Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “150th birthday” just passed. (Hat tip to Maggie’s Farm.)
I’m a huge fan of “Little House on the Prairie”. Those books, written in the midst of the great depression and covering a key time in America’s development, land high on my list of “things all young children need to hear”. Mrs. Curmudgeon read them to our kids and I was delighted to see their rapt attention. (And for that matter, I was listening nearby because they’re damn good stores.) Later, the kids reread much of the books themselves. (I had a tendency to snatch the books from the kid’s shelves when nobody was looking and read them myself.)
Kids: “Are you reading a little girl’s book?”
Me: “What? Me? Nah, I’m just trying to glean some details about yoking an ox. I’m thinking of buying one. We can save money if I sell the car and replace it with an ox drawn cart.”
Kids: “Mom! Help! Dad has more ideas. Hurry!”
The kids knew I was joking of course; I hate ox. Even so I couldn’t help myself and had to read them all. There’s wisdom and heart in those books. Real heart, not the sad cynical alternative you’ll often see in stories these days. They cover all the bases that a child needs to, if not practice, at least see coming on the horizon; self reliance, independence, pride, family, patience, hard work, honestly, adaptability. The list goes on and on.
If that weren’t enough. The stories teach a child to “shut the hell up” about material goods. Listening to the heartfelt joy and bliss of a kid who got a tin cup or a piece of penny candy for Christmas is perfect. It captures the joy of the season and the reader shares in it’s power. It’s also an inoculation against kids feeling crushed because they wanted the red power ranger with the Turboencabulator death ray of awesomeness and only got the blue one with the default backpack of boredom.
In my eyes, most adults need to hear the stories too.
The stories, even thought they seem from a different world, aren’t as removed in time as we’d think. Such a span of events and changes in that brief interval! I’ve had similar experiences in my life. When I lost a dear relative I wept not just over a death but that I had lost the stories of a man who’d started life on a farm with horse drawn plows and ended in a world with Prius tax subsidies. So much he had seen but in only one life. So too with Mrs. Wilder (link):
“At Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri, the place where Laura and her husband Almanzo Wilder settled in 1894, there is a photograph of the two of them in front of their car. Yes – their car. Ponder that for a moment: Both Laura and Almanzo traveled west as children via covered wagon, they conducted their courtship over Sunday drives in a horse-drawn buggy, and, ultimately, they retraced their journeys on the northern plains — in their 1923 Buick.
The changes that they saw in their lifetimes are nothing short of astonishing. Almanzo lived from 1857 and died in 1946; his birth predated the Civil War and his death happened after the dropping of the atomic bomb. Laura lived from 1867 to 1957; she was born during Reconstruction and died in the same year that Sputnik I was launched. She lived to see the introduction of electricity, the telephone, penicillin, movies, television, air travel, space travel, and two World Wars. She was born in an era of twig brooms and eating hard tack on the trail, and died in the age of vacuum cleaners and counter-top blenders.
Such a humble life, seemingly simple and uncomplex as it was lived, serves as yardstick measuring the changes that swept across America over a period of just one lifetime. This realization forces the question: Will the changes we see over our lifetimes be just as profound?”
That puts it in perspective doesn’t it? When the television (which you might be streaming via internet to your iDevice) screams that this week’s political kerfluffle is the most Hitlerastic disaster in the history of ever… remember how much water can flow under the bridge in a human lifetime. Civil war to space travel. It’s been done. What will we do?
If you have kids of the appropriate age, or friends with kids of the appropriate age, get them a boxed set. (This is one of the few times I’d suggest paper over kindle.) Read them aloud to the young ones, encourage budding readers to enjoy them independently, and (if necessary) hurl them with great force at any overly cynical teenagers in the vicinity. (Also, if you haven’t yet read them yourself, steal the books back from the kids and enjoy.)
Consider this a hearty recommendation from the Curmudgeon and a continuation of my recent policy of “as little politics as possible while people calm down”. You can find them here or the link below (or maybe you’ve already got them on your bookshelf?).