be there this year?

Next up: ebooks. I’m putting the final touches on the draft of the first ebook in the Little House Travel series. This inaugural guide will be all about the homesite that is the focus of four (or depending on how you look at it, five) books in the Little House series: De Smet, South Dakota. For the next few days, while the book is with editors, I’m going to work on augmenting this site to accomodate the book releases. Stay tuned.

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.

Comment of the Week

This comment came over the international transom last night:

My husband has been reading the series to our five-year-old daughter. Today and again tonight our little one asked about certain places in the books. She asked if Silver Lake still exists among others. She is fascinated with the fact that these are real people and places and dates. I overheard her and Papa talking about maybe taking a trip to see some of these places that have become dear to us as well. On a whim I searched Bing for “Little House Travel” and found your site – It’s lovely and I’m so glad to have found it! We’ve always planned on travelling the States first and we’ll be mapping this out for sure! ~Daizy

This is why I’m doing this. Thank you, Daizy!

You Say Almanzo, I Say Almanzo–Say What?

"Al-MAN-zo."

If you asked a Little House fan (books or TV show) the question, “What’s Almanzo’s favorite food?” you’d get two distinct answers: “pancakes” (book people) and “cinnamon chicken” (TV show). You’d also get two answers if you asked a seemingly simple question like “How do you pronounce his name?”

Almanzo Wilder first showed up on TV in September of 1979. I picture a table reading in L.A. the previous spring, where someone (Michael Landon? Lucy Lee Flippin?) who never heard the real Laura’s voice had to say his name for the first time. They looked down at the script, considered the spelling, and chose … Al-MON-zo.

The rest is mispronounciation history, well into its third decade with no sign of slowing.

"Al-MON-zo"

In actuality, Laura’s husband’s name is Al-MAN-zo, where the “man” is pronounced like “hand.” (Think about it: why was he called “Mannie” or even “Manly”?) You can hear it for yourself on the recording “Laura Ingalls Wilder Speaks,” available at some homesite gift shops, where Laura’s own elderly, shaky voice can be heard clearly referencing her husband as Al-MAN-zo.

That’s why, in your travels through the Little House homesites, you’ll hear two different pronounciations of Almanzo’s name. The TV show’s reach is wide–and global–so the incorrect pronounciation is the most prevalent. But we purists are dedicated. We like to educate. The more respectful among us will simply pronounce the name the way we know to be correct, explaining why if asked; others may outright correct you faster than you can say “cinnamon chicken.”

Even Dean Butler, the actor who played Almanzo, through his work with the homesites and his interaction with rabid book fans, has changed his pronounciation for what is, for all intents and purposes, his own name.

Now that’s respectful.

My friend Dean. :)