A life on the prairie is not all its cracked up to be for one girl whose mom takes her love of the Little House series just a bit too far in this middle-grade novel about belonging from the author of A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids.
Charlotte’s mom has just moved the family across the country to live in Walnut Grove, “childhood home of pioneer author Laura Ingalls Wilder.” Mom’s idea is that the spirit of Laura Ingalls will help her write a bestselling book. But Charlotte knows better: Walnut Grove is just another town where Mom can avoid responsibility. And this place is worse than everywhere else the family has livedit’s freezing in the winter, it’s small with nothing to do, and the people talk about Laura Ingalls all the time. Charlotte’s convinced her family will not be able to make a life on the prairieuntil the spirit of Laura Ingalls starts getting to her, too.
Praise for Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life:
"This sharp and quirky story winningly portrays a girl who, in finding herself, finds family, friends, and a place to belong." School Library Journal
"The family and friendship dynamics play out believably and compellingly, and the Laura Ingalls connection will draw in fans and enrich the reading experience. Between adroitly interwoven American history and the engaging relationship drama, there is plenty of material here for group discussion and personal contemplation." BCCB
|Publisher:||Roaring Brook Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)|
|Age Range:||9 - 12 Years|
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Read an Excerpt
The highway stretched as far as you could see, but Mom insisted on stopping at the Prairie Diner.
It didn't matter that the diner looked like an abandoned shed, that only four cars sat in the parking lot, that a vent belched smoke from a deep fryer. It didn't matter because a few miles back a billboard proclaimed, AT THE PRAIRIE DINER KIDS EAT FREE ON WEDNESDAYS! It was Wednesday. There were three kids in the car. No calculator required.
"We're only twenty miles from the new place," I said. "Can't we eat when we get there? Or go to McDonald's?"
Cornfields and prairie grasses surrounded the diner. It was the only building I could see on the highway, and I could see for miles. The land was so flat a ball wouldn't roll without a hard kick.
Mom got out of the car and snapped a photo of the place with her phone. She liked to document adventures, and in her mind, a roadside diner equaled adventure. "It's perfect. Who wants to eat at a chain restaurant? There's no adventure in that."
"At least it's not gas station pizza," my half sister, Rose, said.
"That's my girl." Mom smiled.
My brother, Freddy, reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a roll of duct tape. Mom said, "Freddy, do you have to do this? You're projecting negative energy, and it's not fair to the other customers." Freddy ripped a piece of tape from the roll and pressed it over his mouth. I hid a smile. "Really?" Mom asked.
Freddy nodded and walked across the gravel parking lot with Rose skipping behind him. Mom turned to me and said, "Please don't play along. I'm serious about energy. We get what we give. It's karma."
"What goes around comes around," Rose singsonged.
But by covering his mouth and staging a silent protest Freddy was doing exactly what Mom and Rose said. He was making sure "it" came back around — "it" being the bad feelings about moving from Lexington, Kentucky, to the western edge of Minnesota. We moved all the time, but always to real cities with malls and movie theaters and bus lines; never to a place like this, a land so quiet and empty the wind had nothing to blow. Rose was no help. She hadn't wanted to leave Lexington, either, but she never complained. Mom and Rose were all sunshine, all the time, the Florida of moods.
Inside a sign said SEAT YOURSELF, so Freddy picked a table in the middle of the diner. About ten people were scattered at tables, and one by one, they looked up from their meals and stared at us — at Freddy, the boy with tape on his mouth. Normally Freddy blended into the background like a beige chair against a beige wall. He kept his head low, his eyes down, his voice quiet. When you constantly switch schools, you learn to become invisible. Calling attention to yourself is an invitation to bullies. I learned that the hard way at Sherwood Elementary.
Or was it Sherman Elementary? I can never remember.
During sharing time in kindergarten, I stood up and shared that my mom could play both piano and guitar. Except I said guiptar. I don't know why. It just came out wrong. Everyone laughed, even though the teacher shushed them, and Tommy Jackson called me "stupid head." All week, Tommy Jackson yelled "guiptar stupid head" in my face every morning.
Was his name Tommy or Timmy?
Doesn't really matter. My point: if you don't stand up and share, nobody will call you guiptar stupid head.
I scanned the menu. "I told you, Mom. The kids menu is for kids ten and younger. Even Rose doesn't qualify for a free meal."
"Rose just turned eleven, which is practically ten. You and Freddy can pass. It'll save a ton of money." Mom ignored karma whenever it involved money.
I groaned. "This is so embarrassing."
"People shouldn't make a profit from food," Mom said. "It's an essential human need. Besides, it's not more embarrassing than your brother's vow of silence."
Freddy's cheeks lifted a bit, like he might be giving me a mission-accomplished smile through the tape. He'd taken the vow when Mom had announced she was quitting her job and moving us to a town no bigger than a pea, all so she could write her children's novel. The vow symbolized his protest about not having a voice in the decision. That's what he wrote in the tiny notebook he carried in his back pocket.
"Hot enough for you folks?" The waitress's name tag said Gloria. She held a tray across her thick belly.
"I love this weather," Mom said. "In the South this would be considered mildly warm."
"I'll take your word for it. What can I get you?"
"I'd like the grilled cheese and fries, and the kids will be ordering from the kids menu because they're nine and ten and ten." Mom pointed at me, then Freddy. "Twins."
"Sure they are." Gloria's voice was as flat as the prairie. The part about being twins was true, but we were twelve, and we looked it.
I ordered a chicken strip basket. Freddy pointed at the menu. Gloria looked at the tape on Freddy's face and then turned to Mom, who said, "It's a silent protest. I'm trying to validate his feelings without encouraging his behavior."
Gloria raised an eyebrow and grunted. Rose asked, "What is tater tot hot dish?"
"I guess you're not from around here." I couldn't tell if Gloria thought that was a bad thing or a good thing. "It's ground beef, cream of mushroom soup, corn, green beans, and tater tots. Kids always love it."
"Sounds like an adventure. I'll try it," Rose said.
"That's my girl," Mom said.
When Gloria left, Rose said to Freddy, "Are you really going to be silent for an entire school year? Give it a chance. We might like it. We might love it."
"Freddy wants you to know he has the right to feel however he feels," I said. I knew what he was thinking because I could read him, and he could read me. We had Twin Superpowers. Freddy nodded.
Mom's eyes moved to Freddy, then to me, even though she was speaking to Rose. "I'm so proud of your positive attitude and sense of adventure. You just jump into life and enjoy it, no matter what."
When Mom praised Rose, there was always a hidden message, and you didn't need police training to decode it. Her words said Rose is awesome, but she meant Be more like Rose. Freddy and I weren't like Rose, and we didn't want to be like Rose, sweet as a jellybean wrapped in taffy. When it rained, we saw puddles and gray sky. Rose saw the birth of a rainbow. Maybe it was because Freddy and I were older, or maybe it was because we had a different father than Rose. But Freddy and I are close. It's just the nature of twins. There's only room for two.
Rose pulled a book from her bag — On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder. "I can read out loud while we wait for our food."
"Great idea!" Mom looked at me. "Isn't it great?"
"Doesn't matter to me." Realistically, I was stuck with Laura for a year. I had to deal with her the way you deal with an upset stomach. You wait it out. Eventually you puke and feel better. Freddy had an opinion, though. His eyes widened, and he made sure we were watching as he lifted his arms, put one hand on each ear, and turned off his hearing aids.
"Nice job, Rose," I said. "Now Freddy can't speak or hear."
"That's his choice," Mom said.
"His choice." Rose cleared her throat and began reading. "Chapter one. 'The dim wagon track went no farther on the prairie, and Pa stopped the horses.'"
Gloria delivered our drinks before Rose could start the second sentence. Gloria looked at the book and smiled. "I'm a big Laura fan, too. The biggest. If you like On the Banks of Plum Creek, you're near the heart of it all."
"I know," Rose said. "Laura Ingalls lived here in the olden days during the grasshopper plague. That's why we're here."
"Not because of grasshoppers." Mom laughed. "We're moving to Walnut Grove because of Laura. I'm a writer."
"You're writing a book about Laura Ingalls?"
I needed to shut this down before Mom launched her crazy spirit-of-Laura explanation. "When is our food going to be ready?"
Obviously Gloria believed children should be seen and not heard because she didn't answer my question. She said, "I live a stone's throw from Walnut Grove. You'll like it. It's a nice little town. People are friendly but not too friendly, if you know what I mean. Where are you living?"
Mom said, "We're only going to be here for the school year, so we're renting. Do you know Miguel and Mia Ramos? We'll be living in their basement."
"You bet. They both work at Schwann's up in Marshall. Their granddaughter Julia just moved in with them. Seems like a sweet girl. I don't like gossip, so let's just say Julia's parents are a train wreck. You can read into that what you want."
"How old is their granddaughter? It'd be nice to have a friend the same age as my kids." I don't know why Mom didn't say friend for Rose, because that's what she meant. Rose was a friend magnet. Freddy and I didn't have friends, didn't want friends, didn't need friends. We had each other.
"Not sure. I don't know them. I just know of them." Gloria tucked the tray under her arm. "Anyhoo. Is it just you and the girls and the duct-tape boy?"
"Just us and our dog, Jack. He's in the car," Rose said.
"You can't leave a dog in the car with this heat. He'll keel over!"
"He's already dead," I said. "We've got his ashes."
"Well, that's different. Folks here bury pets in the backyard." Gloria winked at Rose. "After they're dead, of course."
Rose said, "I wanted to leave his ashes in the pond at the dog park in Lexington because he loved it there. But we had to leave fast. Some guy —"
"It just didn't work out," Mom said. "That's all."
It didn't work out because three days before we were supposed to leave, our neighbor told us a guy had been looking for Mom. That guy was going to take back our car because she ran out of money and stopped making payments. We packed all night and sped out of town before sunrise. Mom said she was going to catch up on those bills once we got settled in Walnut Grove.
Then a man with a thick mustache yelled, "Gloria! If you want me to pay before I die, you better bring my tab."
"For chrissake, Harold, you get the same meal every time, and every time it's $5.99, and every time you write a check. So write a check and leave it on the table and add at least a dollar for a tip."
"A dollar! I grow soybeans, not money trees."
Gloria wandered to the man's table where they argued about whether he was cheap or she was greedy. Mom smiled at me, a smile as blinding as the sun. I wished her happiness was like a cold, and if she coughed hard enough, I'd catch it. So I looked out the window and tried to think like Mom and Rose, to see beauty. I saw an ocean of prairie grasses. The wind churned waves through the landscape, rolling the grasses toward a sky of endless blue. And it was beautiful in its own way.
But the view came with a new school. There would be new classmates and new teachers and new neighbors. For Mom and Rose, those things were shiny. For Freddy and me, they were just new — new and weird, new and scary.
When you constantly move, you know the world is big. But when you stare at the prairie sky, stretched across the Earth, unmarked by mountains or trees or buildings, you realize the world is bigger than you ever imagined.
So big it could swallow a girl.
The welcome sign said, WALNUT GROVE, MINNESOTA. CHILDHOOD HOME OF PIONEER AUTHOR LAURA INGALLS WILDER. Then it reminded visitors to PLEASE COME AGAIN, which sounded desperate, like the mayor worried people might never return.
Railroad tracks and power lines ran parallel to the highway, which pointed straight west, toward South Dakota and beyond. There was another diner near the welcome sign, and across from it were a silo and run-down buildings that looked like they'd once been used for farming. The voice on Mom's phone told us where to go — off the highway, a right turn through the main street, a left turn past a park, and a right turn into a neighborhood. The town was so small it reminded me of a little porcelain Christmas village. Then the voice announced we'd arrived. Mom stopped in front of a neat, white one-story house with black shutters, which was literally the last house in town. The street went like this: house, house, house, house, cornfield.
Mom flashed a smile. "I have this sense of rich history just sitting here. Creativity thrives in places like this."
"It's like there's creativity in the air. I feel Laura's spirit," Rose said.
"Me, too," Mom said. "I've been called to the right place with the right project."
Rose gave Mom a high five. "You're going to write the best book ever, Mom."
"What about you two? Can you feel it?" Mom looked at Freddy and me in the back seat. Freddy pointed at his hearing aids and shrugged. I said, "Mom, if you make a million dollars on that book, I'll run up and down the street shouting that this is the right town at the right time."
"Deal," Mom said.
A woman with long black-and-gray hair waved to us from the door. Mom and Rose greeted her while Freddy and I stood by the car. When Mom realized we weren't there, she motioned us to join them.
"You must be Charlotte and Freddy." The woman spoke with a slight accent. "I'm Mia Ramos. Oh, what the heck!" She pulled Mom into an embrace. "I'm a hugger."
"So am I!" Mom laughed.
Rose squeezed between them. "I'm a hugger, too."
You saw that coming, right?
Freddy and I shared a perfectly reasonable aversion to hugging strangers. We stretched our cheeks into fake smiles. "You folks have a separate entrance for the basement through the garage. I'll give you a tour, then you can start getting settled," Mia said. "And you must have supper with us tonight."
"How nice!" Mom said as we packed into the narrow hall. "Thanks for letting us come a few days early."
Mia looked out the window. "You fit everything into your car?"
"Your ad said the basement is furnished. Whatever you have is all we need. It's too much hassle to move big stuff."
"Really? Well, that's different."
The wall in front of us was floor-to-ceiling covered with photos. Mia smiled when she saw me looking at the display. "Two sons, two daughters, six grandsons, three granddaughters, ten nephews, twenty nieces, three great-nephews, and three great-nieces."
"And a partridge in a pear tree," Mom said, and they laughed like old friends. Rose laughed, too.
Mia said, "You kids probably need to stretch your legs. Why don't you walk around town? Supper will be ready when you get back."
Rose decided to take the tour with Mom, so Freddy and I followed Mia's directions to the park. There was no traffic — just the sound of semitrucks rocketing down the highway a few blocks north. Across the street a woman stopped pulling weeds from her flowerbed to watch us. An old man peeked out his garage. Heads turned our way from every house, like a neighborhood of dominoes, all the way to the park.
Freddy and I watched kids play in the sandbox. The vow had been easy for Freddy — he didn't talk much in general. Mom didn't know until kindergarten that ear infections had messed up his hearing. All that time, I'd been his translator.
"You go first," I said.
"Okay." He thought for a few seconds. "The town is full of farmers and construction workers."
"Pickup trucks. As many pickup trucks as trees," Freddy said. "Now you."
I said, "Speaking of trees, the town was settled about one hundred fifty years ago."
"This is supposed to be the treeless prairie, right? But the town has big trees, trees that would need at least a hundred years to grow this tall. People had to bring them in and plant them. Now you."
"This is not going to be a budget-friendly city," Freddy said.
"It's a small town. Mom says she can make our money last twice as long here."
He cleared his throat. "You're doing it wrong."
"Okay, fine. What's your evidence?"
"Have you seen many churches? I haven't. We're going to be spending more money here than in Lexington."
Lexington was our favorite city because we lived in a neighborhood we called Church Row. At Trinity, Wednesday was youth group night. If we listened to bible stuff, we could eat cookies and play in the church's awesome game room. On Friday, St. John's had free family movie night in the community room with popcorn and candy. When Mom played at St. Catherine's guitar mass, we ate free meals at the spaghetti supper. Rose made friends with the granddaughters of the church ladies at Holy Redeemer, so we got leftovers from funeral lunches. Someone died in that church at least once a week. Also Lexington had a dog park and a theater that showed old movies for one dollar.
"That stinks," I said. "What if Mom needs to get a job? Where would she even work around here?" "Maybe that diner."
Mom had always been a writer, but she'd never gotten paid for it until last month. She'd been a bus driver who wrote and a receptionist who wrote. A museum guide, a bartender, a propane delivery driver — all those things, but always a writer. She wrote before and after shifts. She wrote on the weekends. Finally a publisher bought her biography of Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. She said the payment was small, but if we lived on a tight budget, she could quit working for a year and write a novel.
Excerpted from "Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life"
Copyright © 2017 Shelley Tougas.
Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part One: Little Basement on the Prairie,
Part Two: The Long, Cold, Terrible, Snowing, Blowing Winter,
Part Three: On the Banks of Dumb Creek,
Epilogue: All's Well That Ends Well,
Excerpt: Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids,
Also by Shelley Tougas,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I LOVE THIS BOOK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I just had to get this book when I saw Laura Ingalls in the title. When I read what the book was about it sounded like I was reading about my daughter and I even though my daughter is an adult. I love everything Laura related and would love to one day write a book and we just moved back to Missouri not far from where she wrote her books, although that is not why we moved here. My daughter I know gets tired of hearing about Laura. I liked how the author used many names that were related to Laura's life. If by accident or on purpose I still liked it. Martha was Laura's great grandma, Freddie was her brother that passed away as a baby, Rose was her daughter's name and Charlotte was her doll's name. When I started this book I thought I would connect with the mom more but I found myself connecting with Charlotte more. I felt bad for her and hoped she would be able to find something to make her happier. You must read the book to find out if she becomes happy, I can't say or it will ruin the book. I will say that this book goes through emotions and how kids handle them. Even though this book was written for a younger age group it was very enjoyable and was a "hearty" book. I recommend this book for all your tweens and yourself alike.