I don’t know what started Brett and me watching Little House on the Prairie, the 1970s-80s TV show about a pioneer family living just outside a little town in Minnesota. Whatever it was, we have several episodes saved on our DVR and I enjoy watching it very much. It seems like today’s “family” shows all to often are filled with innuendo and other situations and subject matter that I don’t see to be family friendly. Little House was definitely a family friendly show.
It was loosely based upon Laura Ingalls Wilder’s acclaimed nine-book “Little House” Series for kids:
Little House in the Big Woods
Little House on the Prairie
On the Banks of Plum Creek
By the Shores of Silver Lake
The Long Winter
Little Town on the Prairie
These Happy Golden Years
The First Four Years
The books tell the (slightly fictionalized) story of Laura’s life growing up as a pioneer girl and then briefly as a pioneer wife in the 1870’s and 1880s. Farmer Boy is about Laura’s husband, Almanzo Wilder, when he was a little boy of about nine years old in upstate New York. There are school days, a coming-of-age element, lots of family life and family relationships, weather, and my favorite part – descriptions of food and how it was made.
Pioneer life was rough, and Wilder was able to convey that without making the stories scary. Though she touched on things that were quite scary for her and her family at the time, the action is portrayed gently.
As a child, my favorite of the books was Little House in the Big Woods, perhaps because it was the first chapter book I ever read, and I had my own copy, an inexpensive paperback that I eventually wore the covers off. As an adult, I really enjoyed Farmer Boy because of Almanzo’s focus and initiative. He wants to become a farmer like his father, and he wants to learn to take care of animals, but at first, he is not allowed to because he’s so young and small. It feels so rewarding when he’s able to get his first colt and learn to care for it. I also liked Little Town on the Prairie for the budding romance between Laura and Almanzo and Laura’s philosophical turn related to Independence Day.
Watching the TV show, it is evident how loosely based on the book series it is. On TV, the Ingalls family lives in one place for much longer than they ever did in the books or in real life. Nellie Oleson was mean, but she couldn’t hold a candle to the television character. In the books, as in life, Mary never married, nor did she become a teacher. It seems that Mary may not have been quite as angry and shut away as she was on television, either. In the books and apparently in real life, Laura didn’t have a great desire to become a teacher. She became a teacher because she wanted to help pay for Mary’s college tuition at the college for the blind. Some ocurrences were changed or synthesized. For example, Laura and Manly (her nickname for Almanzo) both had experiences with mean teachers. In Laura’s case, the teacher in the book was Miss Eliza Jane Wilder, Manly’s sister, who was influenced by Nellie Oleson because they were both from New York. In Manly’s case, it was a male teacher who boarded with his family. In the television show, it was Laura’s mean teacher, a man, who was influenced by Nellie because he boarded with the Oleson family. Both the books and the TV program are enjoyable, but now when I watch the show, I wish I didn’t know what I know about the events of the book and about history, since the show is loaded with anachronisms.
I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy these classic books as an adult, but I was very pleasantly surprised. Any childhood fan will appreciate them again (and maybe more) later.