E's Reviews > Little House on the Prairie

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
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it was ok
bookshelves: childrensfiction

Okay, it's a great American classic, I realize that. I read it for the first time in third grade because the pioneer-go-forth-and-push-westward philosophy is a central feature in the proud American mindset and heritage. But it's for that very reason that the value of the book needs to be questioned.

While much of the story focuses on a family's self-reliance on the Kansas prairie, the book preceding it - Little House in the Big Woods - does the same with the exception that the Ingalls family was integrated into a functioning Wisconsin community of relatives and neighbors. That book, however, is NOT the famous one after which a television series was made.

WHY the Ingalls family felt the need to abandon their community and settle in what was in fact disputed Indian Territory other than out of a lust for adventure is insufficiently explained. Unlike immigrants of the time, American pioneers like the Ingallses were not driven to the new land by persecution or famine at home. They drove themselves there and expected the local Indians to like it or stay out of the way. The Indians are portrayed as mysterious savages who are ultimately given what actually belonged to the hard-working white family. (I'm not at all surprised it was written in the 1930's.)

My third grade class was outraged at the injustice of the U.S. government telling the Ingallses to abandon their self-made cabin for the Indians, yet no one was outraged in the beginning when they arrived and no one was asked to question this. Stories like the Ingallses's are history that cannot be changed or forgotten, but like all history should be constantly questioned.

I would read this to children and elementary/middle school classes, but not without a corresponding story from the perspective of the Plains Indians, and not without asking children important follow-up questions to spark dialogue. Did the Ingallses have to leave Wisconsin? Would you have? Why do you think they decided to? Were the Ingallses malicious, naive, or justified in their pursuit? Can the rural dislike of government involvement be traced back to stories like theirs? Why was this story so popular in the 1930's, 40's, and 50's? Why is it still popular today?

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
April 1, 1991 – Finished Reading
October 12, 2007 – Shelved
November 8, 2010 – Shelved as: childrensfiction

Comments Showing 1-50 of 50 (50 new)

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Firefly Thanks for your views, Emily. I agree completely. It bothered me even as a child, when my mother forced all three of her daughters to listen to the entire series. I was bored out of my mind by the repetition, and finally left somewhere in the middle of the third book to enjoy my own reading of C.S. Lewis and Madeline l'Engle.


Dianne Just a minor correction. They weren't on the Oklahoma prairie.


Anne The book explains that more and more people were moving to Wisconsin, buying up land, and making it impossible to hunt, fish, and allow domsestic animals to free range without the fear of losing them to other people. Basically, the way of life Pa Ingalls knew was changing. He was seeking a place where he could still hunt and fish, as well as farm, to provide for his family.

The family didn't go into Indian territory arrogantly expecting to take land from Indians. In the book, the government had announced that new territory in Kansas had been opened to settlers. Pa and others took their families there to build homes in wide open places that allowed them to live the kind of lives they were seeking. After they arrived and began building permanent homes, they learned that the government had NOT negotiated any new treaties with the native peoples, that the Indians still had a treaty from the government stating that much of Kansas territory belong to them and could not be settled. The Indians held war councils, and then met with government representatives from US Indian Affairs. It was clear the the US had broken the treaty, and had misled its citizens into believing that land was available for settling. The whites were forced by the government to abandon their new homes without compensation. In the story, Pa Ingalls states he never would have come there if he had known it was Indian territory. The government was to blame for the outcomes that develop in this story; they were dishonest to their citizens and broke treaties with the Indians. "Little House on the Prairie" tells about the outcome for one family during this fiasco of government irresponsibility.


message 4: by ~M~ (new) - rated it 4 stars

~M~ One also has to keep in mind -- not that this info is in this book but if you want to analyze it critically you need to know the backstory -- that in reality, they did not live in Wisconsin and leave for no reason to move to Kansas. Chronologically the things that happened in Little House on the Prairie happened before Little House in the Big Woods. Laura initially wrote one manuscript focusing on the stories her father told when she was a little girl and hoped she might sell it. After the book was published and made a success she then continued to write for various reasons. So in Kansas, Laura was actually a newborn and did not remember any of it. The events were all stories that she was told by her family later in life, and fictionalized as well. Then she wrote Farmer Boy about her husband.


Dianne Interesting! I didn't know that.


Jacqueline J Yes there were parts in the story that were dated particularly attitude towards the Indians. But I do think that both sides were shown fairly realistically. Some people stressed their dislike and distrust of Indians but I was happy to see that Charles Ingalls was much more tolerant and open minded. Just as in real life there would have been those who felt each way. I used those comments as a jumping off point to discuss with my children.

Really though, do you have to be persecuted or starving in order to be justified in wanting to move? Pa had wandering feet, simple as that.


message 7: by E (new) - rated it 2 stars

E Forgive the lateness of this reply, I don't get notified when people comment.

Thanks for the background information, M.

Jacqueline, I like that you use Pa Ingalls as a contrast to the self-entitlement pioneer philosophy. In no way did I intend to imply that persecution or starvation are the only justification for moving - especially as an American ex-pat myself - but moving into disputed territory rather than any of the already established United States is what makes the difference between a curious traveler and a pioneer. Undoubtedly most acquisitions of American land from the Indians were not malicious at the individual level, but I believe that is why the displacement and eventual diminishing of entire tribes happened so easily and needs to be constantly questioned.


message 8: by Julierles (new)

Julierles A beautiful story of an American Pioneer family now being eyed suspiciously. Trust God.


message 9: by E (last edited Feb 09, 2012 09:43PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

E Julierles, I completely respect your finding the story beautiful, because in the end - despite what we all talk about on GoodReads - there is no arguing taste. But I disagree with any criticism you intend toward the idea of my eyeing this book with suspicion. I endeavor to examine every story I hear because approving of something only because it is popular does a disservice to anything worth loving. Critical thinking and doubt are the very fuel of innovation.

I hope you can respect my getting joy from them as I respect your getting joy from your trust in God.


Harold Ogle Just to clarify: Laura was not a newborn in Kansas; her sister Carrie was born there. Laura was a toddler.


LaDawn This review is just another case of judging people of a different era by our standards. This story is not revised history, it is history told from the point of view of someone who lived it or heard other first-hand accounts. Use it as a discussion starter for how things are viewed differently today, but do not disrespect the real history and people behind it.


Alice If you haven't read it since third grade, you might read it again. To me it seemed much more nuanced than you suggest and led to excellent discussion. You can read my review if you want to see my reasoning. I'm sad that your teacher missed an opportunity for deeper discussion. My girls were as sad to see the Osage riding away at the end as they were to see the Ingalls leave.


message 13: by E (new) - rated it 2 stars

E Alice wrote: "If you haven't read it since third grade, you might read it again. To me it seemed much more nuanced than you suggest and led to excellent discussion. You can read my review if you want to see my ..."

Alice, I read your review, and the way in which you encouraged your young listeners to contemplate and question the cultural assumptions in the story is exactly the sort of guidance I can only hope every young reader has. Cruel comments about American Indians like Mrs. Scott's will not automatically turn any young reader into a racist, but letting such comments go unchecked risks imbuing him with a reductive view. Reading this alongside a novel from the perspective of an American Indian boy is an excellent approach!


message 14: by E (new) - rated it 2 stars

E LaDawn wrote: "This review is just another case of judging people of a different era by our standards. This story is not revised history, it is history told from the point of view of someone who lived it or heard..."


LaDawn, while I in no way intend to make disrespecting the characters the point of my critique, I think this raises an interesting point about analyzing history. I personally do not believe that the Ingalls were at all malicious in their pursuit of land, but that's exactly why a brutally honest comparison of their intentions and the effects of their actions is so imperative. So many tragic moments in history - ethnic cleansing, slavery, segregation/apartheid, dictatorships - have taken place because ordinary people did not question the effects of their actions on other people, or deferred to a government power without doing much to influence what sort of government made the rules. Judging our ancestors just to pick on an easy target is certainly not productive, but I believe judging our ancestors that we may learn of the grave consequences of simple actions (like moving into disputed territory) is productive.


Athalia Stoneback M, sorry to respond to an old post, but didn't the Ingallses actually move back to Kansas after having lived in Wisconsin? That is, Laura was born in Kansas, but "Little House on the Prairie" chronicles her life living in Kansas for the second time. That's what I learned in "Laura Ingalls Wilder: Pioneer Girl", but maybe that book isn't completely accurate.


Athalia Stoneback Actually to clarify, according to "Pioneer Girl..." Laura had been born in Wisconsin, but moved to Kansas with her family when she was a year old.


Kressel Housman Have you re-read this recently? It DOES address the morality of settling Indian Territory. Ma is racist, but Pa and Laura express more enlightened views. But if it’s a history of Native Americans you want, you might try NORTH COUNTRY. I haven’t read it, but it was featured on “This American Life” at Thanksgiving.


Grace The reason they moved is explained near the beginning of the book. There were too many settlers in the Big Woods and Pa essentially wanted them to have more space to themselves.


message 19: by ~M~ (new) - rated it 4 stars

~M~ Hi Athalia -- I have to look it up to be 100% sure, but as I recall... Laura was born in Pepin, WI. Her family did move to Kansas, near Independence, when she was a toddler. They also lived in Iowa, and lived above a hotel. While living there, little Charles was born and died. Laura and her family worked in the hotel, and Laura herself was so tiny (as an adult she was less than 5' tall) she stood on a box to cook at the stove.

I mention all this above to point out that her books are fictionalized, not truly autobiographical. She left things out and made other editorial changes. Her daughter Rose was a famous author, and would edit her writings to make them more exciting, to condense, to make them more sellable.


Athalia Stoneback ~M~ wrote: "Hi Athalia -- I have to look it up to be 100% sure, but as I recall... Laura was born in Pepin, WI. Her family did move to Kansas, near Independence, when she was a toddler. They also lived in Iowa..."

Hi, M, thank you for clarifying.

Wow, I knew Laura was short, but under 5'? She definitely was a "Half-Pint"!


Holli I agree with you. In fact, I hate, loathe and despise Charles. How dare he take his family on such a fool trip. Risking everyone's lives. Not allowing a faithful dog to travel with them so that it takes his life in the river! He risked all their lives unnecessairly!
I love these books. However, by the 2nd chapter I want to throttle him and give him a sound thrashing!


message 22: by Jo (new)

Jo I agree with what you said E. I think I'd still read this to kids, and ask then what they think about some of the character's views on Native people. A lot of good books have outdated ideas or phrases; like how Mark Twain used the n word. But you can still learn things from these books and reflect on the past.


message 23: by Ruby (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ruby I was put off reading this book by your review, but then I thought 'no, it's a historical document showing the climate at the time and I should engage with it as such.' Maybe it can be a tool for us non-indigenous folks to reflect on the way things were for Native Americans and other Indigenous folks when they were invaded. We learn more from it than from reading edited, denialist accounts of history, I think.


Cristi-Lael I have to agree. I started listening to this series with my young daughters (9 & 6) in the car. THe first book was great, and we enjoyed talking about how different life was for people back then. But, with this book, I found myself often having to stop the book to explain to my daughters why what the Ingalls and others were doing was wrong. Tey too were angry that the Ingalls had to leave their home that they had worked so hard on. And they both were angry at Pa because he wouldn't let Laura have the little Indian baby! I can tell you we talked long and hard about that one! I put them in the place of the baby and asked how they would feel if someone just decided to take them away from me simply because they were cute. They seemed to understand how horrible it was after that.
I was never a big fan of the books or TV show growing up. I thought, however, that it would be a good thing to share with my girls. However, I am rethinking the idea of reading the whole series now.


Kressel Housman The series is worth it, but you have to do what you've been doing: discuss it with your kids. By the Shores of Silver Lake is especially worth it because it illustrates the land rush so well. But Little Town on the Prairie has one really offensive chapter that's better off skipped. The men of the town provide entertainment by singing in blackface.


Kayla LaGuardia hi comment


Holli I don't think the family had much say so at all. I think it was all Charles' idea to which we can see he puts his family thru many endangerments. I don't have a good opinion of him. Women and children were really just forced to suffer the whims of the man back then. I have read some factual papers about the writer's life. U really get the sense that all was not well in the marriage and eventually the wife puts down her foot about moving to another homestead alter. After going thru countless journies.


message 28: by Lorelei (new) - added it

Lorelei Just started reading "Pioneer Girl: An Annotated Biography". This is the true story. The Little House books were fictionalized based on memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I'm really enjoying "Pioneer Girl" but it's going to be a long read. The annotations are wordier than the actual autobiography.


Kathleen I'm surprised people are so angered by this book, for me it's a fascinating piece of historical fiction and shows the ideology of the time and the mindset of the settlers from a child's perspective. This was a long time ago before everything was politically correct and is brutally honest at times. The risks Charles Ingalls took were the same taken by many pioneers at the time. Their reasons for moving were explained in the book as well.


message 30: by Alannah (new)

Alannah Davis Kathleen wrote: "I'm surprised people are so angered by this book, for me it's a fascinating piece of historical fiction and shows the ideology of the time and the mindset of the settlers from a child's perspective..."

I agree, Kathleen.


message 31: by Lorelei (new) - added it

Lorelei Cristi-Lael wrote: "I have to agree. I started listening to this series with my young daughters (9 & 6) in the car. THe first book was great, and we enjoyed talking about how different life was for people back then. B..."

Maybe you should wait until your daughters are older? Maybe the 9 year old is old enough but not a 6 year old.


message 32: by Lorelei (new) - added it

Lorelei Athalia wrote: "Actually to clarify, according to "Pioneer Girl..." Laura had been born in Wisconsin, but moved to Kansas with her family when she was a year old."
I've been reading a bunch of different books regarding LIW. Yes, Laura wouldn't have remembered Kansas since she was only a few years old. She set the books so the character of Laura was a few years older. ALso, in the latter books, Almanzo wasn't only just a few years older than Laura, in real life he was a full 10 years older.


Norma Gregory I agree with you! I read these books as a 3rd grade and now I re read them and question alot of the points you mentioned.


Elizabeth To judge the past based upon the assumptions of the present is also bigotry, don't you think?


mRose wow, alot of discuss here. I believe my points have already been addressed. however, I have to say this is one families story, written not as history teaching but as a family story for entertainment purposes. Literature isn't the basis of instruction, supplemental to explanation of all facts.


message 36: by Shahar Baram (new)

Shahar Baram ingallses does not make sense


Kerry A. Stead I think that this book is a great book for kids to learn about how they would have lived of they lived when Laura did. And where is everyone getting information that Laura's age was different in the stories then in real life?


message 38: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim You're questioning a family's real life experiences, or at least a child's version of it, as well as judging the past based on modern views and knowledge. Ridiculous. It's a wonderful book in a wonderful series and has sparked a lifelong love of history for many children, mine included and myself as well. Don't turn it into an excuse for your political rant. If you don't think the children you know can handle it, fine, don't read it to them. Give them politically correct trash instead, if that makes you feel better. The rest of it will enjoy these authentic stories with our children AND enjoy all the discussions it opens up on the "controversial" topics that concern you. Books aren't meant to be swallowed whole and digested in one gulp, but chewed slowly and savored.


Pauline Crawford I am Australian, so the cultural impact of this book was missing for me. It was a recollection of a family living in a past time. Yes, it glosses over the enormous impact on indigenous people. But it does use the point of view of a very young girl, (later a teenager and young woman). It shows life in harsh situations. It doesn't question the move from place to place. Not does it even pretend to explain the father's motivation for putting his family in these situations. I read this series as an eight to ten year old (frankly, it was in the late 60s). In fact, I plagued the library for the next book. I felt the cold. Remember, I read them in 30C Australian summer holidays. Tar paper on the walls, Chinook wind foretelling warmer weather, carrying water out to freezing clothing in the washing line. A farmer who was proud of his shiny black matched pair of ..... horses that he took when calling on his prospective girlfriend. How many other tales can I remember from close to 40 years ago?

Maybe I will re-read these, just to bring back these images.


message 40: by da (new) - rated it 3 stars

da AL E, you said it so well! Many thanks!


Annie Minor Laura’s books are written from the point of view of a child. Few adults share with their children their motivations for a lot of things. Most likely thinking they won’t understand or it’s inappropriate. Remember, these books are fiction. Authors have an interest in making their stories appealing. There are plenty of books written about the true life of Laura Ingalls Wilder. If that’s what you’re looking for, read those.


message 42: by E (new) - rated it 2 stars

E Annie wrote: "Laura’s books are written from the point of view of a child. Few adults share with their children their motivations for a lot of things. Most likely thinking they won’t understand or it’s inappropr..."

Indeed, they are written for children and therefore imbue adults with a nostalgia for them that no fiction geared at grown-ups ever could. That's why I'm so interested in analyzing them. Most controversies surrounding literature that marginalizes minorities involve books written for children because progressives are concerned about what kids will learn from them and adult fans often feel that a criticism of the book is a criticism of their happy childhood memories. It's not an easy discussion to have, but I firmly believe it's worth having.


Megan Hartley Wow, there is a lot of outrage on this thread. I loved these books as a child and still do as an adult. My mom informed me that the land was stolen from the Native Americans and we talked about how wrong that was. We talked about how racism and fear of unfamiliar people still occurs today. I believe you can enjoy these books and still talk about the historical context in which it takes place at the same time. Feeling empathy and outrage in regards to what the Native Americans faced back then (and still experience today) isn’t pushing a liberal political agenda. It’s acknowledging the truth and starting a conversation, which is what literature is intended to do.


message 44: by E (new) - rated it 2 stars

E Megan wrote: "Wow, there is a lot of outrage on this thread. I loved these books as a child and still do as an adult. My mom informed me that the land was stolen from the Native Americans and we talked about how..."

Well said!


message 45: by da (new) - rated it 3 stars

da AL Megan wrote: "Wow, there is a lot of outrage on this thread. I loved these books as a child and still do as an adult. My mom informed me that the land was stolen from the Native Americans and we talked about how..."

I agree, E -- Megan said it well -- the trouble is if adults don't help kids to understand the books better with added discussion...


message 46: by Mp (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mp Just read Caroline: Little House Revisited too. It was very interesting to see the same year from Ma’s perspective. Author Sarah Miller’s research led her to believe the family left the prairie because the payments for their land in Wisconsin never materialized. She also comments on a few other events from both books and what her research showed.


McKeltie A think you are being harsh person two stars this book is the best and deserves way better than that


Ellen I have just started to re-read this series after doing so 40 years ago in school and I agree that as an adult with far more knowledge of the whole situation I wish at school our teachers had provoked a discussion like E suggests as back then I never even considered the Indians point of view.


SSShafiq Very well written review. I am in the middle of retreading this and when I was a child I didn’t understand the history behind this. Do I still love it as a book - yes. I think it’s well written. Do I wish there was a story from the others perspective to balance this? Very much. If there is a recommendation for that please let me know. Thank you


message 50: by Jane (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jane Love your review. Listened to the audiobook with my 9 year old Native American foster daughter. Certainly opened areas of discussion.


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