Prairie Girl: The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Prairie Girl: The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder

by William Anderson, Renee Graef

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Laura Ingalls Wilder's fans know her best as "half-pint," America's spirited pioneer girl who wrote about her childhood growing up on the prairie in the late 1800s.

Now noted Wilder historian William Anderson takes us beyond the Little House books and tells us about the real events that inspired Laura's stories, like the time that thousands of grasshoppers ate


Laura Ingalls Wilder's fans know her best as "half-pint," America's spirited pioneer girl who wrote about her childhood growing up on the prairie in the late 1800s.

Now noted Wilder historian William Anderson takes us beyond the Little House books and tells us about the real events that inspired Laura's stories, like the time that thousands of grasshoppers ate the Ingallses' crops. He also includes the experiences that Laura did not write about, such as the two years the family spent in Burr Oak, Iowa, running a hotel. Readers will also learn about the life Laura led with her husband, Almanzo, and their daughter, Rose, after the Little House books end.

Renée Graef's detailed artwork beautifully illustrates this engaging, accessible biography of one of America's favorite authors.

Editorial Reviews

"Written with a simplicity and charm reminiscent of Wilder’s own prose, the book is just right for young readers."
Publishers Weekly
Fans of the Little House on the Prairie books should enjoy delving into the life of the series' author in Prairie Girl: The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson, illus. by Renee Graef. The book details the events of Laura's often-difficult life, including numerous relocations with her family across the frontier, and her sister Mary's fever, which resulted in blindness; also included is information about Laura's marriage to Almanzo Wilder, and the eventual publication of her books. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
"Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm." These were the words in a song that Laura's Pa sang to her when she was a very little girl and living in the little log cabin in the big woods of Wisconsin. Pa very much wanted to have a farm out west, on the prairies where there was an open sky and where he wouldn't have to cut down tree after tree to clear the land. He got his wish in Kansas and the family was very happy in their little house on the prairie. Unfortunately they could not stay there and the Ingalls family began a series of moves which would only end some years and many hardships later, in De Smet in the Dakota Territory. For a young reader this book is fascinating because we discover that Laura Ingalls Wilder's family did a lot more adventuring than we read about in her famous books. The Ingalls traveled even more then we thought, trying to find the right place to settle and to build a new life. To and fro the Ingalls family went in their little covered wagon. Always though, Pa was restless and eager to try farming out West, always west. Laura too had this love of the open spaces and the huge dome skies of the prairie. She never cared for town life. For Ma Ingalls though, this constant moving was a trial. She wanted a home, a house that was safe and warm with a door and glass windows. She wanted her daughters to go to school and church. It was for Ma's sake that the family finally settled down in De Smet in the Dakota Territory. As we read this wonderful biography, we learn that there was a baby brother whose tiny grave had to be left behind on the prairie. We discover that the hardship did not end for Laura in De Smet but continued into her adult life when she marriedAlmanzo Wilder and became a farmer's wife. The two young people lost their home to fire, their baby son died, drought dried up their farm, and grasshoppers ate their crops. As a result, Laura, Almanzo and their little daughter Rose went to the Ozarks in Missouri to start afresh. William Anderson has written an excellent biography which tells the true story of one of America's greatest children's book writers. A well known authority on the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, William Anderson brings this wonderful woman to life and shows us how Laura had great spirit and courage from the time she was a little girl, and how she never gave up fighting for her dreams and hopes. 2004, HarperCollins, Ages 7 to 10.
—Marya Jansen-Gruber
School Library Journal
Gr 2-5-Anderson provides insight into the life of an individual who lived through many adventures and eventually witnessed the technological developments of electricity, fast trains, telephones, and automobiles. He clearly portrays the harsh realities that Laura and her family faced while maintaining the sense of joy, love, and optimism that they shared. The writing is clear and precise and flows like a story. Graef's black-and-white drawings add interest to the text; there are no photographs of the people and places described. This readable biography will be a popular item with fans of the "Little House" series (HarperCollins).-Rebecca Sheridan, Easttown Library & Information Center, Berwyn, PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Little House Series
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.47(d)
Age Range:
6 - 10 Years

Read an Excerpt

Prairie Girl
The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Chapter One

Log Cabin in the Woods

After supper, when the sky grew dark and flames danced in the fireplace inside the little log cabin, Laura Ingalls would ask, "Pa, will you please play the fiddle?"

The jolly songs Pa played on his fiddle made Laura want to dance and sing. Mary, Laura's older sister, loved Pa's music too, and so did Ma, their quiet, gentle mother. While they all listened, their big bulldog, Jack, dozed in the doorway.

Too soon, Laura would hear the clock strike the hour of eight.

"Goodness, Charles," Ma would say. "It is time these children were asleep."

As Ma tucked the girls under the cozy quilts, Pa would play just one more song, his blue eyes twinkling.

Laura and her family lived during the pioneer days of America. This was a time when many Americans left the East to find new homes in the West. When Laura was growing up during the 1860s and early 1870s, there were no telephones or electric lights. Most people traveled by horse and wagon. Many families like Laura's lived in log cabins. Pa had built their cabin in the big woods of Wisconsin, and it was the first home Laura remembered. Pa and Ma came there to live soon after their marriage in 1860. Mary was born in the log cabin in the woods in 1865, the year the Civil War ended. Laura was born there two years later, on February 7, 1867.

By 1868, Pa and Ma had decided to leave the cabin in the woods in search of a new home. The Wisconsin woods were filling up with new settlers, and as hunting and trapping increased, wild animals became scarce. Pa knew that west of theMississippi River lay vast stretches of open prairie, and that was where he wanted to go.

Pa sang a song with his fiddle that went ''Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm." Laura knew her uncles Henry and Tom and Peter and George, but she did not know an Uncle Sam. Pa told Laura that Uncle Sam was really the United States government. The government had so much land to spare that it would give Pa a farm just for settling on the land. Pa said this was called homesteading.

The family traveled by covered wagon across Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, and finally into Kansas. After many weeks of travel, they drove through the frontier town of Independence and continued on for a few more miles until Pa decided to stop. There was nothing around them except for the sea of tall prairie grass waving in the wind and a big blue bowl of sky overhead.

The family's first priority was to build a house. Pa cut trees from creek banks nearby and built a one-room log cabin. Then he built a stable for the horses. Next he plowed up the prairie land and planted crops and a garden, and he dug a well for fresh water.

There were only a few settlers living near the Ingalls cabin. Most of the neighbors were Osage Indians. They lived in big camps because this was their territory. The government had moved them to Kansas many years before, when pioneers crowded their hunting grounds in Missouri. Osage tribesmen rode their ponies across the prairie and sometimes stopped at the cabin. They always seemed hungry and welcomed the corn bread Ma gave them.

On a hot day in August, Pa took Laura and Mary on a long walk across the prairie. Jack followed them. Laura was just three and a half, but she never forgot that day. The Indians were away hunting, and Pa wanted to show Laura and Mary their empty camp. For part of the walk across the prairie, Laura rode on Jack's broad back. At the camp they saw holes in the ground where tent poles had been and black spots where campfires had burned. In the dust Laura and Mary spied colored beads. They hunted for those left-behind beads until each had a handful.

When they arrived home, there was a surprise better than beads. A neighbor woman had come over to visit with Ma before they left, and now there was a third person in the cabin—a tiny newborn baby wrapped in a quilt. Laura looked at the little red-faced baby who snuggled next to Ma. Ma told Mary and Laura that this was their new sister, Caroline, whom they would call Carrie. In the family Bible, Ma wrote Carrie's birthdate: August 3, 1870.

Soon after baby Carrie was born, the prairie became less peaceful. Laura heard Indian war cries during the night. The Osages were unhappy that people like the Ingallses had settled on their land. The Osages had agreed to sell their land, but the American government in Washington had not yet paid them for their territory. Night after night, the Indians chanted in their camps and debated what to do. Their angry cries floated across the prairie and frightened Laura, even though Pa was nearby and Jack guarded the cabin door.

When a treaty with the Indians was finally settled, the Osage tribe left the prairie. Laura watched with Ma and Pa and Mary as a long line of Osage men, women, and children on foot and on horseback moved to another reservation farther west.

Not long afterward, Pa and Ma received a letter from Wisconsin. The man who had bought their farm could not pay and wanted Pa to take it back. Even though the prairie was now peaceful, Pa and Ma decided to leave. They traveled all the way back home to Wisconsin, to the house where Mary and Laura had been born. Although Laura was only four years old, she never forgot Kansas, and Pa and Ma and Mary always told her stories of their first travels.

Back in Wisconsin, the cabin was shaded by tall trees instead of wide, open prairie skies. When Laura looked . . .

Prairie Girl
The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder
. Copyright © by William Anderson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. <%END%>

Meet the Author

William Anderson is an award-winning historian and author whose interest in the “Little House” books began in elementary school. Much of his research for this book was conducted on-site at the locales of the Ingalls and Wilder homes. He has been active in the preservation and operation of the Wilder sites in De Smet, South Dakota, and Mansfield, Missouri, and edits the newsletter, Laura Ingalls Wilder Lore.

Among Mr. Anderson’s other writings about the people and places of the “Little House” books are LAURA INGALLS WILDER COUNTRY, A LITTLE HOUSE SAMPLER, PRAIRIE GIRL, and LAURA’S ALBUM.

William Anderson currently lives and teaches in Michigan. You can visit him online at

Renée Graef received her bachelor's degree in art from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She is the illustrator of numerous titles in the Little House publishing program, as well as Rodgers and Hammerstein's My Favorite Things and E.T.A Hoffman's The Nutcracker, adapted by Janet Schulman. She lives in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, with her husband and two children.

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