The Barnes & Noble Review
The Little House on the Prairie series, featuring the frontier life of young Laura Ingalls Wilder, has been providing enjoyment to readers for decades. But there is a short period in Wilder's life between 1875 and 1877 that has never been addressed. In the original series, the family moves from Plum Creek straight to Silver Lake, ignoring the two years the Ingallses spent living in a small town in Iowa. Now fans can fill in that gap, thanks to Newbery Awardwinning author Cynthia Rylant, who has crafted a story covering these missing years with the help of notes penned by Wilder herself.
At the start of the story, young Laura is eight years old and living with her two sisters and her parents in a rented house in Walnut Grove. They've come here, leaving their beloved Plum Creek home behind, to weather out the winter after an infestation of grasshoppers wiped out all their crops. Their homesickness is mitigated by a surprise visit from the stork, which gives the Ingallses their first son. Little Charles Frederick adds new life to the family in more ways than one, but it's a short-lived reprieve, for little Freddie proves to be a sickly child.
Tragedy seems a way of life for the Ingallses when they finally return to Plum Creek. First Ma takes ill and comes close to dying, then the family is driven away from their home once again by a crop-destroying infestation of grasshoppers. Forced to head south to Iowa, the family stops to spend the summer with relatives. While there they relish a bounty of family and food, but they also suffer tragedy when young Freddie finally succumbs. Upon reaching their destination in Iowa, life takes a decidedly different turn for this frontier family when they find themselves living and working in a hotel.
Fans of the Little House stories should find Rylant's work a welcome addition to the series. Writing with a loving feel for home and family, Rylant evokes the same indomitable spirit and sense of adventure that Wilder herself did. (Beth Amos)
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-It is somewhat startling that Rylant should choose to cover a period of time about which Wilder herself chose not to write. Here the Ingalls leave their farm on the banks of Plum Creek to spend several years in Burr Oak, IA. Pa's determination is tested, but his pioneering spirit and hard work coupled with Ma's essential support and unending labor see them through. The death of a new baby who arrives at the opening of the novel is clearly painful to all; a birth near its closure is a reminder that life goes on. After several different homes in Iowa, the family returns to Plum Creek, where Wilder continued the story in By the Shores of Silver Lake. LaMarche's illustrations wisely focus more on things than on people, which helps to reduce their incongruity with Garth Williams's drawings. The characters are somewhat different here. Laura seems less of a tomboy and enjoys tea parties and talking about the dolls and rich furnishings of their small-town neighbors. Some of the events match quite closely with known biographical details, while others are definitely fictionalized. Rylant enjoys detailed descriptions of the flora and fauna much more than the original narrator. These small differences will not matter a whit to those insatiable for further Laura stories. For purists who want the classics left alone and are sure Wilder is rolling in her grave, the whole idea is strictly sacrilege. For most everyone else, this is neither a necessary nor valuable addition.-Carol A. Edwards, Sonoma County Library, Santa Rosa, CA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
“A well-written book that will answer many of the questions frequently asked by fans.”
“Gently toldcreated in the same spirit as the earlier titles.”
The Horn Book Magazine
“Captures the essence of Laura’s personality and the structure and style of the original works.”
Read an Excerpt
A Rented House
It was wintertime on the prairie, and things were changing all around Laura as she walked to school each morning. The wide prairie skies were no longer softly blue and filled with the voices of bobolinks and meadowlarks and sparrows. Now gray clouds had settled low over the land, and they promised a time of snow and cold and the hungry call of blackbirds in the brown, empty fields. Laura loved the winter for its stillness and its gray-white beauty. But she also knew it could be cruel. She had lived on the prairie long enough to learn that.
Laura was not so worried about what surprises winter might bring this year, for Pa had moved the whole family from their farm on Plum Creek to a snug little rented house behind the church in Walnut Grove. Walnut Grove was a newly settled town on the Minnesota prairie, and it was the safest place to be when the hard blizzards blew in and there was nothing to do but shiver and shake and wait until the storm gave back the land. On Plum Creek blizzards had been hard. Pa had nearly died in one. And some neighbors had died from being lost in the snow.
But in a little house in town the Ingalls family would be safer and happier. Pa wouldn't get lost in a blinding white storm as he drove the wagon home from town. He was already in town. Ma wouldn't worry so and watch the northwest sky for a low, black line of cloud. And Laura and Mary and Carrie would be more cheerful because they could go to school every day instead of staying in their lonely farmhouse all winter, restless and waiting for spring.
Laura liked school, and she was happy to walk there with her sisterseach day. Laura had not thought that she would like school, when she was littler. She hadn't wanted to be away from the warm company of Ma all day. She hadn't wanted to miss Jack, the dear brindle bulldog she loved so well. And most of all, she didn't want to miss Pa and his-happy blue eyes and his good cheer and his stories.
But Laura liked school now. She liked it more every day.
I like school," she said to Mary and Carrie as they made their way along the crisp dirt road leading to the schoolhouse. The sky was still not quite light, and Laura held little Carrie's hand for safety. Carrie was six years old now, but she was still the baby of the family.
"I love school," said Mary, adjusting her shawl against the chilly wind. I could live there if I didn't love home more."
Laura smiled. Mary had always been the best one at learning. Mary had always been the best at everything. She was kindest. She was the most patient. She minded Ma better. And she wasn't a tomboy, like Laura was sometimes.
Laura knew that she could never be as good as Mary, and she was glad that Ma and Pa had at least one good girl they could be proud of
I like singing the letters," said Carrie. "And tag."'
Laura smiled and squeezed Carrie's hand. Carrie was a good girl, too.
When the road ended, the girls followed the narrow path leading up to the little white schoolhouse sitting alone on the prairie. Laura could see Frank Carr carrying in the water bucket for Miss Beadle and James Harris toting a load of logs for the fire. Miss Beadle had arrived early and already started up a crackling fire in the pot-bellied stove and warmed up the frosty-cold classroom. But the cold prairie wind would blow all day long, and all day long the fire would want feeding.
"Good morning, Laura!" said Rebekah when the girls stepped through the schoolhouse door and into the cloakroom to take off their wraps.
"Good morning, Rebekah!" answered Laura. Rebekah was one of Laura's favorite friends. She always had a nice word for everybody and she loved to run, just like Laura.
When everyone had hung their wraps on nails and put their tin lunch pails on the cloakroom bench, it was time to go in and say good morning to Miss Beadle. Then school would begin.
Laura thought Miss Beadle was a fine teacher. She always looked so nice, in her pretty white bodice and her long black skirt and her dark hair pulled back and held with a comb. Miss Beadle always opened the school day with a prayer and a song. This morning the song was "Wait for the Wagon." Laura smiled as she sang, "Wait for the wagon and we'll all take a ride!" She was thinking of Pa and how much he loved taking a wagon west. Laura loved it. too. She could go west every day, her whole life long.
At the end of the school day, in a softly falling snow and a steady wind, Laura and her sisters walked back to their home in town. When they passed Oleson's General Store, Laura could see Nellie, Mr. Oleson's spoiled daughter, through the window. Laura imagined Nellie standing in front of one of the big store barrels, cramming her mouth full of candy until bedtime. Then Laura decided not to think about Nellie at all. She walked on toward the small church with the belfry on top. Behind the church there was home.
Soon Laura and her sisters opened the front door of their little rented house and stepped inside. Ma had a pot of beans on the stove, cooking with a side of pork, and the warm house smelled wonderful. Ma had always made every place they had ever lived wonderful. She called it making a place "homelike." And here, in this small house that wasn't even their own, she had done all the special things that made it home... Old Town in the Green Groves. Copyright © by Cynthia Rylant. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.