Little House in the Big Woods was the first book that ever stuck with me long after I had read the last page. It kicked off the first series that ever stuck with me as well. The Little House series was my world for so long, only taking the passenger seat when Harry Potter came not long after.
Before I could read, my dad would read to me before bed. My go-tos were Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, Monster at the End of This Book, and Another Monster at the End of the Book. I’m sure there were others that he read to me, but those three I kept going back to. I’m not sure who suggested it, but he read Little House in the Big Woods to me. What bothered me the most was that he constantly called Laura a “Cheesehead.” You know, because the book is set in Wisconsin. And it made me so mad. Imagine four-year-old Frannie, arguing with her dad about how Laura isn’t a Cheesehead because the Packers weren’t a thing back when Laura was little. My dad’s reply was that they wore wooden Cheeseheads, of course. I bet if I were to bring up Little House and Laura Ingalls Wilder to him, he’d probably call her a Cheesehead. And I would have to try not to get mad about it.
I’ve read the book a few times after my dad first read it to me; like the Harry Potter books, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read them. So opening the paperback version my mom mailed to me just for this challenge was like going home. I was back in the Little House world.
I had forgotten so many things about Big Woods. I forgotten about their cat, Black Susan. And about Laura’s corn cob doll. And how Ma slapped a bear, thinking it was their cow Sukey. And how Laura tried to collect all the pretty pebbles at the beach and the weight ripped the pocket out of her dress. And how evident her jealousy of Mary was this early on. I had forgotten all of this.
But not Pa’s twinkling blue eyes. Or how he would play the fiddle when they were falling asleep. Or the cousin who was naughty and got caught in a yellow jackets’ nest. Or that Laura always wore red and Mary wore blue. Or that Laura’s doll was named Charlotte. Or how Jack the bulldog would guard the log cabin.
Little House in the Big Woods was a trip down memory lane. I felt nostalgic reading each chapter and each description. In fact, the tone that this book was written in is very similar to that of Farmer Boy, which I read all the way through for the first time last fall (who wants to read about Almanzo when you want to read about Laura? I mean, c’mon). There were so many food descriptions, and descriptions of Laura and Mary’s trees, and of collecting maple syrup. I found myself wishing I still had the Little House Cookbook so I could recreate some of the foods (most of which I probably can’t eat because meat) myself. I remembered thinking the same things when I was reading The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure.
There were also some questionable lines, ones that I don’t think I ever stopped to think about before. Most of them were in the lyrics of Pa’s songs; one used the word Injun and another used the word darkey. Certainly terms that were “okay” in the 1800s, and when Big Woods was first published. It reminded me that these terms were in use not that long ago, and that Laura’s generation is only three or so back from me. America is not that old, and there are moments where that age becomes clear. I will catch this many more times throughout the series, particularly when they move further west.
Little House in the Big Woods will always hold a special place in my heart because it introduced a love of reading. Sure, that was already in place, but it expanded my world. It was my first history lesson, my first book series. It made history come alive, and it still does, eighty-five years later.