7 Biographies of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Author of the Little House Books
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Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867 – 1957) has a permanent place in the American imagination for her Little House series of books for young readers. Born in a log cabin on the edge of an area called “Big Woods” in Pepin, Wisconsin, her life was the inspiration for her semi-autobiographical novels.
Laura’s publishing career began at the ripe age of sixty-five and consisted of the 8-volume set of Little House books (9, if you count Farmer Boy) and a small number of autobiographical volumes. The first installment, Little House in the Big Woods, was published in 1931; the best known of the series, Little House on the Prairie, was published soon after.
Though the family depicted in the stories was idealized, the hardships and joys of pioneering the Great Plains in the mid-1800s were based on Laura’s actual experiences. Her tales immediately appealed to readers of all ages, immediately popular with readers and well-received by critics. Perhaps the timing of the publication of the first books in the series — during the Great Depression — resonated with their message of resilience during hard times.
The Little House books continue to be read from one generation to another, and her life continues to be a source of fascination. Here are several biographies of Laura Ingalls Wilder (including autobiographies) for those who can’t get enough of America’s favorite “pioneer girl.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Biography (2007)
This substantive 2007 biography by William Anderson is aimed at middle-grade readers. From her days on the prairie to her long and happy marriage to Almanzo Wilder, this well-researched account illuminates the real-life events behind the Little House books. Readers will also get a glimpse of what her life was like after the last Little House book left off.
Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life (2007)
From Amazon: “In Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life, Pamela Smith Hill delves into the complex and often fascinating relationships Wilder formed throughout her life that led to the writing of her classic Little House series.
Using Wilder’s stories, personal correspondence, a previously unpublished autobiography, and experiences in South Dakota, Hill has produced a historical-literary biography of the famous and much-loved author. Following the course of Wilder’s life, and her real family’s journey west, Hill provides a context both familial and literary, for Wilder’s writing career.”
On the Way Home (1962)
For ages 8 and up. A diary of the author of the beloved Little House books details her real-life journey with husband Almanzo and young daughter Rose from South Dakota to Missouri in 1894.
Discovered after Laura Ingalls Wilder’s death in 1957, this chronicle was published in 1962. From the publisher’s description: “She describes the towns passed, the rivers crossed, and the crops, birds, fruits, and flowers seen along the way as she moved south … Readers who already know Wilder’s Little House books will welcome this further visit with Laura. Those reading her for the first time will appreciate the accurate glimpse of the prairie frontier which her journal affords.”
Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography (2014)
This beautifully illustrated book presenting the autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder was edited by Pamela Smith Hill, an eminent Wilder biographer.
From Amazon: “Hidden away since the 1930s, Laura Ingalls Wilder s never-before-published autobiography reveals the true stories of her pioneering life. Some of her experiences will be familiar; some will be a surprise. Pioneer Girl re-introduces readers to the woman who defined the pioneer experience for millions of people around the world.
Through her recollections, Wilder details the Ingalls family’s journey from Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, back to Minnesota, and on to Dakota Territory sixteen years of travels, unforgettable stories, and the everyday people who became immortal through her fiction. Using additional manuscripts, diaries, and letters, Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography builds on Wilder’s work by adding valuable context and explores her growth as a writer.
Author of an award-winning Laura Ingalls Wilder biography, editor Pamela Smith Hill offers new insights into Wilder s life and times.”
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder (2017)
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser is considered the first comprehensive historical biography of the beloved author of the Little House on the Prairie books. It has won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
From Amazon: “Millions of readers of Little House on the Prairie believe they know Laura Ingalls―the pioneer girl who survived blizzards and near-starvation on the Great Plains, and the woman who wrote the famous autobiographical books. But the true saga of her life has never been fully told.
Now, drawing on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries, and land and financial records, Caroline Fraser―the editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House series―masterfully fills in the gaps in Wilder’s biography. Revealing the grown-up story behind the most influential childhood epic of pioneer life, she also chronicles Wilder’s tumultuous relationship with her journalist daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, setting the record straight regarding charges of ghostwriting that have swirled around the books.”
West from Home: Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder
For ages 8 and up. Published in 1976, this collection of letters giving firsthand accounts of a solo trip west by the beloved author of the Little House books includes 24 pages of photographs.
From Amazon: “‘It is like a fairyland.’ So Laura Ingalls Wilder … described her 1915 voyage to San Francisco to visit her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Laura’s husband, Almanzo, was unable to leave their Missouri farm; her faithful letters home, vividly describing every detail of her journey, have been gathered here.
The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder:
The Frontier Landscapes that Inspired the Little House Books
Marta McDowell gave a glimpse into The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder (2017) in her post, Laura Ingalls Wilder: Late-Blooming Author with a Passion for Nature. Publishers Weekly said of this charming book: “For gardeners, botanists, and fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder, this book looks at the beloved Little House on the Prairie author’s relationship to nature.” —Publishers Weekly
From Amazon: “The universal appeal of Laura Ingalls Wilder springs from a life lived in partnership with the land, on farms she and her family settled across the Northeast and Midwest. In this revealing exploration of Wilder’s deep connection with the natural world, Marta McDowell follows the wagon trail of the beloved Little House series.
You’ll learn details about Wilder’s life and inspirations, pinpoint the Ingalls and Wilder homestead claims on authentic archival maps, and learn to grow the plants and vegetables featured in the series. Excerpts from Wilder’s books, letters, and diaries bring to light her profound appreciation for the landscapes at the heart of her world.
And the books that started it all …
Little House (9-Volume Boxed Set)
From Amazon: “This nine-book paperback boxed set of the classic series (the 8-volume Little House books plus Farmer Boy, about Almanzo) features the classic black-and-white artwork from Garth Williams.
The nine books in the timeless Little House series tell the story of Laura’s real childhood as an American pioneer and are cherished by readers of all generations. They offer a unique glimpse into life on the American frontier, and tell the heartwarming, unforgettable story of a loving family.”
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