of the Center for Children's Books:
Gone But Not Forgotten
|Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books..
See the archive for focus pieces from previous
Laura Ingalls Wilder
This summer the staff at the Center for Children's Books has been living with all the chaos that a move to a new office engenders. Between packing, unpacking, waiting for shelves to arrive, and trying to keep some semblance of normal work flow, we managed to maintain our sense of humor and perspective (most of the time!). One of the ways I kept the moving process in its proper place was by thinking about the Ingalls family who moved eight times over the course of the Little House series and even more in real life. If Ma Ingalls could cope with uprooting her home, belongings, and children whenever Pa got a case of wanderlust, surely I could cope with the relatively minor discomforts of an office move into a new and infinitely better space. (I've often wondered, though, if Ma didn't become a little discouraged after packing and unpacking that little china shepherdess for the umpteenth time.)
Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 when Little House in the Big Woods, her first full-length work, was published in 1932. Between 1933 and 1943, the rest of the Little House books were published, and they were extremely successful. Almost immediately after the publication of the final title, These Happy Golden Years, plans were made to republish the entire series in a uniform style. Editor Ursula Nordstrom also felt that the original illustrations, by Helen Sewell and Mildred Boyle, didn't really suit the stories, and she chose Garth Williams to re-illustrate the entire series. Williams consulted with the Wilders and physically retraced the various journeys undertaken by the Ingalls family as they moved from the Middle West to South Dakota. His softer, more realistic illustrations perfectly suited the text, and most readers today are not aware that the books were ever published with any other pictures.
Writing on blue-lined tablets of paper, often in the first person (Wilder's daugher assisted with reworking her mother's stories into third-person narration and into their current shape), Wilder was conscious of being an eyewitness to an era important to the history of the United States--that of the passing of the Western frontier--and she captured a time and place that forms a large part of American mythology. We have been a nation shaped by the idea of hard-working pioneers who blazed a trail in the wilderness and set up homes across a free land. Wilder fleshed out that myth with real people who lived real lives. She showed the back-breaking work behind the romance of the frontier. Wilder detailed how pioneers lived their lives far from the centers of industry, and she gave intricate descriptions of how food was made and stored, how furniture and bullets were crafted, and how Pa built a log cabin from scratch. All of these details combine to give the reader a vivid picture of life on the frontier during the late 1800s.
Most significantly, Wilder gave us an important truth about the necessity of family for both survival and emotional support. The stories do not necessarily reflect the factual realities of the Ingalls' lives; the events in Little House on the Prairie come from the memories of Wilder's mother, father, and sister rather than from her own. What comes across, however, is the love and sacrifice that families can provide (Pa walks hours through a blizzard to get home with Christmas presents for his children; though frightened of speaking in public, Laura becomes a schoolteacher to provide the money to send her blind sister to college). The relationships between family members in the Little House books are an embodiment of the family values our own age so desperately seems to seek.
--Melanie Kimball, Center Research Assistant
It's sad but fitting that Melanie's farewell contribution to this website discusses moving, because after several years of yeoman service to the Center and the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Melanie is herself moving on to complete her PhD. We've relied on her for support too extensive to enumerate, and website readers have all unknowing relied on her too, because she's been the organizational force behind the monthly mounting of new material. While the website will continue to be capably updated by new staff, it's not going to be the same around our office. Goodbye, Melanie, and thanks.
--Deborah Stevenson, Associate Editor
Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
This page was last updated on August 1, 2001.
This page was last updated on August 1, 2001.