Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Kiddosphere Exclusive

Folks, I'm trying out new things with how I write reviews. Every now and then, I need to do something different to keep my interest in blogging going.

Remember my Around the World With Your Library Card feature? Where I planned to review a bundle of children's fiction (and occasionally nonfiction) books set in a different state or country? And I planned to post this every Monday? Yes! That one. Well, I miss some Mondays, and sometimes, it's a lot to write multiple reviews in one post. I like the idea, and I'm reading books that I might not have read otherwise, so I'm enjoying the idea. It's not going away, but it won't look the same every Monday (or whenever I decide to post it).

I read several books set in Minnesota, but I'm not going to review every one of them. One of them was On the Banks of Plum Creek. If you know anything about children's literature, you'll recognize that title as one of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books.

Being inspired by the recent trend of hosting author interviews on blogs, I whipped up this little bit. If the only person who is amused by this is me...then it might not be that much different from my other posts.

May I present...A Conversation With Laura Ingalls Wilder.

K@F: Laura, I did a search of children’s books set in Minnesota, and one of your books came up.

LIW: Yes. On the Banks of Plum Creek. It won a Newbery Honor in 1938-the first of my books to win a Newbery Honor (By the Shores of Silver Lake in 1940, The Long Winter in 1941, Little Town on the Prairie in 1942, and These Happy Golden Years in 1944).

K@F: I have to confess, Laura, that I was a little ambivalent about reading On the Banks of Plum Creek. I couldn’t remember if this was the one with the grasshoppers.

LIW: Oh, the grasshoppers.

K@F: Yes, the grasshoppers. I couldn’t remember if this was the one in which grasshoppers keep falling from the sky and eat all the crops. Because that book freaks me out.

LIW: This one does have grasshoppers, but it’s only one chapter. They crawl all over Carrie when they are leaving.

K@F: I felt a little nervous when I got to that chapter. That's not the only major thing to happen in On the Banks of Plum Creek. You almost drown.

LIW: Yes, and Nellie Olsen gets covered with leeches! Serves her right, after being so rude to Ma.

K@F: That is definitely one of the highlights of the book. Although many people may be sentimental and nostalgic about your books, you pull no punches about the many hardships of your life. Fires, near starvation, failed crops, interrupted schooling, and your sister Mary’s blindness. And while many people usually don’t criticize Pa, I’ve noticed quite a few have some harsh words to say about Ma.

LIW: Pioneer life was difficult for everyone, but it was especially hard on the women. It wasn’t easy being married to a man who would move his family on a whim. She was educated and was a teacher before she married Pa, so the lack of schools for us was very difficult for her. The lack of churches was also very hard for a religious woman like my mother. In fact, the first time I went to church was when we lived in Minnesota. While we did have some happy moments in Minnesota, we had three crop failures in a row. Pa eventually gave up, and we moved to Iowa. But my brother, Charles, died on the way to Iowa. He was just nine months old, and I never wrote about him.

K@F: I think much of the criticism comes from Ma’s attitude toward Native Americans.

LIW: It’s important to remember that she was a product of her time.

K@F: And I think that needs to be discussed when parents or teachers are reading your books. Your books are such a part of classic American literature, not to mention classic American children’s literature, that it’s almost a rite of passage to read the Little House books. There’s so much to learn about pioneer life that it would be a shame to dismiss the books based on Ma’s racism (or the minstrel show scene in Little Town on the Prairie). I’d also like to point out that both Ma and Pa allowed you and your sisters to be your own persons. You were allowed to explore and play. You weren’t shut up in the house with Mary all the time, which is where she usually preferred to be. Schoolwork was important. When Mary became blind, sending her to school became an utmost priority, rather than just letting her sit at home with a blank look on her face. What is the one thing you want people to know about the books and why you wrote the books?

LIW: I wrote the Little House books to preserve my memories of pioneer life for children. When I began writing the books in 1932, pioneer life was already almost a forgotten memory. More people were living in cities rather than in the country. The Model T Ford was introduced in 1908; horses and carriages were no longer the primary mode of transportation. It was a different world from the world in which I grew up.

K@F: Laura, your legacy continues on even today. Your books have never gone out of print. The Little House on the Prairie television series will remain in syndication for eternity, it seems. And speaking of the Little House television series, what do you think of a Little House musical, starring Patrick Swayze as your Pa and Melissa Gilbert, who played you on the series, as your Ma?

LIW: (silence)

K@F: I feel the same way. Thanks for stopping by! This concludes the Kiddosphere’s interview with Laura Ingalls Wilder. Check back often to see who else we can dig up for an interview. If you really want to read other books set in Minnesota, check out some of Gary Paulsen’s books. You can also read Maud Hart Lovelace’s books, but truth be told, the setting isn’t nearly as important as is the Minnesota setting in On the Banks of Plum Creek and The Quilt, by Gary Paulsen.

For a Native American perspective of the 1800s, read Louise Erdrich's The Birchbark House and The Game of Silence.

Children books about Laura Ingalls Wilder:
Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Biography

Laura Ingalls Wilder: Growing Up in the Little House (also available at Bealeton and Marshall)

Pioneer Girl: The Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder

West From Home: A Collection of Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder to Almanzo Wilder

Searching For Laura Ingalls Wilder

On the Way Home

Laura's Album

Books for Adults:

A Little House Sampler

Laura Ingalls Wilder Country

Little House in the Ozarks

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