Sunday, November 21, 2010

These Happy Golden Years

We have finished all of the books (*that we are going to read - see note at the end of the post for explanation) in the Little House Series.  What a joy!  These Happy Golden Years is a lovely ending.

The Story:  Laura passed her teacher's examination at the end of the last book, and at the beginning of this one, she is leaving for her first teaching job.  It's her first time away from home, and it is hard.  The family she is boarding with is not warm and inviting - at times, the wife seems close to a psychotic break, the students she is teaching are sometimes difficult, and she misses home terribly. Though she never asked him to, and quite by surprise at first, Almanzo Wilder comes to get her every Friday in his sleigh so that she can spend the weekends at home.  He comes every week, even one Friday when they risked their lives to drive home - it was so cold that the thermometers froze, and Laura nearly got hypothermia on the drive.  Almanzo had to stop several times to break ice off the poor horses' noses.  But still, he came.  After her teaching term ended, he still came for drives on Sundays, though Laura denied he was courting her.  She rode with him when he was breaking (sometimes dangerous) new colts, and she drove with him on Sundays when Mary was home for the summer.  They went to a singing school (really, Friday night community music lessons) together/  And still she denied they were courting.  He went away for the winter to spend some time with his family, and she didn't realize how much she missed him until he showed up, unexpectedly, during a snow storm on Christmas eve!  Though this book involves many other things, including her continued schooling, and teaching several terms at different schools, and getting some fine new clothes, in the end it really revolves around the fact that Almanzo was, in fact, courting Laura, and it ends with their marriage and moving into their own sweet little grey house.

The Good:  The courting is portrayed in an innocent way, so there is nothing scandalous that would be inappropriate for younger children.  Laura deals with her trials during her teaching well, and ends up being a really good teacher (though she didn't intend on teaching any more after she got married).  The descriptions of life in that era continue to be enthralling.  One of our favorite parts was when Pa bought Ma her very own sewing machine.  Another was when they used some of Laura's teaching money to buy an organ for their home, to surprise Mary.  The tone of the book is lovely, and it ended the series beautifully for us.  (*Again, see note at the end of the post)

The Bad:  The part where the wife in the house Laura was boarding at seemed to nearly have a psychotic break was kind of scary!  She was standing over her husband's bed with a knife, begging to go back east.  We felt so badly for Laura, because she had no other choice than to stay there, but she didn't sleep well for the rest of her teaching term.  Who can blame her?  I can't think of anything else really negative about the book.  Perhaps some of the descriptions of the clothing that Laura was buying or sewing got a little long-winded, but Evalina never complained.  There are a lot of songs written into the chapters that I don't know, but we just made up our own tunes and no one cared so much.

The Verdict:  We loved it.  Evalina really enjoyed the rides with Almanzo and loved the spirit of the new colts.  She liked to read about how Laura became a more proficient teacher, and how wonderful it was when Mary came home for visits.  Overall, a really really nice book.

*Now, the note, and why we are choosing not to read The First Four Years.  I read some reviews, and that "final" book was published after Laura's death, and from what I read, the tone is much different.  It focuses on some really tough times that Laura and Almanzo had when they first got married, between illness, the death of a newborn son, and a fire that destroyed their home, among other things.  It also includes the birth of their daughter, Rose, which was happy, but I didn't want to spoil the glow and warmth of These Happy Golden Years.  I spoke to Evalina about it, and told her that she could read it later by her own if she wanted to, but I let her know that I thought we should end on a happy note.  She agreed.  So, we are done with the Little House Series and on to our next book!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Little Town on the Prairie

After the rough time the Ingalls family had in The Long Winter, it was nice to read Little Town on the Prairie, about a calmer time in their lives.

The Story:  After surviving the horrible, blizzard filled winter, life resumes for the Ingalls family in De Smet, Dakota Territory.  In spring, Laura got her first job, and she was able to earn some money to help send Mary to the special college for the blind at long last.  They got the homestead a little more settled, and they got some crops from it (though they had to battle blackbirds and gophers...)  Pa managed to get a hold of a kitten (which were hard to come by out west) to help with their pest problem, after a mouse crawled into bed in the middle of the night and chewed off a hunk of Pa's hair to use in it's nest!  For the winter, they moved back into town, and Carrie and Laura went back to school.  Laura worked towards studying as hard as she could, in order to earn her teacher's certificate once she turned 16, but there were distractions to her studies.  Through the mild winter (welcome after the terrible previous one), the town set up Literaries - meetings where they had entertainments and competitions, to help beat the doldrums.  And all the time, Laura had to work towards her ultimate goal of earning her certificate so that she could earn money and help keep Mary in college.

The Good:  It was a breath of fresh air after the tough times of the previous winter.  Laura and the family were settling in nicely to life in their new town.  The descriptions of everyday life were compelling and thorough.  When Pa went after the blackbirds that had been eating their corn, it was something else!  I can't even imagine that many blackbirds.  Laura is growing up and getting more responsibilities.  She has good friends at school (and her old rival, Nellie Oleson, has moved to De Smet.  That's always fun reading).  It's amazing reading about things that they learned in school - makes you feel humbled at the thought.  Almanzo Wilder started taking an interest in Laura by the end of the book... and we all know how that turned out...

The Bad:  The thread of the story wasn't as strong as in previous books.  It seemed a much longer read than the others, though it was about the same length or shorter.  It was a little sad to know that Laura is going to have to teach school, even though it wasn't really what she wants to do with her life.  But, that's just how it was.

The Verdict:  A lovely book exploring the everyday life of the time, without the strife of the long, terrible winter.  It connected with Evalina, and she began to want to play Laura and Carrie every day when we walked to school.  I am continually amazed by her comprehension.  It makes me happy to know that she understands, and it verifies that she is the perfect age to be reading these books with.  I cannot wait to read the next book in the series!