The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little house in the big woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder are autobiographical series of novels for children reflecting her life on the American frontier. Though beloved by generations of young readers, they haven’t been without controversy, as we’ll soon discover.

Wilder (1967–1967) wrote these vivid tales — nine in the Little House series — that immediately appealed to readers of all ages. The books were an immediate critical and popular success, winning numerous awards and making their way into readers’ hearts with their message of endurance, simple living, and love of family.

Born in a log cabin on the edge of an area called “Big Woods” in Pepin, Wisconsin, Laura’s real-life experiences were the inspiration for her novels, and richly informed her memoirs as well.

The Ingalls family traveled by covered wagon through Kansas and Minnesota with all that they owned, until finally settling in De Smet, Dakota Territory. The family loved the open spaces of the prairie. They moved around quite a bit, and though it wasn’t an easy life, it gave Laura a rich trove of memories and experiences to draw upon when she began writing.

The first of the Little House books, Little House in the Big Woods, was published in 1932; Laura was in her mid-sixties at the time. The best known volume of the series, Little House on the Prairie, was published soon after.

The family depicted in the stories was an idealized version of the one she grew up in. The Little House books tell of this family, not unlike her own, pioneering the Great Plains in the mid-1800s.

In the 1920s, Laura got encouragement from her daughter Rose as well as the time she needed to start writing.Though presented as fiction, the author insisted, “I lived everything I wrote.”

The books were the basis of the long-running TV series titled Little House on the Prairie.

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Laura Ingalls Wilder

Learn more about Laura Ingalls Wilder
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Belated controversy

Accusations of racial insensitivity have been leveled at the Little House books and their author. In an article in Smithsonian magazine timed for Laura’s 150th birthday — “Little House on the Prairie was Built on Native American Land” —it’s suggested that “It’s time to take a critical look at her work.”

Many readers are unhappy about this, suggesting that she was merely “a woman of her time.” But the article argues:

“Portrayals of Native American characters in this book and throughout this series have led to some calls for the series to not be taught in schools.

In the late 1990s, for instance, scholar Waziyatawin Angela Cavender Wilson approached the Yellow Medicine East school district after her daughter came home crying because of a line in the book, first attributed to Gen. Phil Sheridan, but a common saying by the time: ‘The only good Indian is a dead Indian.’ Her story gained national attention.”

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Little Town on the Prairie

Photo by Anna Fiore
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The Little House Books, in order

Here are the books in the series, described by the publisher, Harper Trophy, in order of publication:

Little House in the Big Woods (1932)
Meet the Ingalls family—Laura, Ma, Pa, Mary, and baby Carrie, who all live in a cozy log cabin in the big woods of Wisconsin in the 1870s. Though many of their neighbors are wolves and panthers and bears, the woods feel like home, thanks to Ma’s homemade cheese and butter and the joyful sounds of Pa’s fiddle.

Little House on the Prairie (1935)
When Pa decides to sell the log house in the woods, the family packs up and moves from Wisconsin to Kansas, where Pa builds them their little house on the prairie! Living on the farm is different from living in the woods, but Laura and her family are kept busy and are happy with the promise of their new life on the prairie.

On the Banks of Plum Creek (1937)
The Ingalls family lives in a sod house beside Plum Creek in Minnesota until Pa builds them a new house made of sawed lumber. The money for the lumber will come from their first wheat crop. But then, just before the wheat is ready to harvest, a strange glittering cloud fills the sky, blocking out the sun. Millions of grasshoppers cover the field and everything on the farm, and by the end of a week, there is no wheat crop left.

Little House boxed set by Laura Ingalls Wilder

By the Shores of Silver Lake (1939)
Pa Ingalls heads west to the unsettled wilderness of the Dakota Territory. When Ma, Mary, Laura, Carrie, and baby Grace join him, they become the first settlers in the town of De Smet. Pa starts work on the first building of the brand new town, located on the shores of Silver Lake. 

The Long Winter (1940)
The first terrible storm comes to the barren prairie in October. Then it snows almost without stopping until April. With snow piled as high as the rooftops, it’s impossible for trains to deliver supplies, and the townspeople, including Laura and her family, are starving. Young Almanzo Wilder, who has settled in the town, risks his life to save the town.

Little Town on the Prairie (1941)
De Smet is rejuvenated with the beginning of spring. But in addition to the parties, socials, and “literaries,” work must continue. Laura spends many hours sewing shirts to help Ma and Pa get enough money to send Mary to a college for the blind. But in the evenings, Laura makes time for a new caller, Almanzo Wilder.

These Happy Golden Years (1943)
Laura must continue to earn money to keep Mary in her college for the blind, so she gets a job as a teacher. It’s not easy, and for the first time she’s living away from home. But it gets a little better every Friday, when Almanzo picks Laura up to take her back home for the weekend. Though Laura is still young, she and Almanzo are officially courting, and she knows that this is a time for new beginnings.

The First Four Years (1971))
Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder have just been married! They move to a small prairie homestead to start their lives together. But each year brings new challenges—storms, sickness, fire, and unpaid debts. These first four years call for courage, strength, and a great deal of determination. And through it all, Laura and Almanzo still have their love, which only grows when baby Rose arrives.

Often added to the series is this entry, based on her husband’s early years, which was actually the second book published:

Farmer Boy (1933)
As Laura Ingalls is growing up in a little house in Kansas, Almanzo Wilder lives on a big farm in New York. He and his brothers and sisters work hard from dawn to supper to help keep their family farm running. Almanzo wishes for just one thing—his very own horse—but he must prove that he is ready for such a big responsibility.

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3 Responses to “The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder”

  1. I also have the Little House books as well as a book written about the lost Little House years of Laura’s life, the book’s called Old Town in the Green Groves it was written by someone else using few written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and of course I have books written about Laura’s daughter Rose.

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