Title: Little House in the Big Woods.
Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Genre: Literature, non-fiction, autobiographical, Western, family saga, children's lit, YA, survival lit, bildungsroman.
Publication Date: 1932.
Summary: Told from 4-year-old Laura's point of view, this story begins in 1871 in a little log cabin on the edge of the Big Woods of Wisconsin. Laura lives in the little house with her Pa, her Ma, her sisters Mary and Carrie, and their dog, Jack. Pioneer life is hard for the family, since they must grow or catch all their own food as they get ready for the cold winter, but it is also exciting, as Laura and her family celebrate Christmas with homemade toys and treats, do the spring planting, bring in the harvest, and make their first trip into town. And every night they are safe and warm in their little house, with the happy sound of Pa's fiddle sending Laura and her sisters off to sleep.
My rating: 9/10.
My review: I really loved this book in a very personal way. My great-grandmother's family and neighbours, like much of the aristocracy around the time of the Russian Revolutions, were dumped in a forest in Siberia and had to settle it much in the way Laura's family does. I often joke that thus pioneering is in my blood, though jokes aside I have such an intensely strong emotional response with anything to do with the pioneers, survival, or living off the land, that it wouldn't surprise me if it is my very genes that echo it. In a more personal way, when I was growing up I have spent every 3 months of summer in a dacha with my grandmother living a life quite similar to Laura's (although of course much, much more modern from the necessity of those days) - a wooden house, work in the garden, growing our own food and tending it, then preserving it for winter, minimal electricity and no running water etc. Those memories are some of the happiest of my childhood, which is probably why I identify so strongly with the book. Of course, this being a children's book, told from a perspective of a toddler, it does offer a very idealized and over-simplified view of pioneering times. Whilst I have heard of the books being criticized for this, I do find it very accurate in as much as a girl that age would know and understand - there are certainly much darker and much more horrifying aspects of being an American pioneer that she would not have been exposed to, and you even begin to get a glimpse of some of them if you look behind the innocence with which some of them are described. What I do like about the book quite a lot, though, is that even with all the aforementioned considered, one can still learn quite a bit from this book as far as living off the land goes, just from Laura's detailed descriptions - smoking or preserving meat, making cheese, making sugar, harvesting wild honey, reinforcing a house, etc. All in all, a beautiful and poignant book that, to me, captures something of childhood and its comforts. The last scene, where Laura describes being cozy and warm with her entire family safe around her whilst outside the blizzards, wild animals, and many other dangers lurk, captures perfectly what I, too, considered the epitome of safety in childhood. To this day, my favourite and safest moments come from being comfortable and warm with everyone I love around me, safe, divided by a sturdy wall from the dangers just outside.
♥ But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the fire-light gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.
She thought to herself, “This is now.”
She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the fire-light and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.