Laura Ingalls Wilder slaps me in the face

As you probably know, I'm pretty outspoken on the topic of censorship. I believe it's my job and no one else's to decide what my kids should or shouldn't be allowed to read. So when Lena received a copy of Farmer Boy for her birthday a few weeks ago, of course I had to stick to my principles and read it first. ;-)

Wow, was it good! I thought I had read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books when I was a kid, even though I wasn't a huge fan at the time. Apparently I missed this one, though. Whoops!

I was totally unprepared for the magnitude of the emotional response I had to this book. Weeks later, I'm still thinking about it. Just to give you a quick recap, at the end of the book 10yo Almanzo is given the choice of becoming apprentice to a shopkeeper (a nice shopkeeper who likes the boy, has integrity, etc.) or staying home to follow in his father's farmer footsteps. Father advises him that if he becomes a shopkeeper he'll have a nice, soft, cushy life . . . but he'll have to depend on others for the very food on his table and clothes on his back. If he stays a farmer he'll work every day from dawn till dusk, but he'll be beholden to no one. He'll be self-sufficient -- growing, raising, slaughtering, preserving, tanning, milking, weaving, etc., etc. -- producing for himself everything he needs.

I find this independent, self-sufficient, beholden-to-nobody thing extremely compelling. I always have. This is why I love wilderness survival books, especially Clan of the Cave Bear. That book is stupid in so many ways, but I've practically got it memorized. And there's more than a bit of that in Patrick O'Brian: the ship is self-sufficient. I admire medieval hermits, too.

So, when Almanzo (of course) turned down the apprenticeship offer it was hard not to take it personally. I am so dependent on others. I don't even know how to grow vegetables in my sunny, south-facing back yard. Clearly, Laura Ingalls Wilder would not approve.


  • First off, Welcome Back.

    Secondly -- add "Follow the River" to your reading list, if self sufficiency is your forte.

    posted by Blogger Kristy on 10:17 AM  

  • And Stalking the Wild Asparagus. Don't entertain self-sufficiency anxieties without it!

    posted by Blogger Phantom Scribbler on 10:56 AM  

  • Of all the Little House books, this is the one I read only once.

    I'd have gobbled up that apprenticeship in a heartbeat.

    posted by Blogger Suzanne on 1:11 PM  

  • Kristy, Phantom, thanks for the recommendations. I haven't read either of those -- but I will try 'em soon.

    Suzanne, in real life, me too. All this about self-sufficiency is purely a thought experiment. I wasn't kidding about the vegetable garden. :)

    posted by Blogger Julie on 4:06 PM  

  • I often think about how dependent I am on electricity and grocery stores. Going through a hurricane drives that point home.

    posted by Blogger mrsd on 11:33 PM  

  • One of LIW's biographiers commented that Farmer Boy was her ode to food, esp. the food she didn't get while growing up. Did you notice how many chapters were devoted to meals and how elaborate they were, esp. when compared to the meals Ma served.

    posted by Blogger GuusjeM on 6:31 PM  

  • Farmer Boy has always been one of my favorites of that series.

    posted by Blogger purple_kangaroo on 10:52 PM  

  • I always loved that series, and had my opinion of it confirmed when I read it to my kids (though we left out Farmer Boy and the grown up ones). I was really struck by how powerful and beautifully written it can be, and yet written in such simple language. I wasn't quite as fond of Farmer Boy as a kid, I think partly because I felt duped by the fact that it was one of the middle books, but it didn't actually follow Laura and Mary. I should reread it as an adult and see how I feel.

    posted by Blogger Martha on 12:25 AM  

  • Welcome back!

    I loved Farmer Boy too. But I think of it as very much Laura's idealized vision of what it would have been like to grow up in a more settled, wealthy family. Guusje, I heard that from a friend, about the food. Farmer Boy is quite a contrast with The First Four Years, which is such a stark depiction of what could go wrong when you try to be a self-sufficient farmer and just aren't lucky with the weather and prices.

    posted by Blogger elswhere on 7:32 PM  

  • Last summer, I read Ghost in the Little House which is a biography of Rose Wilder Lane. Her occupation was ghost writer, and the author's theory was that she ghost wrote the books, not just edited. Whether you agree or disagree, his point is helped by the way Rose's politics were reflected in the details that weren't (ahem) actually true. One of those things was an emphasis on self-sufficiency. Reading what the Ingalls family dealt with compared to how we deal with similar things today really makes me aware how we are all dependent on the government in so many ways we don't realize.

    posted by Blogger Carson on 9:18 PM  

  • I loved all the Little House books, including Farmer Boy. I owned them and read and re-read them until they literally fell apart (okay, they were paperback.) My favorite part of Farmer Boy was when Almanzo threw the inkwell in the "fancy parlor" and was paralyzed with fear. When he returned from wherever he went to hide with his fear and shame, his sister(s) (Eliza Jane, I think?) had repaired the mess so no sign of his transgression existed. My eyes tear up just thinking about it. Now that's a big sister. And I'd do the same thing for my little brother in a minute.

    Love the blog, BTW, although I feel incredibly stupid while reading it.

    posted by Blogger Teacher lady on 11:57 AM