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Saturday, February 07, 2015

Re-Thinking the books on Laura Ingalls Wilder's Birthday

Re-Thinking the Wilder books.

Today - February 7th is the 148th anniversary of Laura Ingalls Wilder's  birthday in 1867.  She died three days after reaching 90 years of age (Feb. 10, 1957). Anyone who "teaches" these books or reads them with children should be aware of some of the concerns about the depiction of American Indians in these books.  Please check out Debbie Reese's blog and search for "Laura Ingalls Wilder" -- I think you will uncover some very thought provoking ideas.  And another essay about Wilder that must be read is Laura June's Parent Rap "No Offense to Laura Ingalls Wilder" -- you will see that the stories are no better to African Americans either (although less frequent in the text).  See page ninety-eight of Little House on the Prairie.    But better than being a writer, she was a strong independent woman at the turn of the century and beyond.  She cared for her husband, wrote a column for a newspaper, and became a nationally recognized writer -- all because she was the strong woman that she was.  I'll celebrate that, and to honor her I will eat gingerbread...
I did not read the books until I was an adult and I read them from another perspective.  I realized that Wilder wrote with memories of her childhood and with the stereotypical perspective of a 65-year-old woman who had the ingrained attitude toward many people that had developed over a life-time.  Just as she described the prairie lands surrounding her Dakota home with flowers that did not exist there when she was growing up.  The memories of some of the flowers she describes came most likely from visions she gathered during one of her adult visits back home to see her family.  Her books are indeed a look into the pioneering spirit but they also are reflective of the prejudices and attitudes Wilder developed as she matured into adulthood.  The value in her books is a look at the attitude and prejudices that exist during the 1930s when she and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane wrote them.
The books were written at a time when it seemed acceptable to have a cigar store Indian in front of your store.  And the genocide of 100,000 Native American children was supported by the citizenry of the USA.  http://www.underamericasrug.com/native-american-genocide.html -- Certainly these attitudes toward Native Americans provided enhancement to any childhood memories and created situations with a lot of hyperbole.

HarperCollins, her long time publisher has put up a list of 10 things one can learn from reading the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder at http://harpercollinschildrens.tumblr.com/post/110280954597/10-life-lessons-from-laura-ingalls-wilder.  Sadly there are other things one can learn from the books as well. She does not treat Native Americans very well in her writings and that is a product not so much of her childhood but of the time in which she lived and wrote.

Consider the following:  
Try the Birchhouse Series by Louise Ehrlich -- or I can suggest others such as Laurie Lawlor's Addie series. http://www.laurielawlor.com/books/addie.html


Just think about it --


Laura Ingalls Wilder


For some little known information about the first editions of the books go to the Purple House Press site and its pages about Laura http://www.purplehousepress.com/liw.htm
The books are definitely fiction -- but do share some very important glimpses of pioneer life.
On Laura's birthday I will celebrate her strength of character with her own favorite cake -- gingerbread.  In her later years she often greeted guests with her well-known gingerbread with a glaze of chocolate frosting and lemonade.


Here's her recipe for the gingerbread --


Laura Ingalls Wilder's gingerbread was
most often served with a thin glaze of
chocolate and a glass of freshly made
lemonade.
LAURA'S GINGERBREAD
1 cup brown sugar blended with
1/2 cup lard or other shortening.
1 cup molasses mixed well with this.
2 teaspoons baking soda in 1 cup boiling water
(Be sure cup is full of water after foam is run off into cake mixture).
Mix all well.

To 3 cups of flour have added one teaspoon each of the following spices:
ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Sift all into cake mixture and mix well.
Add lastly 2 well-beaten eggs.
The mixture should be quite thin.
Bake in a moderate oven for thirty minutes.

Raisins and, or, candied fruit may be added and a chocolate frosting adds to the goodness.

=============================
And for Google's take on the legacy of LIW - check out the links on this page http://bit.ly/LIW_google

And you may also be interested in this post about LIW's days in Iowa -- http://iowahistory.blogspot.com/2013/09/laura-ingalls-wilder-at-home-in-iowa.html

Sharron


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this, Sharron! I remember reading these books with my children, and my mother loved them too. Towards the end of her life I read them to her because she had loved them along with my children. Your posting about the 1930s prejudicial attitudes reminds me of the very first editions of the Nancy Drew books. Wow, speak of prejudice! I had not read those as a child but did along with my daughters and found the different versions so fascinating - a showcase of changing American culture. At one point I wanted to write a book about that - American culture seen through Nancy Drew books! All the best, Jane Palmer, retired school library media specialist - Jacksonville, Florida

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