Book Review, Not New: Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Ok, I know I’m going against the grain here, but I’m kind of good at that. I’m today reviewing a book that has been around for awhile….

But, I can’t believe I had never read it, until now!

Little House in the Big WoodsWe read Little House in the Big Woods, the first in the Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, for our homeschool ‘Morning Basket’ read-aloud. Since probably everyone in the world had read this as a 6th grader, I won’t give you a summary of the story, but rather share some of my reflections on the story. *In case you’re wondering, Morning Basket is morning reading time. We focus and begin our school day this way. We adopted this practice this fall, and I think it is great! We’ve read some great books, altogether, doing this.* 

To me, the book showcases the importance of family and simple amusements of times past, the joys and challenges of frontier homesteading,  a few how-to’s that made me curious to learn more, and also reflected a tension between living in the city versus the country, and discussed the changing role of technology…themes that are all still very relevant today.

Family, and Simple Joys

I loved reading about the interaction of the family. I appreciated that the story was told from Laura’s point of view, though not in the first person. My boys cracked up about her repeated comments about her ugly brown hair, and her sister, Mary’s, golden locks.

Pa’s fiddle and his evening stories were memorable, as was Ma’s calm reaction when Laura ripped her pocket after collecting too many stones during their trip to town.  I loved the care and devotion that was shown between Pa and Ma, and how they encouraged and honored each other in their speech and actions. Beautiful.

Memorable, too, were the large family gatherings at Christmas with Aunt, Uncle and cousins, and the maple sugar/dance party at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

Frontier Life and REAL Homesteading

If I lived in Laura’s time, I would be dead.

A sobering thought.

As I pulled my last bag of blanched broccoli from my deep freeze I thought, “Wow. I surely didn’t put up enough for winter!” and also, “The Ingalls’ didn’t have a deep freeze, either.” Epic fail.

Seriously, the sheer amount of work, ALL. THE. TIME. really made me think about the little I actually do, and the many things I take for granted. If I HAD to ‘put by’ all my food to survive the winter,…..well, we’d all be a heckuva lot skinnier.

I really have respect for those who have homesteaded before me, and have had to work so hard.

How To’s

I enjoyed reading about cheesemaking, maple syruping, and the various recipes described in the book. Granted, Laura was writing as an adult, looking back on her childhood, but the description she gave to hunting, various kinds of preserving and cooking, and even games and amusements provided a very entertaining way to learn about her life.

Technology, and City/Country tension

Striking to me was Pa’s reaction to the threshing machine. He was excited to get so much work accomplished in such a short amount of time. He was all for ‘progress’, and the thresher made his life so much easier. However, even with this new technology, there was still a communal aspect to the work. I think that too often, we’re all stuck behind individual machines, so our labor-saving devices also separate us from others. Part of the beauty, to me, of so much of this book was that, even though the work was hard, everyone pitched in, and maybe even had a little fun. Maple sugaring, for example, was a group project and brought people together.

I also reacted to Laura and Mary’s first visit to town. They had never seen two houses together, much less a store. … How amazing to think on that for awhile. I had to smile when I read of Laura’s confusion on seeing wash handing out on bushes in front of a house in the small town, even thought it was not “wash day” (as the Ingalls’ had a specific day for each of the household chores).

Even in this small aspect, that someone might wash their clothes on a different day than her family, opened up the world to her, and introduced her to the concept that there are different ways to think about things (even something as necessary and somewhat mundane as laundry).

Again, how could I have missed reading these? I look forward to ‘catching up’ with the rest of the series, bit by bit!

Honeybee books for kids (from which adults will learn just as much…)

I recently checked out two books from the library pertaining to my own interest in honeybees. Though I first read them myself thinking they’d be way over the kids heads, I decided to read them in chunks during our science time, and they really enjoyed them. My 6yo ds especially remarked while reading The Hive Detectives said, “This really IS like a mystery! I can’t believe this is actually happening in our world right now!”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Also, I’m kind of having a Levar Burton moment right now. “You should read these books,…but you don’t have to take MY word for it…”

Honeybees at Home, by Lynne Harwood, was a delightful picture book, but as long as a short chapter book, really. It followed a woman’s developing skills as an apiarist, and the people that mentored her along the way. The pictures were very impressionistic, and my 6 yo ds loved studying impressionism, so, again, I think this book really spoke to him. I would call it a “living book” (as Charlotte Mason might have as well.) A living book is a book that relates facts in a narrative way — so that the facts aren’t dry and boring, but, as they’re related in more of a story format, really “stick” in your mind. Like sticky, sweet honey, perhaps?

After reading that book, we had the chance to listen to a backyard beekeeper present at our library! This was neat, and really a connection for the kids. They were hearing about what they read about, and it really reinforced their learning (and mine!).

Product DetailsThe Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe (by Loree Griffin Burns, photos by Ellen Harasimonwicz) walked us all through the the issues and mysteries surrounding the rise of Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, which is a serious threat to American beekeeping. The book helped us to understand the convergence of problems: pesticides farmers and home gardeners use, miticides beekeepers themselves use, and parasites and viruses that are attacking the bee colonies — which left many, many hives completely and mysteriously empty. The boos left with no totally 100% clear conclusion, but the probability that it is all of these factors in relation that have caused CCD. It also left us with hope that there were things we could do about helping bee colonies to stay alive and safe — and producing delicious honey for us!

I love sharing these books with the kids (and learn just as much as they do!)

Found: A Book for your Wild Things, so they can make their own dinner in the backyard….

I found a neat book at the library, by none other than Jean Craighead George, author of one of my fav books, My Side of the Mountain (and accompanying sequels, which, true to sequel form, I did not find as good as the original..but). Acorn Pancakes, Dandelion Salad, and Other Wild Recipes is the title, and it has some neat kid-friendly foraging recipes, with beautiful pictures, too. Check it out! A great companion to ‘Stalking the Wild Asparagus’!

Found: Garden books for Kids

I love to read! Just love it. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was a great break to have such a mild winter, and I didn’t miss extreme, long stretches of cold, so much snow you run out of places to put it, and feeling stir crazy for months on end. I *did* miss the curling-up-with-a-good-book-in-front-of-a-You-Tube-fireplace. We seemed to be more active this winter, and it never got cold enough for me to cocoon. I feel like I’m playing catch-up, now, as I figure out some plans for my garden.

A recent trip to the library reminded me that there do exist books I can share with my kids about gardening – some books can really help to communicate the love I have for growing things, the interest I have in it, without me being all, “Hey, kids, be just like me and like all the stuff I like!” They are unique kids each with unique interests. But, all the same, this is a neat part of me that I want to share with them – these books helped to open up the topic of conversation, more at their level. They all speak to the theme of country meets city, and coexist.

The Gardener, by Sarah Stewart

Faced with parents out of work, and unable to properly care for her, a young girl is sent from the country home she has always known, into a large city – to live with a relative she has never met. Uncle doesn’t smile, but this girl has a plan – to bring her love of growing things to him – complete with seeds she has saved, soil donated by neighbors, and help from her uncle’s employees in the bakery he owns. Does she finally get the smile she seeks when she reveals her amazing city-rooftop surprise?

I thought this was a charming book with lovely pictures. It is told in the form of letters back and forth from Grandma on the farm to the young lass in the city. I think it shows the connection we all have with wanting beauty, especially in the form of green things, around us.




The Curious Garden, by Peter Brown

Liam is out exploring one day in his gray, dingy, depressing city – when he sees an un-used elevated train track with some green – and gets an idea.

He creates a wonderful elevated garden, bit by bit, and brings beauty to the city – and friends and neighbors take notice, and participate, and the life of the city is changed.

This book was shared in our neigborhood as a Traveling Garden Award last summer. Ten copies of the book circulated, passed on from neighbor to neighbor as a kind of “prize” – to say, “Hey, I like what you’re doing in your yard/garden” – however big or small. It was a neat project, and the book has fabulous pictures that really captured the boys’ attention.



The Garden of Happiness, by Erika Tamar

Marisol sees a strange sight one afternoon – her neighbors are hauling trash out of the yucky vacant lot on her block – next they start bringing in soil, peat moss, putting up stakes and string – before she can quite figure the new neighborhood garden plot out, all the spots are taken. Not to be deterred, Marisol finds a crack in the sidewalk on the border of the garden, begs a large flat seed from the pigeons being fed by old Mrs. Garcia, and has a wonderful journey watching her plant grow – as well as watching the produce and stories emerge from the neighborhood garden. Her plant opens up, revealing a bloom as ‘big as a dinner plate’ and golden yellow -a sunflower!

I like the multicultural aspect of this book, and that gardening is something that can be done in a small space, shared across cultures. This is a simple book, with whimsical pictures, but of the three, I think the boys liked this one best. My own personal favorite was ‘The Gardener’ (above) but all three are worth reading and sharing with the special kids in your life!


Do you have any favorite gardening or nature books for kids?