February 15, 2019

Photo Credit: Getty Images: Bettmann/ Contributor

For nearly 100 years, the “Little House” books (and the subsequent television series) have been cherished by kids and adults around the world. Millions of children have aspired to be like Laura Ingalls, a pioneer girl who courageously helped her family start new farms across the Midwest - planting, harvesting, hunting, and fighting blizzards.

The story of Ingalls’ family was based on the real-life adventures of Laura Ingalls Wilder, but Wilder’s real childhood was much harsher. As a child, Wilder endured “an almost brutal lifestyle,” according to Caroline Fraser, a Pulitzer-Prize winning writer, and author of the book “Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

On this week’s show, Fraser talks to us about how Wilder reinvented American history, recast her own life, and what the books - and controversy over them - has to teach us.

Three Takeaways:

  • According to Fraser, in the late 19th century, homesteading in the Midwest was often brutal. The unreliable weather made it hard for wheat to thrive. “The really grim reality of homesteading is something I think we've lost sight of,” says Fraser.
  • Fraser believes there are two reasons why Wilder chose to leave out some of the darker aspects of her own personal story. The first is that Wilder wanted to make the books more accessible to children. The second, according to Fraser, is that Wilder believed that “a part of the job of these books [was] to portray a life where people just had to make the best of it.”
  • Wilder started writing about her childhood for The Missouri Ruralist, a farm newspaper. Later, encouraged by her daughter, Wilder began writing the famous Little House books when she was about 60 years old. The books’ message of getting by with little money was inspirational to kids during the Great Depression.

More Reading:

American history, childhood, Little House on the Prairie, Stories, Laura Ingalls Wilder

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