Review: My First Little House Books

Image of the book cover for A Little Prairie House showing a girl extending her arm as a butterfly lands on her hand. In the background is a log cabin half built.My First Little House is a series of picture books telling simplified tales from Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder. Fourteen stories were published in the 1990s by HarperCollins — no author listed, simply stating they’re based upon Wilder’s work.

If you cherish the thought of one day reading the full chapter book series to your child at bedtime every night, this picture book series is for you. Wilder wrote extensively of growing up in a pioneer family in the 1870s and 80s in America.

As the Kids.Woot! blog noted, the chapter books are full of horrific details we don’t remember as adults, details inappropriate for even a kindergartner. What, pray tell?  Wolf attacks, bloodshed, Biblically-proportioned insect infestations, floods, fires and detailed descriptions of butchering animals. Yum.

The picture books have none of that. They are eminently G-rated, listed appropriate for 3-year-olds.

My perspective of these books is based upon three titles I picked up in the past few weeks at garage sales.

The first thing that struck me was the amazing illustrations. Check out artist Renée Graef’s portfolio. Her Little House work is based upon the work of Garth Williams who illustrated the full chapter book series, circa 1953. Williams traveled to many of the places described in Wilder’s books, including Plum Creek.

Scene after scene in the books present an idyllic, serene view of life on the prairie. In most cases, the characters are smiling and conveying a certain at-peace quality.

If there is a criticism, it’s that two of the three books I own convey a sequence of events, rather than a typical conflict-to-resolution story. In A Little Prairie House, Pa and his neighbor Mr. Edwards begin building a log cabin while the family enjoys a picnic. In Winter on the Farm, Almanzo (Laura’s future husband) is a boy tending his chores on a farm in the New York countryside, then he eats dinner with his family and goes to bed. The stories seem mundane, but are filled with details of the time period that, of course, are likely to be new to a toddler.

The greatest opportunity for a traditional story comes in The Deer in the Woods. Pa goes into the Big Woods one evening to hunt a deer, but he returns empty-handed. He later tells his daughters of spying a large buck, but “He looked so strong and free and wild that I couldn’t shoot him. I sat and looked at him until he ran off into the Big Woods.” But Pa remembered he needed to feed his family, so he planned not to be so lofty the next time. Whoops, later that night Pa spotted a mother deer and her baby. He watched them too, then came home. His girls are pleased with Pa’s actions and vow they’ll be happy eating bread and butter.

What I like about these stories are the pictures. They effectively demonstrate for my daughter a view of the world before pavement, cars and modern society — what my daughter and I call “the before time.”

Each story stands on its own with no distinct connection between books. There also appears to be no religious tone, although the chapter books obviously delve into the family’s Christian faith with some depth.

Christianbook.com has large-scale excerpted pictures from the books, but beware that the 12-volume pack the website is selling is missing two titles (Christmas in the Woods and A Farmer Boy Birthday).

  1. County Fair (1997)
  2. Christmas in the Big Woods (1995)
  3. Dance at Grandpa’s (1994)
  4. The Deer in the Wood (1995)
  5. A Farmer Boy Birthday (1998)
  6. Going to Town (1995)
  7. Going West (1996)
  8. A Little House Birthday (1997)
  9. A Little Prairie House (1999)
  10. Prairie Day (1997)
  11. Sugar Snow (1998)
  12. Summertime in the Big Woods (1996)
  13. Winter Days in the Big Woods (1994)
  14. Winter on the Farm (1996)

I’m at a loss to explain why this series is, apparently, out-of-print. Many of the books are still available on Amazon and via AbeBooks.com.

Comments

9 Responses to “Review: My First Little House Books”

  1. Danielle says:

    What a timely post! I recently picked these up with the idea that we could pick up and read the chapter books with him and my daughter later in life. However I haven’t had the chance to open them up and see what they were like. I was hoping they were appropriately toned down from the chapter books and now I know they are. Sounds like they’ll be a good fit with what we’re currently reading. Thanks!

    December 23rd, 2009 at 6:55 am

  2. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    One of the authors of Little House extended books has a blog: http://melissawiley.com/blog/

    She may have some ideas why these are out of print.

    December 23rd, 2009 at 7:57 am

  3. Angelique says:

    You know, Little House in the Big Woods was the very first chapter book I read all on my own in first grade. That means I was about 6 years old. I remember being engrossed in it, not able to put it down. I actually was just thinking about starting it with my 4 year old. Yes, I remember the pig being butchered, the bladder balloon, etc… but the way it was written, I understood that was just part of life. That’s what you did to survive and I think that’s what made it so interesting to me. The Little House series was my absolute favorite series of books growing up. Some of the later books are definately for a little bit older kids, but I feel Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy are great for the younger kiddos if you take your time and talk about the “heavy” topics.

    December 23rd, 2009 at 9:38 am

  4. MoJo says:

    I have to agree with Angelique. I grew up reading them from about age 6 and couldn’t put them down. I read them over and over until I was about 15. I am reading them with my 6 year old now and she too is totally engrossed. She asks questions, but is never frightened. She is getting the whole set for christmas (my old set) and I can’t wait to read them all again. I understand that the books you are profiling are more for 3-4 year olds. The long chapter books probably wouldn’t hold their attention anyways. Reading them has been a great introduction to this time period in a way that is both interesting and full of detail. If I had seen these a few years ago, I probably would have picked them up.

    December 23rd, 2009 at 11:22 am

  5. AJ says:

    Oh, okay, I have to agree with Angelique and MoJo. Unlike a film depiction, I’m confident my 5-year-old could handle my reading the chapter books to her because I would be stopping to explain a great many details to her and those details are based in reality.

    December 23rd, 2009 at 11:29 am

  6. April says:

    The Little House In the Big Woods was also the first chapter book that I read alone. I read it in kindergarten. I did know before I read the book that my grandpa butchered his cows, so it wasn’t a surprise to me when they butchered the pig. The bladder balloon was one of my favorite parts. Sometimes I had to ask for help in sounding out a big word, but I wasn’t upset about the content of the books. I’m excited to find these picture books for my young daughter. Thanks for the review!

    December 23rd, 2009 at 1:03 pm

  7. Elizabeth W. says:

    Hmmm… never heard of these books – they sound good for my 3yo. My 2 older boys on the other hand already loved Farmer Boy so we’ll probably just move on to Little House in the Big Woods. Farmer Boy had very little (if any?) butchering or anything like that. It was just a fun read. I think the only even remotely scary part was some big naughty teenagers getting whipped by the teacher but they totally had it coming. Makes me wish we could still do that to disrespectful teens without getting sent to jail…

    December 23rd, 2009 at 6:27 pm

  8. anjii says:

    I would LOVE to find these books somewhere!!! I’ll be scouring my used book stores for sure! As for the gritty stuff, I’m not concerned at all, lol! We live (and work part time) on a chicken farm, and my almost 5 year old is already a pro at helping Daddy by pointing out sick chickens that need to be culled. Daddy also hunts and most of our red meat is deer, elk or moose, so Wyatt’s well versed on the circle of life :)

    December 24th, 2009 at 2:38 am

  9. Dallas says:

    My best friend and I both still have our complete sets of Little House books. I even found a Laura Ingalls Wilder doll for sale in our Children’s Museum, and bought one for her and one for me last year. Her 19 year old daughter read them all and loved them, and I can’t wait until my 2.5 year old is old enough to read them.

    I will be on the lookout for the My First LIttle House books. What a wonderful find!

    December 30th, 2009 at 12:17 pm