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Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography

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Pioneer Girl follows the Ingalls family's journey through Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, back to Minnesota, and on to Dakota Territory sixteen years of travels, unforgettable experiences, and the everyday people who became immortal through Wilder's fiction. Using additional manuscripts, letters, photographs, newspapers, and other sources, award-winning Wilder biographer Pamela Smith Hill adds valuable context and leads readers through Wilder's growth as a writer. Do you think you know Laura? Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography will re-introduce you to the woman who defined the pioneer experience for millions.

400 pages, Hardcover

First published November 20, 2014

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About the author

Laura Ingalls Wilder

383 books4,644 followers
Ingalls wrote a series of historical fiction books for children based on her childhood growing up in a pioneer family. She also wrote a regular newspaper column and kept a diary as an adult moving from South Dakota to Missouri, the latter of which has been published as a book.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,103 reviews
Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews157k followers
December 10, 2020
I'm geeking out right now - can you feel me geeking out???

I love the original Little House on the Prairie series. Just adore it. But I always wondered how much of the story was true versus how much was embellished to make the series sell. This autobiography delves into that question with painstaking detail.

This book contains the original manuscript (of what would latter become split into the Little House series) and every detail mentioned within is fact-checked with a footnote. Everything is fact-checked. Any minor character, any reference to a nearby town and any animal that passed into Ingalls family's lives has been checked and rechecked. I have never been happier

I was extremely pleased that for the most part, the little house series was true-to-life. There were some changes between real life and the books. For example, the Ingalls family had several dogs throughout their childhood but the dogs were condensed into one (Jack). The same thing happened with all of the mean girls Laura dealt with growing up - they all became "Nellie Olson." Both cases that was done to alleviate confusion for young readers.

Pioneer Girl is written for an older audience and includes a few events that Laura decided to keep out of her children's series - such as bearing witness to a man trying to kill his wife. Or Pa skipping town once because he couldn't come up with money to pay back the landlords. Those were later cut from the series because the content was considered too mature for the young readers and shows heroic Pa in a different light.

I really liked seeing how closely Laura worked with her Rose , her daughter, as they put together the very first manuscript. This mother-daughter duo certainly had no idea how much of an impact they would have on children throughout the world (and on adults, like me, who have loved the series their entire lives).

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Profile Image for Kathleen.
281 reviews33 followers
January 22, 2015
The Pioneer Girl annotated edition was fascinating to read. The notes were very informative and I learned so much about the development of the Little House books.

Note: The following is my original review of the manuscript only, not the annotated edition (from May 11, 2011).

I'm so glad I was able to read this. It was very interesting to compare it to the published Little House books and see how they differ. One significant difference is Pioneer Girl includes the 3-4 years in between On the Banks of Plum Creek and By the Shores of Silver Lake. Since I've read several biographies about Laura Ingalls Wilder I already knew what happened then, but it was nice to read the original source material.

Other things I noticed:

* Laura learns to knit at 3-4 years old, but soon gets tired of it.

* Laura learns to read at the same time as Mary, when she is about 4 years old. In the series, Laura is 7 years old before she learns to read.

* Ma and the girls visit Aunt Martha and her children—I think this should have gone into Little House in the Big Woods!

* Laura learns how to milk a cow from Mrs. Nelson, which is why she already knows how when Pa purchases a cow.

* Sunday School picnic in Walnut Grove—Laura and Mary can't eat any dessert because they didn't know it cost extra money. They had brought a lemon pie, but the teachers held it back for themselves and the girls couldn't eat it.

* Laura's cousin Gene's name is spelled correctly—I don't know why it was spelled "Jean" in the series!

* The Ingalls family has a boarder, Walter Odgen, while they are living in the Surveyors' House.

* Christmas in the Surveyors' House—they have different Christmas presents

* During the Hard Winter, a young couple named George and Maggie Masters stay with the Ingalls family. I'm glad they weren't put into The Long Winter—it is better without them.

*Pa actually shoots one of the antelope, and the townspeople share it

* Some people stay with Laura, Carrie, and Grace while Pa and Ma take Mary to Iowa. I'm glad they weren't put into the book.

* T. P. Power (one of the drunks Laura watches while sewing for Mrs. Clancy) is Mary Power's father! I don't think that connection was made in the book.

* When Laura and Carrie go home a different way and get lost in the Big Slough, it was because they were trying to avoid Banker Ruth's angry bull. They actually tell Pa about their experience and Pa gets angry with Banker Ruth.

* A boy named Ernest Perry likes Laura and takes her to country dances. She doesn't like it and refuses to go after the second time. She says she was "a snob even then".

* Laura likes Cap, and one of the reasons she tells Almanzo she won't go driving with him after she finishes teaching school is because she hopes to go with Cap. One time Cap does ask her to go sleigh riding, and Laura realizes she likes Almanzo better. Arthur Johnson walks Laura home from church once, and Laura doesn't like that either and she realizes how much she likes Almanzo.

* Laura doesn't want to call Almanzo "Mr. Wilder" and mishears his nickname, Mannie, as Manly. She calls him "Manly" thereafter because she thinks Manzo and Mannie sound silly. Almanzo calls Laura "Bessie" because he doesn't like the name Laura (he also had a sister named Laura), and her middle name is Elizabeth.

* Laura once skips school to go skating at the new roller rink. Her teacher is disappointed because she usually set such a good example.

* Almanzo sells both Skip and Barnum before he and Laura are married, but both horses are in The First Four Years

* The Perry school is not mentioned, but Laura's time in the Wilkins school is covered.

* When Laura and Almanzo are engaged, Almanzo comes for dinner every Sunday and is allowed to stay and talk to Laura until 11:00 at night (the rest of the family goes to bed at 9:00). Once, Almanzo sets the clock back an hour after the family goes to bed so he can stay until midnight.
Profile Image for Duane.
828 reviews428 followers
September 13, 2016
Laura Ingalls Wilder finished this autobiography in 1930, the account of her 16 years of childhood. Her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, a writer, sent the manuscript to her agent. He rejected it, said it was just "an old lady sitting in a rocking chair telling a story". But maybe they could use it to write fictional stories, stories for children that could be easier published. The first of these stories came two years later, Little House in the Big Woods, and thus began a series that would become iconic in the history of American children's literature.

Which brings us back to this book, this autobiography. The South Dakota State Historical Society decided they would publish it to celebrate Wilder's 150th birthday coming in 2017. But they wanted more than just the manuscript itself, so they used multiple writers and historians, all doing exhaustive research on the locations, the people, and events. The results were spectacular. With pictures, with hundreds of footnotes and references, this finished work is a collectors item for any fan of Wilder's stories.

So in 2014, eighty four years after it was finished, Wilder's childhood story is finally published. Let me say though, kind of a warning if you will; this is not fiction, so it doesn't read like the stories. Times were hard, things were much different then, and different than they were in the books. The sweetness and innocence of those stories is not projected here. The stories are still there, easy to see, but the telling of them is stark, recounted with a simple style of writing.

The book I read was from the library, a big, heavy, beautifully bound book. What I would call a coffee table book. It's one I certainly want to add to my home library.

5 stars.
Profile Image for Susan Albert.
Author 96 books2,241 followers
December 16, 2014
The manuscript text documented in Pioneer Girl takes us deep into the real life of a pioneer family that barely clung to a hard-luck existence on the margins of nineteenth-century American settlement. It also reveals a great deal about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s competence and ambitions as a writer, and the great distance a story can travel between real life and fiction. Readers and scholars alike will be delighted to have—at long last—the text of Wilder’s unpublished autobiography. Kudos to the South Dakota State Historical Society for bringing us this book.

But however glad we are to finally have easy access to Wilder’s autobiography, Pamela Smith-Hill’s editorial work raises some significant questions. Central to these is what scholars call “editorial intrusion.” To put it plainly, an editor of an important literary document (and Wilder’s manuscript is certainly important) has a very special obligation, beyond his or her first duty to represent the text exactly as the author produced it. In notes and textual annotations, the editor must be impartial on controversial issues and present the text fully and neutrally, so that scholars and general readers can read without distraction or undue editorial influence. All editors will agree that neutrality is a difficult thing and that they spend a great deal of time examining their work to be sure that their opinions and interpretations (especially regarding controversial issues) don’t distract from the reading or lead the reader to particular conclusions. In other words, an editor should never get in the reader’s way.

In Pioneer Girl, the text itself is carefully and accurately presented, but it is heavily laced with Smith-Hill’s editorial intrusions. Some are seemingly factual but are inaccurate and the sources are undocumented. Others are opinions presented as fact. Many are designed to buttress the editor’s contention that Wilder is the primary author of the Little House books and to dispute suggestions that her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, was anything more than an “editor” of the books and “literary agent” for the series. All are presented in the margins of the pages, rather than as appendices in the back, where they would at least have been less obtrusive.

I suggest that you read and enjoy Pioneer Girl for what it is: a valuable presentation of Wilder’s unpublished autobiographical manuscript, the source from which she and her daughter later drew the Little House books. Use the historical notes to further your own understanding and research. Weigh each editorial comment thoughtfully. Be aware that they reflect the editor’s opinions and don’t always tell the full story behind this important manuscript and the ways in which it was subsequently developed.

That said, I loved Laura’s tale, with all its artlessly gritty details, just for itself. I will be reading and rereading it for a long time to come.
Profile Image for Sonya.
805 reviews162 followers
February 6, 2015
2/6/15: If I had read just the pure raw Laura Ingalls Wilder text of Pioneer Girl without any of the annotations, I'd probably have given it a three star rating, simply because it's interesting but is clearly a first draft of an autobiography that evolved into a beloved series of novels that impressed themselves upon me from as long ago as I can remember. (Are you listening, Harper Lee?)

But when you take into account the beauty of the physical book itself, the meticulous and almost obsessive research that adds so much to our understanding of Wilder's progression as a writer, it is elevated to a full five-star accomplishment. [Personal aside: I have designed and composed the interiors of many, many books and can't imagine how many hours the designer(s?) and editorial staff dedicated toward making a logical and easy-to-read format. I'd love to see the Indesign files if they exist.]

I'm reeling a bit from having to separate the novels and their lovely fictions and skewed timelines apart from reality (or a cobbled together reality from myriad primary sources of information). My mother had a boyfriend once (short-lived relationship, I'm still thankful) who corrected me when I said the Little House books were autobiographical and therefore true. He said no, the books might have been based on memories, but they couldn't be attributed to truth. I was furious that he would say something so mean to me, an affront to my sixth-grade self that questioned my reading of the text and personal relationship to the novels.

Well, Art, I still think you were not the right match for my mother, but I have to hand it to you now. The books are fiction, written by Laura, coached and edited by Rose, and I still love them.
1/9/2015: I just found out that the Ingalls family left Jack, beloved and almost human himself Jack, in Kansas. Yes, I'm as sad as you are.

I read the introduction today, more than fifty pages. I kind of don't like Rose Wilder Lane much, after reading about how she mined Laura's story for her own novels.
Profile Image for Kristin.
1,277 reviews7 followers
January 30, 2015
The books of Laura Ingalls Wilder were my best friends growing up. I read & re-read them constantly most of my life. I received my boxed set when I was about 8 or 9 as a reward for helping my brother who had been laid up with a broken leg. To this day, when I open one of them, I will inhale deeply for its scent which I find only in these books.

A couple years later while vacationing in Pelican Rapids, at a small bookstore on main street, I saw the book, Laura, by Donald Zochert, and thought I had died & gone to heaven. The really-real story of Laura with photographs. I read & re-read it many times as well.

Now to the book in hand, once I was past the introduction and background, deeply ensconced in Laura's words and story, I felt like I was enjoying a beautiful afternoon with an old friend, I had not seen in years, and may not ever see again. Laura is responsible for a great deal of who I am. It is satisfying to spend one more day with her to rediscover those lost treasures.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,114 followers
August 21, 2015
I was surprised to see that this is the first time Laura Ingalls Wilder's autobiography has been published. The reason is now clear to me - she wrote her life story down once she hit her 60s, both with her daughter (private audience) and publication (public audience) in mind. After multiple attempts to get it published by her "famous writer" daughter Rose Lane Wilder, they got advice to adapt it as juvenile fiction. The story with slight modifications would go on to become the legendary The Little House Collection, a book series that is inseparable from my childhood both as books and as the television series.

This is a beautiful, heavy, well-researched book. With funding from the South Dakota Historical Society and copious work by editor Pamela Smith Hill (and others), Pioneer Girl is a multifaceted text. The memoir occupies larger text on 2/3 of the page, with footnotes, maps, and photographs throughout. The footnotes provide historical context, insight into discrepancies between what Wilder has written and what might be the actual truth (she gets her age wrong most of the time), and often points out differences between Wilder's life and what she changed for the novels. I was impressed by how much of Little House is directly from her life, even tiny details like the "Half-Pint" nickname. I was moved by learning that you can see Pa's fiddle in a museum, his actual fiddle. I was stunned to realize the historical context of the Ingalls pioneer moves into territories previously belonging to native populations. At one point the Ingalls move into territory that "at some point" is going to be open for prospectors, but they have to move out because Pa jumped the gun.

While the fictional Ingalls continually move west, the historical Ingalls had a few cases of having to go back to where they'd been, often for financial reasons. The life of a pioneer was never easy! There are also "adult" details in this text that did not make it into the novels, but I was relieved to see that Laura, Mary, and Carrie were not quite as sheltered as they seem.

Recommended for anyone who grew up with Laura or is interested in the westward expansion period.

Discussed on Episode 037 of the Reading Envy podcast.
Profile Image for Jason Pettus.
Author 24 books1,324 followers
June 2, 2016
(UPDATE: After reading other people's reviews here, I'm absolutely delighted by how many angry writeups there are along the lines of, "I can't believe this annotated edition has so many annotations!!!" That's the entire point of an annotated edition, to bring a scholarly look at all the facts and figures that are being presented within the manuscript itself; if you were to move all of them to the back of the book, they would be footnotes and you would therefore not call it an annotated edition. For those who haven't read it themselves yet, let me do you a favor and mention that you are under no legal obligation whatsoever to actually read the annotations in the annotated edition, but instead can simply just read Wilder's manuscript as if it was a standalone book, a fact that somehow escaped the attention of a whole lot of one-star reviewers here.)

(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

Few people have been aware of this up to recently, but the first attempt Laura Ingalls Wilder made to record her memoirs was actually a book meant for adults, first penned in 1929 and heavily edited and influenced by her daughter Rose, who history has largely forgotten but who at the time was a fantastically successful contemporary author who used to pal around with people like Sinclair Lewis (and who, incidentally, is considered one of the founders of the American wing of Libertarianism). Unfortunately no one was interested in publishing it, which is what led Wilder a few years later to write the children's version that became an international sensation; but that original manuscript has been around this entire time, finally published just recently by the South Dakota State Historical Society in a gorgeously oversized annotated edition.

And I have to say, it was an extremely interesting experience reading both this and the extensive notes that come with it, for although it follows the same general storyline that all of us are familiar with from the "Little House" series, Pioneer Girl makes it clear just how much of the children's version was fudged around for the sake of telling an entertaining tale; entire years of her life are left out of the more famous series, events and locations are moved around willy-nilly, and in general the family's life turns out to have been much more of a series of random moves from city to country to city to country, excised and re-ordered in the "Little House" series to present a more consistent narrative about a pioneer family who starts in the middle of nowhere, then only gradually joins up with the rest of society as the "Civilized West" starts congealing around them.

Then of course there are the other new revelations in Pioneer Girl, the ones that earned the book so much attention when it first came out last year; that since it was originally meant for adult audiences, it divulges the details of frontier life in a much more unvarnished way than the children's books do, sometimes coming across as a more genteel version of Deadwood than you would ever expect from this well-loved grandmotherly author, including the revelation that she was once almost raped as a teen by an alcoholic employer whose house she was living in, not to mention plenty of stories about coarse farmers who used to beat up their wives, near-riots by unruly railroad construction crews being supervised by her father, and a lot more.

Combined with the exhaustive academic notes from the publisher, this presents a much fuller and more balanced look at what in the "Little House" series is often an overly bucolic existence, and a welcome reminder that life on the frontier wasn't always peppermint candies and running barefoot along Plum Creek. Although the children's books are easily more poetic and entertaining, I'm glad that this more stripped-down adult version is finally out for the general public to see, especially in the beautiful and informative edition that the SDSHS has made, which this manuscript deserves and earns. Although I hesitate to strongly recommend it to one and all, certainly anyone who is a fan of the classic "Little House" series should seek out a copy of this coffeetable-sized volume right away.

Out of 10: 8.5, or 9.5 for existing "Little House on the Prairie" fans
Profile Image for Sue.
36 reviews2 followers
January 23, 2015
So, I WAS that kid who read and re-read the Little House books over and over again. I can't begin to explain my fascination with Laura, Mary, Ma & Pa, but boy, did I ever love those books. I read them aloud to my kids when they were growing up and recently re-read them as an adult. (Yup, I still love them just as much.) So, I couldn't wait to get my hands on this book, and it is everything I hoped it would be.

LIW wrote a manuscript called "Pioneer Girl" long before she wrote any of the children's books. This book contains a very well-researched annotated bibliography that details where the stories she describes in "Pioneer Girl" fit into the Little House books. And fascinating facts to boot! Like weather data about just how awful "The Long Winter" really was. Which anecdotes were true and which were pure fiction? And stuff I never knew ~ like how LIW's daughter Rose used "Pioneer Girl" material to write her own bestsellers.

As an editor, I am in awe of the amount of research it took to put this together. Don't get me wrong, this is an academic text and not for the casual LIW fan. I am a speed reader and it took me over a week to digest and pore over each annotation and entry. And, yes, I loved every minute of it! Highly recommend for the hard-core LIW fans (you know who you are).
Profile Image for Manybooks.
3,207 reviews104 followers
April 20, 2021
Yes indeed, albeit that I can to a point totally understand that for some readers the massive amount of historical, cultural and literature based details, details, details included by editor Pamela Smith Hill in her footnotes and annotations for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography are overwhelming (although well, you actually do not have to read any of these, you can bien sûr just stick to only the story itself), for me, in particular the annotations have all been absolutely delightful and as such also totally up my proverbial alley so to speak, a wonderful academically, intellectual enlightening icing on an already most wonderfully delicious reading cake (with Hill taking the three extant manuscripts of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s autobiography and combining them to create this here definitive edition).

But I have of course not only appreciated the massive amount of research Pamela Smith Hill has engaged in as the chief editor of Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography but also that the presented text really does show how Laura Ingalls Wilder’s actual life story was in fact considerably harsher and much more potentially tragic and traumatic than her Little House on the Prairie series ever was, that while the Little House novels certainly used many of the details found in Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography as a blueprint, this information was also very much deliberately fictionalised by Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter and editor Rose Wilder Lane to promote and celebrate family and American expansion westwards, that whereas Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography is therefore totally to be approached as non fiction, as Laura Ingalls Wilder writing about her life, about her memories, the Little House on the Prairie Series is definitely and indeed more to be appreciated and approached as biographical fiction.

Furthermore, I also do totally find it refreshing that Pamela Smith Hill seems to not go too much overboard with her editing, that she does for example in Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography leave those passages of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s manuscripts that are not yet that textually adept and as verbally flowing as is, as they appear in the manuscripts, since yes, this also truly does how Laura Ingalls Wilder’s penmanship skills mature and develop during the course of her writing Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography (and that by the end of her autobiography, she is textually and stylistically much more advanced and as such also much more superior than at the beginning). A solid five star reading experience Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography has been for me, and a book that I do warmly and highly recommend for fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder who want to experience her actual autobiography and who are also interested in Wilder’s life, career and 19th to mid 20th century American history.

And finally, although there are unfortunately included within Laura Ingalls Wilder's autobiography attitudes towards Native Americans that are uncomfortable and majorly bigoted, they really should in my opinion be seen as products and reflections of both time and place. And I in fact do very much appreciate that Pamela Smith Hill has not decided to in any way edit out and replace Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family's often rather overt negativity towards Native Americans, that Hill has not striven to artificially sanitize Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography since doing so could (and likely would) give readers a false portrait of Laura Ingalls Wilder as well as 19th and early 20th century America (as negative and sometimes downright vicious perceptions of American Indians sadly were more often than not rather the rule and not the exception).
316 reviews10 followers
January 20, 2015
Talk about thorough! This book provides "everything you ever wanted to know....and then 10 times as much" about Laura Ingalls Wilder, her life and how her series of "Little House" books REALLY came into being. As someone who thinks about the process it takes to see a book through to a published reality, I found the commentary about Laura's interactions with her writer/editor daughter, Rose, quite interesting. It was insightful on many levels, and one of the scenarios I found most fascinating was the discussion of the REAL "Long Winter." There was a small, young family living with the Ingallses that winter, and the husband was a selfish pig who hogged what little food there was, even depriving his nursing wife of "extra," while Charles Ingalls was more inclined to sacrifice himself for the sake of his daughters. After the tough winter we had last year, with plenty of food and heating at our disposal, it's awesome (in the true sense of that word) to think about how they and the other citizens of DeSmet, S.D., managed to endure those many months of bone-chilling cold and gnawing hunger.

However, there might be more detail in this volume than many people want to tackle, and in truth, I skimmed a good portion of the notes; we'd all need a LOOOOONNNNGGG, shut-in winter with nothing else to do to really do this entire book justice--and then again, how many of us want to know EVERY detail out there? Still, I appreciated some of the enlightenment this provided and remain in awe of the pioneers who prevailed in order to "settle" the west. (Although recent trips through parts of South Dakota might give one pause, asking if it really IS completely "settled" even now. There's a whole lot of prairie out there!)
Profile Image for Carin.
Author 1 book103 followers
February 24, 2015
I am a HUGE Laura Ingalls Wilder fan. I even visited both THE Little House near Independence, KS, and Wilder's home in Mansfield, MO. And it's bizarre to learn here that Laura Ingalls Wilder herself never went back to The Little House, even though she and Rose tried when she was researching and writing The Little House on the Prairie. But Laura remembered it was in Indian Territory and thought it was further from Independence, KS than it is, and so they were looking around Oklahoma (understandable, after all she was only four when they moved away).

Wilder wrote this book first, before any of the Little House books. It is nonfiction (unlike the LH books) and it includes things like her little brother that died, their sojourn in Iowa, the lazy couple with their baby who were staying with the Ingalls through the Long Winter, and other details. As a first draft it did have some bits wrong that Wilder later corrected either through research or by improving memories as she spent such lengths of time focused on her past. This manuscript did provide source material for the LH books (and for a couple of Rose Wilder Lane's novels, one with the knowledge of her mother and one without.) It is so fascinating to know who was real, who was not exactly (Nellie Oleson was a compilation of three nasty girls Laura met while growing up), and what happened to t hem later. I had heard a couple of years ago that Cap Garland had been killed in his early twenties in a machinery accident, but I never even knew much of what happened to Laura's sisters after the books. Pamela Smith Hill has done extensive research, combing through census records and old newspapers, to find notices of births, death, stores, roller skating rinks, and the everyday small town life of pioneers in the midwest.

I read every word of this book, all the footnotes (well, why read an annotated book if you're not going to do that) and the appendixes. But it can be daunting and dense, so I read it a bit at a time, rarely more than 10 pages a day. If parceled out properly like this, it is a delight for any Laura Ingalls Wilder megafan. In fact, it is a must read. I will treasure this book forever.
Profile Image for Jeannie.
138 reviews7 followers
August 14, 2014
I read my copy of the unedited version with Laura's notes and misspellings and crossed out areas in practically one sitting. I loved every single bit of it. I see Laura now more as a real person than I did before. What a life she had! I was grateful for this copy and treasured every moment reading it.
Profile Image for Colette!.
235 reviews14 followers
April 9, 2015
I have a deep, decades-long love for the entire Little House series and Laura's Missouri Ruralist articles. I have been waiting for this book for a very long time.

This is the jewel in the crown of her work. It's Laura's voice, plain as day, telling her stories the way she intended to tell it. It becomes clear after reading her original manuscript how she (and her daughter Rose) developed her family into characters. Ma and Pa in particular come off as far more human than their fictionalized characters in the series. They are people far more affected by their emotions than the series would have you believe.

What makes the annotated version particularly exciting are the details Pamela Smith Hill and other researchers have managed to dredge up in their scouring of newspaper archives and other historical documents. Almost every page of the Pioneer Girl text is accompanied by 2-3 pages of background information alluding to details that Laura either left out or didn't know about at the time, and photographs and biographies of the people Laura interacted with. (Cap Garland? He's a stone-cold fox.)

The books in the series are literature. This is nowhere near as polished or lyrical as any of those nine books are. This is a mother sitting down to write her daughter her life story before it was forgotten entirely. Had Laura not had a daughter who grew up to become a famous writer and editor herself there's a good chance these stories and lives of the people who lived them would have been lost forever. They are a product of their time and they reflect a period of American history that might otherwise have been neglected. Pioneer Girl is Laura's first try at making it come to life, and it's a real gem.
30 reviews5 followers
January 21, 2015
I am still marveling at the fact that I was able to get this book. Really, I did nothing unusual. I ordered it on Barnes & Noble as soon as I heard it existed. The book arrived in November and I vowed not to read it until Christmas - which I did. I am a Laura Ingalls Wilder junkie. Laura Ingalls Wilder influenced my life from 5th grade until now (and I'm 51). When I read it as a girl, Laura was my lodestone. Her way of managing bullies, hard times, sibling rivalry, adulthood were all incorporated into my world view. In many ways we were alike: both brown haired girls built like a little french pony, not tall enough (not willowy like Nellie Oleson). But she taught me to stand up for myself. She taught me that my parents were wiser than I may have believed.

Somewhere around college, I began to wonder more about the history of her books. They were fictionalized accounts of her life - I knew that - but I always wanted to know more about the factual events that surrounded her life - why did they leave Oklahoma? What was the grasshopper plague all about? And the hard winter - the most accurately historical part of her life - I, the daughter of a meteorologist, needed more information.

Thank you South Dakota Historical Society! Laura penned "Pioneer Girl" as an outline of her life and it was used by both Laura and her daughter, Rose (a person I've never really liked. I've tried, but I just have trouble liking Rose) used again and again for their fictional works. It tells the rougher story of the Ingalls' life. Yes, I always tried to model my interactions with people on the way Laura did in the books. The real Laura was tougher. Her life was tougher. But if her real story, like the fictional one, tells us anything it is that we need to be strong and meet life's challenges head on. Nothing will break you. Thank you Laura. Thank you South Dakota Historical Society and thank you Barnes & Noble. In a few months I will no longer be able to silence people by saying, "stop now, or I swear I'll tell you what really happened to Jack."
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
Author 38 books3,006 followers
July 27, 2015
“Wilder once wrote…that her novel By the Shores of Silver Lake ‘is not a history but a true story founded on historical fact.’…[L]iterary agent George Bye wrote Wilder… ‘I predict that this series will become an American fixture.’” (p 328)

The first library I can remember being really familiar with – I mean, the first library where I can remember exactly where specific books were shelved, and what books I borrowed again and again – was the library of Steele Elementary School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and I was nine years old. (I think the young librarian’s name was Mrs. Donmoyer.) Something I remember being really annoyed by in that library was the fact that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books were shelved in the fiction section.

I’d just come back from three years living in Jamaica, where my grandmother had sent me hardback copies of the Little House books on a monthly basis, and I ADORED these books with a capital ADORE. I’d read them all (except The First Four Years ) at least two or three times before I was nine; I wrote and illustrated Little House based fan fiction many many years before I knew that such a thing as “fan fiction” existed; I played long complicated games with my friends based on the stories, and my friends all read the books too (mine, borrowed). In fact, a neighbor was still in the middle of reading them when we left Jamaica, so my mother left the entire series with her – eight hardback books which my grandmother had mailed to me, new, over a year – and we never got them back.

This act of charity is something that I resented bitterly for many years. As an adult I understand my mother’s motivation, but at nine I did not. It wasn’t like anyone in my family could afford to replace an entire set of hardback books, and it wasn’t like they’d been her books to give. Bah. Anyway –

Anyway, for the rest of my childhood I had to take the Little House books out of the library when I wanted to re-read them ad nauseum, and there they were in the fiction section. Double bah!

For me, the Little House books, and particularly the last books in the series, have stood the test of time. They are flawed by time and situation, for sure, but so unfortunately are many good books. We learn from the mistakes of the past. I read Wilder’s books aloud to my first child and then read them aloud a second time when a second child came along. For a while, a colleague and I had a “Little House Cookbook” project going, though we were too late to the gate with that: a The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic Stories was published while we were still collecting recipes. I was given The Laura Ingalls Wilder Songbook: Favorite Songs from the Little House Books and learned all the music, and read several biographies of Wilder, as well as her own On the Way Home: The Diary of a Trip from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri, in 1894 and West from Home: Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder, San Francisco, 1915 and Little House in the Ozarks: The Rediscovered Writings , too.

Between my own research and other people’s, it became clear to me that Wilder had fictionalized much of what went into her published stories. I grudgingly accepted that it was reasonable for the series to be classified as fiction. And, too, I came to admire very much Wilder’s sense of drama and her skill in constructing a story (as per my review of The Long Winter ), but I don’t think I ever really thought of her as a fiction writer or a novelist.

Reading Pioneer Girl has changed that.

But you know, actually, it is Pamela Hill Smith who has changed that. Because Pioneer Girl - Laura’s autobiography as it stands on its own – while interesting for a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan, does not automatically make you appreciate the writer’s journey that Wilder made so late in life. It is Smith’s insightful, exhaustively researched and detailed annotations that make the reader aware of just how much Wilder’s writing style, and, indeed, her attitude toward what she was writing, changed over the course of time. I loved the insights Hill provides us with as to the collaboration between Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, herself a writer of renown in the first part of the 20th century; and I love seeing how much the stories change as Wilder becomes more confident in her appraisal of what works and what needs changing.

Hill writes:

Yet, Wilder’s reputation as an innovative and inspired artist still suffers from the perception that she simply wrote the facts of her life as she remembered them and that the Little House books lack the imaginative depth of great fiction because they are really nonfiction…And precisely because the original draft of Pioneer Girl lacks the depth, drama and detail of Wilder’s novels, it illustrates how quickly she moved beyond nonfiction and how capably and imaginatively she embraced the unique challenges of writing fiction. (p. 328)

I am totally convinced and much impressed.


“The most potent childhood fantasies are rarely politically correct. Writing for children brings with it a great moral responsibility, but it also requires an emotional honesty that sometimes offends and frightens adults.” (p. 18-19)
Profile Image for Katie.
39 reviews13 followers
May 18, 2015
I am probably one of the few people who wasn't that fond of this book. I am a huge LIW fan. I was looking forward to this for so long (I never had the chance to read the manuscript before like others have). So, it is kind of depressing to end up as disappointed as I was with it.

The good opinions first. Laura's story isn't "polished". That is fine. That is expected. It didn't bother me at all. And it made for a nice, easy read. A lot of the stories in Pioneer Girl are in the LH series of books. And a lot of them are not. For those that are not, they are quite interesting to read. I really liked the fact that there were these more "adult" stories that she had to tell. It makes me wonder how many more she didn't. And, after having read PG, I think I like Laura even more than I did before. I enjoyed HER part of the book.

Now the not-so-good opinions. Pamela Smith Hill. I don't care who she is or what she's done. I don't even care what kind of "authority" she supposedly is when it comes to LIW. I just do NOT care. What she did with Pioneer Girl was ridiculous. I get the purpose of her annotations, but she could have saved them all for the BACK of the book. It really wasn't something that needed to be spread out throughout the entire book. I have read notes as thorough as hers that people placed in the back. She could have done that, too. I really didn't need to be told who Charles Ingalls was. And if I did, I could have gone to the BACK of the book for that. Her annotations were absolutely aggravating. They completely messed up the "flow" of Laura's writing. More pages were taken up by her ramblings than what Laura had written. I also don't care to read her opinions in those annotations. If she wants to give facts, do it. Spare the opinions.

I also thought is was unnecessary for this book to be so huge and so long (the length was due to Hill's unending words). Was it just her way to get the publishers to charge more money so that she could put a little more in her pocket? I'm a very cynical person. I know I am. But she gave me the impression of a person who likes to hear herself speak. Therefore, she also likes to read what she writes. And the more she writes, the bigger the book. The bigger the book, the more expensive it will be. I had enough sense to get it from Amazon when it was first released. But even that was more money than I should have spent on this.

It is really a shame that she was able to take a promising publication and turn the majority of it into an overpriced waste of paper.

My rating probably would have been higher if someone else had managed to put this book together in a more logical way.
Profile Image for Stephany Wilkes.
Author 1 book32 followers
March 26, 2015
It pains me to give this book three stars. There is so much research and so much care apparent in it. The format of the book is large and gorgeous. The layout and printing are fantastic: it's easy to read and navigate through. The attention to accuracy, detail, substantiation and transparency are admirable and welcome in our click-bait, spread-any-old-quality-of-information around society. The rarity of content, both written and photographic, is a prize.

But I think this book was intended for one audience (academics and historians) and not for that audience AND others. Given the popularity of Little House, I am surprised at this decision on the publisher's part, but then, it's a historical society, so it's my expectations that are probably off.

"Annotated" is the key word here. It is more annotation than manuscript. And, some of those annotations are not always useful or elucidating; they detract rather than add. At times, for instance, there will be a pointer to a footnote attached to an archaic term, or to a Pioneer era process that we may vaguely recognize but not exactly -- the tools used to style hair, a farm tool or process, something like that. In most books, the footnote would include clarification of the term and other relevant, additional information. In this case, however, the information you might want most is absent: the tool or process is not explained or even mentioned (sending the reader online for clarification), but there's a lengthy note about manuscript versions or a note between Laura and her daughter. These sorts of annotations are more frustrating because they're there, someone thought to put a note there, but don't contain key information that may help the reader most.
Profile Image for Morris.
964 reviews164 followers
November 22, 2014
As with many readers, much of my early reading involved the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Of course, that world was also brought into our homes through the television series of the same name. It is not a stretch to say it has been a beloved staple of childhood for generations, including my own. Therefore, I was thrilled to get an advanced copy “Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Biography” through the Goodreads First Reads program in exchange for an honest review.

Here comes the honesty: this edition of “Pioneer Girl” is an absolute must have for all Laura Ingalls Wilder fans, fans of either form of Little House on the Prairie, as well as anyone interested in the history of the great plains. It is everything I hoped it would be and more.

The annotations are thorough and include little known facts about Mrs. Wilder herself, but also about the daily living of her time. Photos give a wonderful glimpse into the real people behind the stories and include such additions of schoolyard play in small towns. Her life comes alive in the minds of readers thanks to the photography and annotations.

Perhaps the biggest draw of “Pioneer Girl” is it was written as more of a diary of memories, skipping back and forth as her mind saw fit, and it was not changed as the Little House on the Prairie books were to add that little zing of which publishers are so fond. This is her story, stark, detailed, and wonderful, as she meant it to be.

I give “Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography” a hundred stars, but the rating system will only allow me to put five of them here. And don’t forget, this would make an excellent gift for the fans of Little House in the prairie in your life!
Profile Image for Erin.
434 reviews5 followers
March 1, 2015
So I start this book and realize that there's almost 70 pages worth of introduction. I roll my eyes and dive right in. I'm getting impatient by the end of it, but this line gives me hope, "In the interest of keeping the annotative material from overwhelming Wilder's text, the documentation style used within the notes has been simplified" (lxvi). So I thought, "Cool, there's so much introduction because they're mostly leaving the text alone. Awesome." And the first double page spread was really well done. A block of text, a map of the area the Ingalls family was living in, a picture of the parents, and two small footnotes. I really enjoyed that first bit. Then I turned the page and the entire second double page spread was all the footnotes from the first small block of text. Aww HELL no. Seriously this book has more footnotes than Infinite Jest. This book has more text in the footnotes than it has actual text. So I skipped the majority of the footnotes and just enjoyed the pictures and the story. I wasn't really prepared to read someone's dissertation project, I just wanted to read the previously unpublished memoir of Laura Ingalls Wilder. That said, the kids' books she wrote were better.
Profile Image for Story Circle Book Reviews.
636 reviews61 followers
December 4, 2014
More than eighty years after it was written, finally fans of the Little House books have an opportunity to read Laura Ingalls Wilder's autobiography, on which the popular series was based. In a heavily annotated edition, with maps and appendices that enrich the text, here are her memories of her family and their pioneer life from 1869 to 1888 in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakota Territory.

Essentially Laura's factual personal history, Pioneer Girl was intended for adult readers. She had written for the St. Louis Star Farmer and the Missouri Ruralist, but that writing had generally been about farming and the rural lifestyle. After her parents and her older sister passed away, Laura began, at age 63, to devote herself to writing the family's experiences in the raw American West. This she did in pencil in six tablets that are transcribed and lightly edited for this edition.

Pioneer Girl tells the story of Laura's growing up years, from age two to eighteen. Taken by itself, without the annotations, it reads as a rough first draft, with all the immediacy that goes with getting memories down on paper quickly. It is fascinating to hear the Little House anecdotes told from an adult perspective, and to confirm the realities of pioneer life. Laura's voice feels genuine, and the asides to her daughter make it clear that one of her goals was to preserve familiar stories that were part of the family's legacy. The other object was to get the book published, in part because Laura had writing ambitions, but probably more because the Wilders desperately needed money, both parents and daughter having lost their savings in the economic collapse at the beginning of the Great Depression.

Where this book becomes complex is in the annotations. There are a great many notes, presented in a sidebar fashion, with much South Dakota history and details about the lives of most of the characters mentioned. That information makes this a longer and somewhat cumbersome read, though history buffs won't mind.

The more challenging aspect is that a large proportion of the notes are devoted to comparing this manuscript to the juvenile version presented in the Little House series. There seem to be two intentions here. Firstly, this is a definitive look at the original manuscript and how it was transformed from factual autobiography to juvenile fiction, which will be of interest to scholars and writers, but is perhaps less meaningful to general readers. Secondly, there is evident effort to insist on Laura's authorship and diminish the role that her daughter, Rose Lane, played in producing the Little House books.

Lane had always been her mother's editor and typist, fitting that work around her own much-admired writing. She was an important author of her time, with major connections in the publishing world. It is safe to say that the Little House series would never have been produced without her help—in the editing, in finding an agent, and in facilitating publication. Further, there are strong arguments suggesting that Lane had a larger hand in the writing than this edition of Pioneer Girl acknowledges. To take a deeper look at this, Susan Wittig Albert has published A Wilder Rose, an historical novel based on Lane's diaries and letters and other documentary evidence, which convincingly demonstrates her participation as her mother's silent partner in authoring the Little House books.

Whether or not a reader is concerned with this controversy, what Pioneer Girl provides is Laura's unedited and original voice. The writing is not polished or professional, but she is telling her life experience as she recalls it. As always, a true story makes for compelling and engaging reading, and for those of us who grew up with Laura Ingalls as our heroine, Pioneer Girl adds the spice of adult reality to the childhood saga.

by Susan Schoch
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
Profile Image for Darla.
3,508 reviews615 followers
October 5, 2017
Just finished this rather intimidating work and am a bit sad to be leaving the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Before reading this book I read a new historical novel about Ma entitled "Caroline: Little House, Revisited" by Sarah Elizabeth Miller. I highly recommend it to others who are Little House fans.

Several things fascinated me about this book. One, we see that Laura Ingalls Wilder most definitely inherited her storytelling talents from Pa. When her journalism experience was combined with that skill, we were blessed with the Little House series. Two, the ways we could see the series unfolding as we read this book. Although some names were changed and events sometimes out of sequence for effect, we still read the Little House books and learn about Laura's childhood. Three, the dynamics of Laura's relationship with her daughter, Rose, and how much she leaned upon Rose for editing assistance. Quite illuminating.

I do admit that at times the footnotes were a bit tedious. The book was so thoroughly researched that each person mentioned in "Pioneer Girl" is also given a back story and a brief summary of their life after their mention in the narrative (if known). I tended to skim over those details. The info I found most interesting was the references to where these nuggets were found in the Little House series as well as comments about the manuscripts of this book. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Claire.
798 reviews93 followers
December 21, 2014
Well, that was a slow but exceedingly well-researched read! I'm glad to have read the whole series recently enough to remember it well: if you haven't, I recommend reading the series first. After so many articles about Rose and the fictional elements of the Little House books, it was really a pleasure to read the original text. More importantly, it made me appreciate how much more successful the fictionalized versions are, literarily. One appendix is images of the full typewritten text of the "juvenile Pioneer Girl," the prototype of Big Woods, and it's amazing how successfully it flows and conveys the setting and experience she's trying for.

One weird change is little details that paint Ma poorly and paint Pa well. There are several situations where Ma does something that gets changed to Pa doing it in the books, or where Pa gets credit for something a neighbor did. I think it's less about vilifying Ma than about painting Pa as a hero...but it's disappointing. Ma seems like she was pretty badass in real life.
Profile Image for Girl with her Head in a Book.
618 reviews191 followers
May 30, 2015
By far and away, this was the book that I was most excited to receive for Christmas - although due to a very silly date of publication, it didn't actually turn up until a few weeks later. Since I first discovered that the Little House series was based upon an adult memoir, I looked high and low for the original. Surely in the age of the internet, it would be available somewhere? But no. It was not until now, almost sixty years after Wilder's death, that it has finally found a readership but it was well worth the wait. Pioneer Girl has not just been shoved out as an afterthought or worse a gimmicky publicity stunt - Pamela Smith Hill has done a masterful job in editing and annotating this to bring Laura's story to a new level, a new audience and a whole new understanding of Laura herself.

I read the first Little House book as a five year-old and have re-read one or other of them every year since but am always surprised by how few other people have. Being a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder seems to be regarded as akin to liking The Archers, knitting and other grannyish pursuits (i.e. check, check and check for me). The overly wholesome Little House on the Prairie tv series did not exactly help though with Melissa Gilbert and company skipping around 'Walnut Grove' and Learning Lessons About Life - to be clear, every episode I have ever seen of this show left me bristling with Reader Rage. Laura Ingalls was a very early heroine for me - when there was a blizzard, she got not just one or two logs into the house, but the entire woodpile. Laura's adventures were rooted in the real world but set in a world utterly different to my own - I was hooked right from the very beginning. Forget Cowboys and Indians, I used to play at being Laura.

Laura and her sisters
Wilder's writing always seemed to celebrate and honour the work of women; although Laura herself told her future husband Almanzo that she did not wish to vote, time and again her writing emphasises the hard work of keeping up a home, a family and a life under the harsh conditions of the frontier. My mother always recalled the way that Laura's mother would iron her daughters' dresses even if she had to do it in the wagon itself - standards had to be maintained. The Ingalls family were never idle, always had a task to do and a song to sing while they went about it and no matter how hard the situation, they came through it together.

Yet while Laura's Ma, Pa and sisters were familiar figures, I had always had an uneasy view of Laura's daughter Rose Wilder Lane. She was not born until the events of Laura's last book, The First Four Years, a story which was left unfinished due to Wilder's death and then Rose herself took over the reins of the narration which I found even stranger. To me, Rose felt like an interloper. Worse still, as I got older and read more about her, I discovered the theory that Wilder had only contributed the outline of the Little House series and that the majority had been written by Lane. Cue bristling of Reader Rage once again. Rose Wilder Lane became fixed in my mind as a bossyboots who tried to snatch away her mother's glory and who Spoiled Things. Yet through reading this book, I realised that although absent from the events, Rose's part in the story is just as integral as Ma or Mary - or indeed any of the other characters. Rose is another pioneer girl, but the frontier she pioneered was a literary one.

The lengthy preface details the process via which Pioneer Girl came to be written, how an idea that seems to have 'simmered' in Wilder's mind for twenty-odd years finally came to fruition. The death of Laura's beloved Pa seems to have first inspired her but it was not until twenty years later when Mary died too that Wilder seems to have decided to take the bull by the horns and actually put her memories down on paper. By this point though, it was her daughter who had the established and 'successful' literary career and Rose seems to have had a briskly patronising attitude towards her mother's writing, claiming that her mother sought 'prestige rather than money' and giving it all her trademark ruthless edit. More hurtfully, as Pioneer Girl struggled to find a publisher - squatting uncomfortably with no clear market - Lane unabashedly pillaged her mother's work for interesting events which she then re-fashioned into adult novels of her own. Lane made it clear that she regarded her mother's child-oriented memoirs as 'lesser' than her own writing, but her most successful adult fiction was based on events borrowed from her mother's life. Now who's copying who?

What Hill also made clear in the preface was how distinctive Laura's own voice as a writer was, making it clear how far the story truly was her own rather than one picked over by her daughter. Reading Pioneer Girl felt at times a slightly eerie shift in perspective, catching snatches of Laura but this time in the first person. It was very comforting to settle back into the familiar cadence of Wilder's prose; in These Happy Golden Years, Wilder told of how as a teenager, she was marked highly for the very first composition she ever wrote and it is obvious that she was a naturally highly talented writer. Still, tonally speaking, Pioneer Girl is a very different book to its siblings. We have a far greater sense of Laura's position as a child surrounded by adults, of the snippets of overheard and only half-understood adult conversation and the grimmer realities of life in a land that is still making up its rules. From suggestions of possible adultery, elopement, a woman's apparent death seeking an abortion - life on the prairie was nowhere near as squeaky clean as Melissa Gilbert would have had you believe. Most terrifying of all was when the ten year-old Laura was sent to help the Masters family whose mother was ill and woke up to find the father standing over her with whiskey on his breath. He told her to 'lie down and be still', she threatened to scream if he did not go away. He did, and the next day Laura went back home to Ma.

Yet more than anything, else, this book makes clear that Wilder's work was a dialogue between mother and daughter, not only through Hill's copious annotations concerning revisions but also through the text itself. There are various points in the manuscript which are directly addressed to Rose herself, including one in the midst of a description of the prairie in spring:

In June the wild roses bloomed. They were a low-growing bush and, when in bloom the blossoms made masses of wonderful color, all shades of pink, all over the prairie. And the sweetest roses that ever bloomed.
(You are their namesake, my dear.)

Rose today is a forgotten writer aside from her relation to her mother and even in her own lifetime, she was criticised for falsifying facts to make a better story (quite a serious fault for a biographer) but Pioneer Girl seemed to bring a softer side of Rose to the fore and it gave the book itself a very warm core. It feels very fitting that I received this book from my own mother.

Probably one of the main reasons why I have always loved Wilder's books so much all my life is that is essentially a series of stories about someone's family. I love stories about people's families - having heard Laura's stories from when I was so little, I sometimes have to think about it to separate them out from the mythology which comes from my maternal grandparents who both grew up on farms. This is actually true and has happened; aged seven, I was half way through explaining how Father Christmas had visited my Grandma when she was a little girl when I remembered that this was something that had happened to Laura instead. Oddly enough, my Grandma has written a few things about her childhood and early life and tonally speaking, I do find her writing reminiscent of Wilder. A lot of stories made reappearances in Pioneer Girl but the tone of them often felt very different, written as wry reminiscences rather than a linear story.

In the afterword, Hill noted that Wilder's genuine talents as a writer are often dismissed by those who claim that she only wrote what happened in her own life but Hill makes it clear how much thought she put into crafting a streamlined story. The fictional Ingalls family were not the same as the one that Laura grew up in, their story was guided carefully to fit the requirements of a good story and although Wilder felt her responsibility in using the names of real people, she was not afraid to alter the facts. The three tough years during which her baby brother died and her sister Mary went blind did not serve the story and so were discarded. Laura had two dolls rather than one and prefered one called Roxie over Charlotte. Jack the Dog did not remain the family's beloved and loyal companion until death but was instead sold along with some horses - this was a bit of a kicker given that his first disappearance, return and eventual death were all very emotional for me. Clearly effective writing but reading all this now, I do feel slightly manipulated all those years ago!

However, although Lane advised her mother to drop the part about Mary going blind, Wilder argued against it, pointing out that the whole course of the family changed after that. A major goal within the series is the battle to raise the funds to send Mary to the College for the Blind, this was why Laura went out to teach. I was fascinated though by the lengthy discussion on how to explain Mary's blindness; Wilder was herself hazy on the details after all those years and thought it might have been due to a stroke; so mother and daughter settled on blaming scarlet fever, partly inspired by Beth's fate in Little Women. That's right, we can blame Louisa Alcott for that one.

I was most surprised though to read that during The Long Winter, there were three other people in the house with the Ingalls family. When the blizzards broke out, Pa and Ma had given shelter to a young couple who had recently gone through a shotgun wedding, George and Maggie, and then shortly (very shortly) afterwards, they had a baby. Half a century on, we sense Wilder's pursed lips as she recalls how the two failed to help around the house, how George stayed in bed til nine while Pa was working chopping wood or later simply twisting straw to make a fire. The rest of the family would ration themselves so Maggie and the baby could have more food but George would bound to the pan of potatoes and stuff himself before anybody else, becoming a byword for selfishness ever afterward. Again, she reminds me of my Grandma.

Reading this, I winced and thought that this sounded even worse than the original, but I can see how George and Maggie failed to make the cut to get into fiction. As the annotations point out, The Long Winter is a story of a isolation, starvation and being pushed to one's limits (the town is cut off and stuck in perpetual blizzards for seven months). The Ingalls family sticks together throughout it all. Three interlopers would only have undermined that - and as Wilder notes, if she had re-written George and Maggie to be better than they were, it would have detracted from the heroism of Cap Garland and Laura's eventual husband Almanzo Wilder who went after the grain to save the town from starving. Yet still, I had to laugh along with Rose when Hill explained that the publishers rejected Wilder's initial title of The Hard Winter as 'too depressing' for young readers - as Lane exclaimed incredulously, if people were depressed by the title, how on earth did they expect to get through the book? Even Wilder confessed that writing it had been 'trying', in having to relive such harrowing events.

Laura's courtship with her husband Almanzo also takes place in a different way in Pioneer Girl. Hill's annotations detail Wilder's uncertainty on how to write it, as well as some of Lane's personal observations about her parents' clearly very loving marriage - Wilder always seemed very shy about presenting this more personal side of herself but her love for her husband does sneak through (similarities to my Grandma once more abound). Yet, unlike the fiction series, the real life Laura heads out to events with other young men until she decides that actually, Almanzo is the one for her. Again, we have more of a sense of Laura herself growing up and growing in confidence in Pioneer Girl - it feels less structured in many ways but yet there is a keener sense of Laura the person rather than Laura the reader-proxy. This is a memoir of Laura Ingalls rather than a series of books that allow young girls to imagine themselves into prairie life - the purpose is different and so it feels different too.

I have read Pioneer Girl to the end now but I would hesitate to say that I finished it. With so many footnotes, annotations and appendices, this is no just-read-once kind of book and I preferred to get the flow of Wilder's words and then go back over it again to pick up the references. Hill has been exhaustive in chasing down virtually every named person from the text and providing their background history and later fate. Wherever possible photos have been provided of the main players, pictures of the various artefacts - the detail is truly extraordinary. I am pretty certain that this is the most impressive book that I own - my very first coffee table book. Although if anybody drinks coffee anywhere near it I may very well throw a hissy fit - it is so very pretty as is. Books that I Treasure may take a bashing but this is more of a book that I Revere. I read a review somewhere that likened Pioneer Girl to the forthcoming Go Tell A Watchman, implying that as an unfinished draft, this book is of a lesser quality than the original material and so not worth reading. I don't know what Harper Lee's new book will be like but I think that whoever that was has missed the point of Pioneer Girl - we have here the most in-depth analysis possible of the background behind Little House on a Prairie and Laura Ingalls Wilder herself.

Pamela Smith Hill's annotations underline that Wilder was a true artist - Hill has worked with exacting and scholarly standards without ever seeming dry or didactic. Without Hill, Pioneer Girl would have been an interesting companion piece, with her annotations though, it becomes something else entirely - part biography, part memoir, part literary analysis but whatever else, it is an essential read for anyone who has ever longed to fling off their bonnet, let their braids fly out behind them and go scampering across the prairie - eg. me - but I really doubt that I am alone on absolutely loving this one. This book is a real labour of love, confirming once again that this is what was always at the heart of Little House in the first place.

For my full review: http://girlwithherheadinabook.blogspo...
Profile Image for Shari Larsen.
436 reviews52 followers
October 2, 2015
This autobiography is the first attempt by Laura Ingalls Wilder to tell her life story, written even before the Little House series of books, but it is her last book-length manuscript to ever be printed. It reveals the true stories behind the events that took place in the Little House books, and also the many true stories that were left out for one reason or another.

Adding to memoir are census data, newspaper reports, photos, and other historical documents. The editor did a very thorough job with her research and her extensive notes throughout the autobiography. Some readers may feel this bogs the story down, but for fans of the Little House series of books, or those who just want to know more about the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, this is a fascinating read.

A lot of what was left out of the children's books were subjects that at least back at the time when the books were published, were subjects considered to be "not appropriate" for children, such as divorce (one of Laura's aunts was divorced), Laura being nearly molested at the age of 13 (Laura was staying with another family at the time to help the mother with her housework and other children), and a neighbor having a baby out of wedlock. So, her life was not as "wholesome" as pictured in the Little House books, but it sure was interesting! But learning about the darker side of her life does not, in my opinion, take away from the enjoyment of the series of the Little House books. The Little House series of books were favorites of mine when I was a girl, and the first "chapter books" I remember reading.

My favorite part of Pioneer Girl was reading about Laura and Almanzo's courtship; not nearly as drama filled as depicted in the TV series, but it was very sweet and realistic. Of course, for TV, "sweet and realistic" are not what a lot of people consider to be interesting television.

I highly recommend this book for fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House series of books.
Profile Image for Sarah.
357 reviews35 followers
November 12, 2015
I asked Google: "person obsessed with Laura Ingalls" but there isn't a term, like kathisomania (a mania for sitting), or gephyromania (a mania for crossing bridges). Let's call ourselves Ingallphiles.

Well, Ingallphiles, this book is your fix. Pioneer Girl, the original uncut version of the Little House series, has been dissected, annotated, footnoted, bibliographied and indexed to your heart's content. So much so that I might not be an Ingallphile after all.

I admit that I did not read every single note and maybe wondered about therapy for the author who worked harder at this than anything I have ever done in my life. It's a lot to take in. I'm quite sure I don't even want to know this much about my own family.

But the pictures are great, and re-reading about Laura's life makes me realize that my own life has been quite dull. All the moving around and building new houses. Pa seemed to be a bit of a drifter. I didn't read closely enough to see if Ma ever said, "Enough damn moving. Please can we settle somewhere and preferably not in a *%&! sod house?" Their continued fight for survival...malaria and scarlet fever are emphasized like an afterthought. I don't think they had time for odd manias and phobias.

Pioneer Girl is a worthy book for our beloved Laura. She dominated so much of our childhoods about being strong, perseverance and what is possible in life.
Profile Image for Crizzle.
880 reviews6 followers
March 24, 2015
This publication "presents new insights into Wilder's past, but it also helps to document her growth as an important American artist who grew from farm journalist to novelist to literary legend". This was a super slow but fascinating read, due to the intro and hundreds of footnotes. It was SO well-researched that I wonder what Laura would think! I would like to read it sometime without the interruption of footnotes, but I'm not a person who is easily bothered by them. I appreciated Hill's points in the intro to lead us to the conclusion that although daughter Rose was instrumental in her mother's journey to becoming an author, Laura DID write her own books. The theory that Rose was the true author plagued me last summer when I was immersed in Little House books and other writings by both Laura and Rose... I am strangely relieved that I can rest assured of the authorship!

The "Hard Winter" of 1880 and winter stories in general from back then are so amazing; living in the same vicinity as Laura did, it's hard to imagine how people survived.
Profile Image for Lydia Coral.
366 reviews
April 29, 2023
I went into this book extremely nervous about what I would find. All I've read about it made me think that the Little House books were practically historical fiction, and my whole life I've been mistaken. I wasn't sure if I wanted to find out what was real and what was not. But eventually I went ahead with it, and I am so glad I did. Because this book not only proved that the Little House books are basically nonfiction, but also cleared up alll the questions I've often had about some of the incidents in the books.
Pioneer Girl is the true story behind the Little House series. It is the (very) unedited autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder exactly as written to her daughter Rose. It is the basis of what was to become the books, only faster moving, less detailed and more detailed at the same time, less well written (it's just a rough draft), and less... I won't say fictionalised, but maybe dramatised is a better word. Just the plain, simple story told in a plain, simple way.
Just a note I didn't bother with the annotated edition, but read the original entirely unedited ebook edition complete with typoes, missing words, etc. Just exactly as Laura first wrote it.
Now, I will say that when she wrote the Little House books, Laura changed things round a bit. For the most part, these were timelines and characters (like the merging of three girls into Nellie Oleson, for instance). That doesn't make the books fiction. Almost all the key events in the books are right there in Pioneer Girl, barely altered. There are things in Pioneer Girl that didn't make it into the series, and for the most part I really enjoyed reading them. (Mr Seeley and what the girls did to him, for instance, and Laura's argument with Genevieve because of Cap.) There are things in the series that aren't mentioned in Pioneer Girl, but that doesn't mean they didn't happen. (I'm purposefully not reading the annotated edition to find out.) But all the things I had sometimes thought were slightly improbable to be true at least in their full extent usually turned out to be exactly literally true. Mostly, the differences between this book and the series were in what Laura chose to leave out of the books written more for children. Also there is some simplification of the timeline in the series that I didn't know about. For instance, I was astonished to learn that the events of Little House on the Prairie all happen before the events of Little House in the Big Woods, and Laura was only three years old in Kansas, where Carrie was born. There were others smaller ones, too, and with most of them, I can see why Laura changed it for the stories, and how it would make it generally easier to follow. Also several things she left out, such as the couple that stayed with them during the long winter (I was interested to realise that these two were relations of Genevieve Masters, one of the Nellie Olesons.) But other than small things like that, there was very little changed. Almost all the stories included were true or at the very least based on truth.
It was so interesting and exciting to see the story I know so well retold in a simpler, more basic way. I absolutely loved reading this book. Yes, it's full of typos and rough first draft writing scattered with notes to Rose and all kinds of mistakes. But that's almost what makes it so intriguing. This was Laura's writing without any editing or revising. And this is her story. The story we all already know so well, with added details, and at the same time greatly condensed. I found I couldn't put it down. And rather than destroying the image I have in my mind of Laura Ingalls' life and world, it only strengthened it and made me love it more than ever. I would recommend this to every single Little House fan.
Profile Image for Anne Osterlund.
Author 5 books5,501 followers
March 28, 2020
This was quite smashing.

Prior to writing her Little House books, Laura Ingalls Wilder submitted an autobiography for publication. It was turned down, and an editor recommended revising the autobiography into a set of children's stories. Which is what Laura did.

This is the original autobiography. It is easy to see where the Little House books came from--how this manuscript developed into the stories we know and love today. A great deal of the story is the same, but some of the differences are fascinating. The description of the long winter, especially. How impossible that they survived in those conditions! And yet they did.

I read the manuscript as I usually would, using the annotations as a helpful guide only when I had more questions or wished to learn more about a particular topic. It was easy to see that Laura kept the heart of her story intact for the books we know and love today. This was a fascinating chance to delve back into the stories I've always loved and yet learn something new in the voice of one of my favorite authors of all time.
Profile Image for Sharon Barrow Wilfong.
1,117 reviews3,944 followers
April 3, 2017
For those of us who have fond memories of reading the Little House on the Prairie books to ourselves and later to our children, Pioneer Girl is a heavily annotated book that provides the original manuscript Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote with every page filled with background comments by the editor.

Some reviews stated they found the annotations to be cumbersome reading but I thought the notes were what made the book worth reading at all.

In the 1920's, after the death of Wilder's mother and a few years later of her sister, Mary, Laura may have developed a sense of her own mortality since by that time she was in her sixties. With the encouragement of her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, Wilder began writing down all her memories and putting them in book form. The work was non-fiction and she was scrupulous about making sure her facts about names and places were accurate. She later remarked that she wished she had not used real names so she wouldn't be beholden to keeping facts straight.

Even with the combined research of Rose and Laura, there were certain discrepancies which the notes point out. Hill's notes show that she researched all available records in available newspapers, census bureaus, and town obituaries, marriages and land ownership. She points out when she could not find any record of people Laura mentions in her book or if she got her dates wrong. A lot of the early passages, Laura was simply too young to remember and had to rely on family stories and tradition.

The book begins with a long introduction which traces the inspiration for the book and how it came to be written. It also offers insight into the character of Laura Ingalls and her daughter Rose.

There has been speculation that Rose had a heavy hand in writing the Little House books but after reading Pioneer Girl I conclude that, while Rose served as a valuable editor, she ultimately did not write the stories. She was not above, however, plagiarizing her mother's work.

Rose Wilder Lane was already a successful writer and it was through her contacts that Laura was able to find a publisher. However, gaining access to her mother's writings, Lane rewrote the stories and had them published under her own name in various magazines.

When Laura discovered this, she was not pleased, but Rose made it clear that she saw nothing wrong in what she did and furthermore would do as she pleased. This led Laura to concede defeat but also to getting Rose to agree to allow Laura to collaborate with her on developing the stories.

Laura finally finished her own version of her stories and Rose enthusiastically promoted it, taking her mother to different publishers. They submitted a variety of versions but could not generate interest in the book.

One publisher told Laura that she should rewrite the book as a collection of children stories, told in the third person, rather than first person non fiction as Pioneer Girl was written. As we all know, this is what Laura did and the rest is history.

Pioneer Girl is the original manuscript, and after reading it, it is easy to see why it never succeeded. It's like a very long Christmas letter and wholly lacks the charm and enchanting innocence of the Little House books.

Some of Laura's true character is exposed and not always favorably. In reality she seems to have been rather bossy and judgmental, often describing people or events as "stupid". Nevertheless, she valued hard work and was severe on people she saw as lazy and leaches on society. Her strong work ethic caused her to judge hard drinking because she saw the cause and effect between alcoholism and shiftlessness.

It seems alcoholism was a real problem on the frontier. The first building set up in the towns was invariably a saloon which brought in all sorts of problems: domestic violence, unemployment and crime. Laura describes how alcohol abuse turned frontier towns into unsafe environments. When looking at in that context, one sees why Temperance societies sprang up.

Laura was rather harsh on a variety of people. While the Little House books describe her family as practicing the Christian religion and going to church, when a church was available, the real Laura does not strike me as having been particularly religious. I could be wrong because she makes no explicit statement but she does demonstrate her contempt for preachers and Sunday School teachers by providing several examples that put them in a negative light.

Perhaps these are real and vivid memories for her, but was every Christian she met greedy, selfish and dishonest? Especially when we arrive at the conclusion that Laura was not overly honest herself.

In her "non fiction" record she includes a story where her father encounters the Bender family and joins a group of vigilantes who capture and administer "justice" to this serial-killing family. Hill notes in the side bar that by looking at the dates the Bender family lived in Kansas, the Ingalls family lived nowhere near the area.

It is speculated that Rose and Laura were hoping to include a notorious crime legend like the Bender family, so it would add spice to the story and increase sales. It is unfortunate that Laura read her stories at a book fair and declared that every word she wrote was "absolutely true."

What makes the book worth reading is the background and biographical information that Hill provides as well as the many photographs of the Ingalls family and also many of the characters in the book.
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