I posted on Twitter recently asking for books for children aged about 7-12 that featured strong girl characters. I got loads of replies. Lots of the books were ones I have already read, which feels great to me, because I aim to be well read in children’s fiction. I like to have lots to offer readers in terms of knowledge and recommendation and I can only really do that if I’ve read widely myself. There were also, however, a fair few books I had either never read or never heard of. An author who popped up a lot on my timeline that day was Laura Ingalls Wilder who wrote a series of fictionalised books about her own life, the most popular of which is Little House on the Prairie.
I had heard of her, but I had never read anything by her. This is largely due to the fact that when I was a child there was a television series of the same name, and the few times I was desperate enough to sit down and watch it, I did not like it at all, so I simply didn’t bother to read the books, although they were freely available in the local library at the time. I just assumed I would hate them.
I was a fool. I decided that I would try the first book in the series: Little House in the Big Woods, because it got recommended so many times. I’m glad I did. It is wonderful.
Ingalls Wilder was born in 1867 and the books chart her childhood growing up in rural America. Little House is set in Wisconsin where she was raised in a log cabin with her parents, her older sister Mary and a baby sister, Carrie. The book is narrated in the third person, but we always get Laura’s point of view in the stories.
This book takes us through a year in the life of Laura and her family, from the depths of Winter and back again. It is simply written, but has a certain sense of childish wonder and delight that informs every detail and which makes you look anew at things you might think were boring or simply take for granted. In this way the stories remind me very much of the enjoyment I get from reading Milly Molly Mandy and My Naughty Little Sister, and some of Astrid Lindgren’s stories, like the ones about Emil. They are, obviously, incredibly old fashioned, but the liveliness in the telling of the stories brings them to life in a way that is both charming and endearing.
I recommend them for readers aged 7-10. They will, I expect, be enjoyed more by girls than boys, but some of the adventures, particularly the ones where Laura’s daddy talks about hunting, and when the children meet other children to play, will have universal appeal. The language is not particularly easy, and they would be suited for an independent reader with confidence. The chapters would make wonderful bedtime stories to share as a family with younger readers though.