Sunday, January 31, 2016

A little house with a lot of activity!

Image result for little house in the big woods cover image

Little House in the Big Woods 
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I am so excited for the first review 
in our Little House Read-Along!
If you are interested in joining us at any time for this Read-Along, please register on either Bex's blog at An Armchair by the Sea or mine

Feel free to read all of the books in this series with us, or just a few, or whatever works for you! 

January reviews can be posted here or here! :) The link will post to both blogs. :)  Twitter-#LittleHouseRAL

This is the first time I have read this series and I'm almost 60 years old! 
It will be interesting to see how my first-time read compares with others' rereads!

Although I read this much earlier in the month I was unable to post a review until now. I have been sick for almost a month and just now getting back to work, so no energy for anything else but recovery and work! However, the good news is I'm now well on the mend!

Having read the Anne of Green Gables series last year, evidently I unconsciously halfway expected a similar writing style in this series as that of L.M. Montgomery's. But I was quickly disabused of that notion. The nice thing (to me) is that Wilder's writing style is much simpler and able to be read and understood by less experienced readers. Cool! 

There is some humor sprinkled in amongst Laura's memories and I agree with many others who feel as if Mary might not have always been quite as "perfect" as Laura remembers, but it certainly felt that way to Laura, the younger of the two girls. Having no siblings, I cannot confirm this to be true, but having raised three sons, I think there is always some level of jealousy in certain areas among/between siblings, or at least some feelings of inferiority whether imagined or realistic. This book (as I suspect most of them are) is composed of vignettes of Laura's memories from her childhood. 

If you had never before considered, there was quite a difference regarding attitudes toward and the need for firearms for these pioneers settling the frontier. Pa kept his "always loaded" gun on two wooden hooks he had made and mounted above the cabin door so he could easily grab it as needed, for protection. That would really be scary, wouldn't it? Living in virtual isolation in the wild...though I guess in most ways I have lived much of my life similarly--in the country with the nearest neighbor at least half a mile away. Fortunately, there were no bears, just the occasional stray dog, coyote, fox, or blue heron! :)
And such a process to shoot that gun! 
  Whenever he shot at a wild animal, [Pa] had to stop and load the gun--measure the power, put it in and shake it down, put in the patch and the bullet and pound them down, and then put a fresh cap under the hammer--before he could shoot again. When he shot at a bear or a panther, he must kill it with the first shot. A wounded bear or panther could kill a man before he had time to load his gun again. (52) 
Yikes! You had better practice...a lot! 

The first of the vignettes that grabbed me was the story of Pa scaring a bear off from the pigpen in the middle of the night. 
The bear was reaching into the pen to grab the pig, and the pig was running and squealing. Pa saw this in the starlight and he fired quickly. But the light was dim and in his haste he missed the bear. (11)
Both Pa and Laura were a bit disappointed that there would be no bear meat as a result of this confrontation, but as Pa noted, "...I saved the bacon." :) As an obsessive bacon lover, I could relate! And really, you should read this book for nothing more (or less) than the story of Ma slapping a bear! And living to tell about it! :) 

Later, Pa encountered another bear while out in the woods. This bear was preparing to eat a pig it had just killed when Pa shot it. Since he had no way of knowing who might have owned this pig, Pa just "brought home the bacon," too! :) 
  There was plenty of fresh meat to last for a long time. They days and the nights were so cold that the pork in a box and the bear meat hanging in the little shed outside the back door were solidly frozen and did not thaw.
  When Ma wanted fresh meat for dinner Pa took the ax and cut off a chunk of frozen bear meat or pork. (25-26)
This seems so strange to me now. Although I have helped slaughter and butcher chickens and deer, we were always aware of what part was what and we now have certain acceptable recipes or cooking methods for preparing different 'cuts' of meat. Not so then, you just cooked whatever it was, and typically everything was pretty much boiled, so no real decisions regarding how to cook it.

I admit to being fascinated by the description of cooking a carrot to add color to the butter during the winter. Due to the lack of fresh pastureland for the cattle to graze in winter, the butter lacked the yellow color of that churned during the warmer months. And there was certainly never anything that went to waste. Once Ma had strained the milk from the carrot, the girls enjoyed eating the remaining cooked carrot! In those days, you were not allowed to be a 'picky eater'! You either ate what was provided, or you didn't eat... 

Pa's typical greeting upon arriving at the cabin after a day of hunting and trapping in the woods was "Where's my little half-pint of sweet cider half drunk up?" He was referring to Laura, since she was so small. Pa was the storyteller in the house and once he had completed his evening rituals of cleaning, oiling, and storing his gun and making ammunition as needed, he would regale the girls with stories if he wasn't too tired. This was the children's main form of entertainment since they helped Ma with all the chores during the day and were allowed to play as time permitted...but there were no electronic devices, not even a radio to provide any entertainment. I was reminded how much children like to be scared, as Pa would reenact animal screams and noises for them as he told them stories of peoples' close escapes in dangerous situations. 

I got a kick out of Pa's description of Sundays during his grandfather's childhood. 
  "Sunday morning they ate a cold breakfast, because nothing could be cooked on Sunday. Then they all dressed in their best clothes and walked to church. They walked, because hitching up the horses was work, and no work could be done on Sunday."
  "They must walk slowly and solemnly, looking straight ahead. They must not joke or laugh, or even smile. Grandpa and his two brothers walked ahead, and their father and mother walked behind them."
  "In church, Grandpa and his brothers must sit perfectly still for two long hours and listen to the sermon. They dared not fidget on the hard bench. They dared not swing their feet. They dared not turn their heads to look at the windows or walls or the ceiling of the church. They must sit perfectly motionless..." (88) 
I don't know about you, but I doubt I would have made it through all that silence and motionlessness! :) I'm sure I would have been punished most Sundays. :) 

As you might imagine, living miles away from any 'neighbors' meant social gatherings were few and far between. Laura's recounting of preparations to go to a dance or any such event were fascinating reading. The one thing that struck me is the fact that each and every task, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant required so much time and energy spent to complete! And the making of maple syrup! (I love good maple syrup almost much as I love bacon!) And the making of hominy! I love hominy and it is something with which many people are unfamiliar these days. (A couple of my son's friends came to our house about 20 years ago while we were eating supper. Of course, I had them join us. Finally one of them points to the dish of hominy, asking, "Are those marshmallows?" We all had a laugh out of that and he learned all about hominy...and liked it!) These descriptions were wonderful! Laura's wonderment and first impressions from her initial trip to town including her first glimpse of a lake! While at the lake, Mary and Laura collected pebbles (I did that as a child, too!), but Laura's pocket literally falls out of her dress because she has stuffed too many pebbles into it! 
  Pa laughed at her for being a greedy little girl...
  Nothing like that ever happened to Mary. Mary was a good little girl who always kept her dress clean and neat and minded her manners. Mary had lovely golden curls, and her candy heart had a poem on it.
  Mary looked very good and sweet, unrumpled and clean, sitting on the board beside Laura. Laura did not think it was fair. (175)
This reminded me so much of Alice Liddell in Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin. Alice and Laura shared that same inclination to get dirty and ha!e fun! Now those are my kind of girls! :)

Did you like this first installment of the Little House series?
Is this your first time to read these or is it a reread?
Check out others' reviews here!

Join us in February (just around the corner) for Little House on the Prairie!


  1. I love the story of Pa trying to "scare the bear" in the woods, in the middle of the night. So scary even to think of what that must have felt like. But Pa was so brave. Of course, it was such a relief to know it was only a tree.

    This first book is such a joy and pleasure to read (or reread). I just don't understand why they leave Wisconsin for the prairie (as per the next book). I mean, I know why; but I don't get it.

    1. Perhaps it was that need for adventure? I don't know, since I've not read any of them except this one. It will be fun to see...

  2. Great review! I have read this one multiple times and it fascinates me every time. I love the stories Pa tells the girls and all Ma's cooking and the descriptions of what they made and ate.

    1. The descriptions are definitely what make it so enjoyable, in my opinion! Such details!

  3. Some of my favourite parts of the Little House books are the parts about the food-making. The butter, the cheese, the bread, the beans, the maple syrup, the vanity cakes (some of these might be coming later in the other books). Also the ways in which life was simpler. Glad you're enjoying them so far!

    1. They are very cool! Can't wait to send a set to my grandchildren out west!