This year I have been slowly working my way through Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series. I never read them as a child, and for some reason had decided that I wouldn’t like them at all. I am very happy to have been proved wrong, and the series has been one of my great reading pleasures of 2016.
By The Shores of Silver Lake is the fourth book in the sequence. Laura and her family are on the move again, following the railroad builders, who her father is working for, across the vast prairies until they reach a plot of land they want to settle.
Rather like Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott, what strikes me about these books are their modern sensibility. Despite being patently old fashioned thanks to the time in which they were written, Laura, like Jo in Little Women is feisty and independent. She thinks very much like a modern girl, and it is her occasional refusal to be docile and obedient, to question and to do things differently that I think, makes these books the classics they deservedly are. Laura speaks to the wild spirit in all of us, and her tom boyish ways actually make these books have crossover appeal. The bloodthirsty adventures the family experience on their travels also help to make these books work for both boys and girls.
There is a real note of melancholy in this book that seems to be missing from the earlier volumes. Some of it is to do with the family learning to cope with Mary’s blindness, but a lot of it is to do with Laura’s gradual understanding that she is growing up, and will not be able to roam wild much longer. School beckons again, and Laura’s mother is more concerned about giving Laura the education and training she needs to become a teacher. Laura’s cousin, Lena shows Laura just how soon her childhood will become a thing of the past.
There are also the usual hardships here, with the Ingalls family battling against the elements, the wildlife and the hard living people they settle amongst. There is excitement aplenty and the story of the railroads, which Laura is intrigued by, is fascinating.
These books are wonderful to share as a bed time story for both boys and girls, and are wonderful for independent readers aged eight and up.