I can’t remember not being a Little House In The Big Woods fan.
It was one of the first and favorite books of my childhood that I read all by myself. Over and over and over. I took the whole paperback set with me to college, and they moved with me for the years after, along with Lord of the Rings, Wind In The Willows, and Winnie-the-Pooh.
I was never a fan of the series. I always liked Michael Landon, but he was not my idea of Pa Ingalls. Melissa Gilbert was spunky – I liked that. But I wasn’t very invested in the show. I wasn’t watching a whole lot of TV in the 70’s and early 80’s. I was in college, then working, moving around a lot and spending more time out and about instead of in front of a television set.
But the books – now I have them in hardcover. I read them all aloud to both of my daughters when they were little. I most recently read the entire series in a two-day stretch during a blizzard three years ago. They remain near and dear to my heart.
I also have lots of the other ‘Laura’ books – her biography by Donald Zochert, and a book called I Remember Laura that’s a collection of conversations with people who knew her during her Rocky Ridge Farm days. So when I came across The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure, I was fascinated. Here was a woman who was so enamored with Laura Ingalls Wilder that she followed Laura from the Big Woods to the Ozarks, collecting sunbonnets along the way.
This was such a fun book. McClure writes in a very conversational style – it’s like she’s sitting next to you, coffee mug in hand, telling you all about it. She’s charming, excited, funny – a wonderful storyteller. And the book is a great look at a cultural icon. I always knew that there were sites to mark the journey of the Ingalls’ family, but McClure tells the story of an entire country so enamored of a little girl and her simple, hardworking way of life that there are historical markers showing where she lived, museums showing what her life was like, and whole pageants dedicated to her. Who knew?
McClure weaves a lot into her story besides just being a fan of ‘Laura World’. She talks about the other people who love Laura, and as she meets them and gets to know them, she sees sides to Laura’s story that she didn’t consider before – people who admire the spiritual aspect of Laura’s life, and the survivalists who think it’s important to be able to grow your own food for a whole other set of reasons. Mothers taking their daughters down to the banks of Plum Creek so they can share a memory. Little girls in a Laura look-alike contest who just want to feel close to their ideal.
McClure manages to separate the real Laura from the fictional Laura, even as she tries her hand at typical Laura-like things. Butter-churning, anyone? She also gets a good look at the life of Rose Wilder Lane, Laura and Almanzo’s only daughter, and examines the mother-daughter dynamic there – pretty interesting stuff.
But mostly this is Wendy McClure’s journey. Begun after the death of her mother, with her sympathetic and charming boyfriend at her side, her ‘looking for Laura’ is also about looking for healing in a crazy, modern world . By looking backwards to a simpler time she has written a charming and funny guide for any of us who once wanted to live in a cabin in the woods, just like Laura.