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Read Aloud Thursday

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Well, we finally did it–we finished Little House on the Prairie as a read-aloud after the girls have what I figure must at least be the equivalent of a high school education in all things Laura Ingalls Wilder.  (Seriously, we often refer to Lulu as the World’s Youngest Living Expert on LIW.)  It has been entertaining for me to read this book aloud to them after they have listened to the audiobook a mere 278 times.  I have been corrected more than once on word pronounciations and mis-read words.  I love that Lulu can put the whole series in chronological order.  She bases this on place–she knows the Ingalls family started out in the Big Woods, from whence they moved to “Indian Territory.”  From there it was to Plum Creek, then Silver Lake, and finally, to the place where they lived in town–“Little Town on the Prairie.”  While she couldn’t place these locations on a map, they are very real in her imagination. 

I began a running list of things that the girls have mentioned that I know they have learned through their immersion in these stories, and I have a few more addendum.  Both of these came from the lips of five year old Lulu:

  • “We could put in a puncheon floor.” (Said to me while I was pondering what type of flooring to put in our bathroom which we hope to remodel soon.)  When I asked her what, exactly, is a puncheon floor, she replied, “A plank floor.” 
  • “What is a building boom?”

I know there have been more; LIW really colors our days.

Lest this turn into (merely) a shameless mommy brag, I want to say that there really is a point to this Read Aloud Thursday post.  I remember from my days in library science school that the Little House books have fallen under scrutiny because of their treatment (or, at times, lack of treatment) of Native Americans.  I particularly remember tbat Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House was suggested as an alternative or addendum to Little House in the Big Woods to illustrate the fact that the Big Woods were not quite as unpopulated as Pa thought.  After reading for myself Little House on the Prairie for the first time in probably twenty-five years (and not just eavesdropping on my girls’ listening to it on audiobook), I will admit that I was somewhat taken aback by the references to Native Americans and the sentiment of the Ingalls’ neighbors, the Scotts, that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Keep in mind that I taught public school long enough to be extremely sensitized to being “P.C.”  Still, though, I plugged on reading the story because I figure that Pa’s more balanced view of their Native American neighbors comes across enough that surely my very perceptive little girls can figure out the truth of the situation.  Historical context (even in historical fiction–maybe especially in historical fiction) is extremely important, and while my girls are too young to get that yet, I know that day is just around the corner.  I also happen to think that the stories have enough merits to counterbalance what might be considered negativity due to this treatment of Native Americans.  For example, the sheer self-sufficiency of the pioneers really struck me this time through the story.  Witness:

Pa said he would make a door that very day.  He wanted more than a quilt between them and the wolves, next time.                                                                                                                                                                           

“I have no more nails, but I’ll not keep on waiting till I can make a trip to Independence,” he said.  “A man doesn’t need nails to build a house or make a door.”

After breakfast he hitched up Pet and Patty, and taking his ax he went to get timber for the door.  Laura helped wash the dishes and make the beds, but Mary minded the baby.  Laura helped Pa make the door.  Mary watched, but Laura handed him the tools.

With the saw he sawed logs the right length for a door.  He sawed shorter lengths for cross-pieces.  Then with the ax he split the logs into slabs, and smoothed them nicely.  He laid the long slabs together on the ground and placed the shorter slabs across them.  Then with the auger he bored holes through the cross-pieces into the long slabs.  Into every hole he drove a wooden peg that fitted tightly. 

That made the door.  It was a good oak door, solid and strong.  (“Two Stout Doors,” Little House on the Prairie)

All that after traveling from Wisconsin to Kansas in a covered wagon, finding a place to live, and building the house himself.  We could learn a lot from his spirit.  

What have you been reading aloud with your family this week?  Share in the comments by simply commenting or by leaving a link to your own Read Aloud Thursday post!

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12 Responses

  1. Hi Amy,

    My post is here:
    http://www.acrossthepage.net/2009/06/25/thursday-read-alouds/

    Have your girls listened to the whole series? I stopped mine after ‘Plum Creek’ because I figured they needed to be older for the rest. Maybe not?

    I agree with you about the Ingalls’ self sufficiency. I also agree about the portrayal of the Indians. Ma’s attitude (and the Scotts’) are not the appealing ones; Pa’s and Laura’s respect for them come across as much more attractive.

    Have you read ‘Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder’? I found it to be a really interesting, demythologizing but respectful look at the real LIW. I would LOVE to take my family to Missouri to see where Laura finally ended up!

    • Janet,

      My girls have listened to every audiobook except for These Happy Golden Years and The First Four Years, and Louise actually began These Happy Golden Years this week. I guess I haven’t thought much about them not being age appropriate because while they do contain some things the girls probably don’t understand, they also LACK a lot of things I prefer for them to not be exposed to just yet (i.e. many things common on children’s tv programming, etc.)

      I haven’t read Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder, but it sounds like a worthwhile read. Steady Eddie and I did travel through DeSmet, SD, a few years ago on a trip out to Yellowstone NP. (Yes, it was out of the way, but SE indulges me when I see places on the map I don’t want to miss.) Little did we know then that we would have children who adore the stories. I hope we can make a LIW trip one year when the girls are older.

      Thanks for playing again this week!

  2. Have you read A Little House Traveler about Laura’s move to Missouri? (Her diary.) THat’s the title I was going to swap with you if we were matched for the Book Swap. (My review of it is forthcoming over on RtK.) I’m still happy to send it to you and your girls if you’d like it. =)

    And yes, I was taken aback at the Ingalls opinions of the Indians but I’m glad they’ve left the books as-is because even those opinions teach us what our history has been and there is MUCH to learn from Pa!

    Here’s my post this week (I’m still in Narnia):

    http://www.readingtoknow.com/2009/06/read-aloud-thursday-narnia.html

    • A Little House Traveler sounds interesting, Carrie, and I’d sure love to take it off your hands if you’re looking to lighten the load. 😉

      I think Pa is amazing as Laura depicts him in her books. Such spirit!

      I’m off to check out your post!

  3. My father used to read these aloud to me when I was just a wee young thing. It’s so nice that you’re doing the same for your girls. I imagine the audiobook version gives you some relief, too; I’m sure my dad would’ve gotten one for me if they’d been available back then, just so he could take a break from reading the same thing over and over and over and over.

    I recently purchased my own copies of the books, and I’ve been holding off on rereading them in large part because of the racist content I remembered. I’d forgotten Pa’s more balanced views; I’ll keep that in mind when I do get around to reread them.

    • Pleae don’t let the racist parts drive you away from reading the book. There are enough wonderful parts to make up for them!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  4. Little House in the Big Woods is probably the first chapter book that I read. My mom got them from the library for me when I was a kid and I loved them. Later as an adult I learned more about some of the racist threads throughout the series. I think it’s important to be aware of those things, but on the other hand I have really good memories of the books and there is a lot to be said about being to understand the historical context – racism existed and it’s still exists and there is a lot to be admired in the books – courage, hard work, etc. So I guess what I am trying to say in my ramblings is I think go ahead and read them, but just be aware of some of the more controversial items in the books and expose your children to other historical fiction books from that time period to give a more balanced view. That’s my plan anyway.

    That said, are most recent book we read outloud was Henry and the Paper Route by Beverly Cleary. My daughter (5) really liked it.

    • We read Henry and Ribsy (or was it just Ribsy?) several months ago and my girls loved it!

      Thanks for commenting!

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