Elizabeth's Reviews > Little Town on the Prairie

Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
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I kind of don’t know how to deal with the casual racism in these books. The minstrel show in the chapter “The Madcap Days” appals me as an adult. As a child, living in Jamaica, sharing homes with Jamaican families and running in a pack with Jamaican kids, I actually didn’t know what the “darkies” of this chapter were supposed to be. Clearly they were men making music and singing, their faces disguised with black polish. I neither knew nor would have understood what they were supposed to be. They might as well have been Morris dancers or chimney sweeps. I don’t think this excuses what’s going on here, but I do think it shows that A) what you read doesn’t necessarily damage you for life, and B) children are very good at blocking out the things they don’t get. I wish it wasn't like this: but the book was published in 1941 and is set in 1882, so we're stuck with it.

And for a long time, as a child, this book was my favorite of the series. In many ways it’s straight-up YA, though it was published so long ago. I’m astonished, now, at how much of the book is focused on Laura being dissatisfied with her looks and struggling to be stylish. Some of the little conversations about style are wonderful – Ma is constantly, gently disapproving of Laura’s newfangled notions, and Laura does a fair bit of eye-rolling over Ma’s old-fashionedness. The crowd of high school kids sledding together, jockeying for social position, experimenting with electricity, eying up each other’s clothes, the first hints at romance, Laura’s burn-out with school, are absolutely timeless. The battles with Eliza Jane Wilder and Nellie Oleson are so frustrating and yet so satisfying, and Laura is no angel. (I love that when she writes the mean verse about Eliza Jane she excuses herself: “She meant only to please Ida, and perhaps, just a little, to show off what she could do.” I know this feeling so well. Also – wow, her verse GOES VIRAL! The innocence with which the teasing starts and the anonymous rapidity with which it tears through the town is all Laura’s fault and she knows it and feels terrible about it. It is fascinating to see how bullying has not really changed much.)

Timeless, too, are moments such as Laura’s struggle to do the fall housecleaning and discovering how some projects always take six times as long as you think they will: “It was amazing, too, how dirty they all got, while cleaning a house that had seemed quite clean. The harder they worked, the dirtier everything became.”

Quotations I like:

“There is no comfort anywhere for anyone who dreads to go home.”

“This earthly life is a battle,” said Ma. “If it isn’t one thing to contend with, it’s another. It always has been so, and it always will be. The sooner you make up your mind to that, the better off you are, and the more thankful for your pleasures.”

“I don’t see how anybody can be prepared for anything,” said Laura. “When you expect something, and then something else always happens.” [Ma responds:] “Even the weather has more sense in it than you seem to give it credit for. Blizzards come only in a blizzard country. You may be well prepared to teach school and still not be a schoolteacher, but if you are not prepared, it’s certain that you won’t be.”


This is also where I first read the Declaration of Independence. She quotes an awful lot of it.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
July 1, 2015 – Finished Reading
July 30, 2015 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Eva (new) - added it

Eva Seyler This was always my favourite, too.

I had no clue until I was in my 20s what "blackface" comedy was. :-/ I do remember that that chapter was the first I ever heard from the series read aloud by a friend's mom, so it made an impression.

message 2: by Elizabeth (new) - added it

Elizabeth My main memory of that episode is the girls' and Ma's fear that Pa had shaved his beard!

message 3: by Eva (new) - added it

Eva Seyler Yes, I remember being "what is the big deal with the beard???" I was... 7 maybe?

Jennifer I'm reading the whole series with my 9 year old thought now, and finding that while it makes me squirm sometimes, it also allows for some good conversations about attitudes, ideas and tolerance. We talk a lot about what is different now. It's interesting to me as an adult to realize how intolerant and rigid Ma was, I always remembered her as sweet and calm.

message 5: by Marva (new)

Marva I didn't know about the darkies either! But I'm going to give her a pass since I basically learned to write from reading her books, and they fueled my love of history.

message 6: by Elizabeth (new) - added it

Elizabeth I think it is very dangerous to shun people for being misguided, or for being products of their time. There is always room for conversation. She is a fabulous writer who's left the world a lasting, if flawed, legacy, and her books shaped me for the better. Reading them with a clearer understanding of them can only do me good!

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