Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Long Winter

Next in the Little House Series was The Long Winter, and it was a really good one.  Kind of a tough read, emotionally, but worth it to show how lucky we are to live with modern conveniences, that's for sure!

The Story:  After moving to the shore of Silver Lake to set up their homestead claim, the Ingalls family faces a difficult decision.  In order to survive what is predicted (by an old Indian who visits the town) to be a very long and hard winter, they move from their claim shanty into the building that Pa built in town.  In town, they will be close to the stores, near the incoming trains, and near other settlers, instead of in a poorly built shanty not made to withstand the harsh weather.   When the winter comes, it is harder than any of them could have imagined.  The blizzards come right on top of one another.  The trains can not get through.  No one has any food.  The stores run out of groceries.  There's no kerosene, and no coal for heat, and no trees anywhere in the big wide prairie to burn for heat.  The Ingalls family, and all the other settlers in the town, must do everything they can just to survive until the trains can finally get through again.  The blizzards last from October until April with nary a break, so that is no small task.

The Good:  If nothing else, this book sure makes you appreciate how much comfort we have in modern times.  The Ingalls family works together amazingly to do everything they need to in order to survive.  Laura helps Pa twist hay into sticks to use for heat when the coal runs out.  She then teaches Mary to twist the hay, even though Mary cannot see, she does everything she can.  They all take turns grinding seed wheat in a coffee grinder so that Ma can make bread.  They sing and tell stories to pass the long, cold days and nights.  It goes to show that we shouldn't take anything for granted.

The Bad:  Some parts are really distressing, when blizzard after blizzard hits, and they are going hungry, and when Pa can't play the fiddle anymore because his fingers are too cramped and sore.  The monotony got to Laura after a while, and the reader can feel that.  There are some tense moments when Almanzo Wilder and another young man from the town are out in search of wheat (at the home of a settler who wintered in his claim shanty, with seed wheat in hand) and they get caught in a blizzard on their way home.  The blizzards play the role of an ominous evil character.  The more sensitive reader could be really bothered by the hardships they endure.  I have definitely been thinking about it, as we look ahead at winter...

The Verdict:  An amazing book in an amazing series.  Although it was not an easy read, it was an exceptionally educational and inspirational one.  Amazon recommends this for ages 4-8, and I think that's a bit on the young side for the hard issues dealt with.  Evalina didn't have a hard time with it, but it absolutely got her thinking.  I'm hoping the next one brings more happy moments, though.  That's for sure.