January 13, 2013

Return to Little House

Several years ago I read a travel piece about a family who traveled to the mid-west to have a Little House/ Laura Ingalls vacation complete with an overnight trip in covered wagons. Being a travel junkie, I am constantly reading and bookmarking/clipping out articles that strike my fancy, but this Little House vacation article unlocked some deep seated sentimental urges and plunged me right back into my childhood when I loved the Little House books and the TV show. Right back to a time when my cousins and I feverishly built houses outside, identified ourselves as Ma and Pa and the kids, and played out elaborate tales of survival and family strife. 

That Little House travel piece had me itching to read the series with the kids and it was seriously one of the first things I thought about when I knew that we would be leaving Italy and returning to the States. I couldn't wait re-visit those beloved  characters and to introduce them to my children. I couldn't wait to share this treasured slice of my American childhood with them. I couldn't wait to climb into the covered wagons for our own family Little House adventure. It was all going to be so gosh darn wonderful. And then I gave the kids a beautifully illustrated copy of Little House in the Big Woods and suddenly my nostalgic dreams quickly came to a startling halt. 

At the end of the first bedtime reading session, Noah declared it a horrible book and insisted that I not read any more of the butchering sections to him. He really was dismayed by the amount of animal slaughter that occurred in the just the first few chapters. He declined to be included in the subsequent reading sessions, but Camille and I trudged on in the Big Woods. 

Now we are nearly done with the first book in this famous series and I am eagerly anticipating the final page. If Camille wasn't so hooked, I would have stopped many chapters ago, but Little House seems to have cast its' puzzling magic on her just like it did to me so many years ago. I shouldn't call it puzzling magic. I can understand the allure and interest in a time and place that seem so long ago and so far removed from our modern luxiourous existences.

However as an adult, the book has been a depressing disappointment to me and my sentimental Little House fantasies. I had forgotten how much corporal punishment there is. I had forgotten just how scary the Big Woods are with all of the panthers, bears, and swarming bees. I had forgotten or perhaps never really saw how insecure and whiny Laura could be, especially in regards to her hair issues (her ugly brown hair pales in comparison to Mary's golden locks...although, in reality I should thoroughly relate to Laura since I also had hair issues growing up thanks to my sister's curls). I can re-frame all of those things in the context of history, but what I can't get over is how monotonous it is to read. 

Yes, the every day details can at times be interesting, but why does it have to be written so blandly? Instead of crafting a richly, textured tapestry of daily life, Ingalls has a roughly hewn structure that lacks eloquence and enchantment. Her words are clunky and elementary. And to put it bluntly, it is boring. Even with all of the inherent drama and impending danger of living in such an isolated setting, I still find myself yawning and wishing it would just end. I think I'll get the audio books for Camille, but I just can't bring myself to read any more of the series.

Sadly, it turns out that returning home isn't always easy, even if it is a fictional house in the woods. We are planning to read the Wizard of Oz soon so it will be interesting to see if that famous trip home will be more satisfying. I hope so.

12 comments:

likeschocolate said...

It is been a long time since I have read these books I wonder if I will feel the same way. I hated the twilight series because I hated how whiney Bella is and to be honest I would not want Bella to be a role model for my daughter. I realize the book was written for teenagers an teenagers can be whiney, but she choose a vampire. Granted he was not a bad vampire, but he was still not human. Would I want my daughter choosing bad. No! It will be a while before Addy is old enough to read these books, so I wonder if she will like them. I loved Anne of Green Gables, but she too was whiney alwasy complainin about her hair, how Marilla didn't like her, and Gilbert. Maybe that is just it as an adult we have grown past that stage. We are confident who we are and have accepted the things we can't change, but children deal with those issues as a part of growing up. The one book I like is Hunger Games. The main character is a strong woman. We need more books that show strong woman.

likeschocolate said...

Sorry for all the spelling errors. It was a late night last night. Glad to see you are back to writting. Hope you are Ok and still keeping you in my prayers. Kelleyn

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish said...

I really shouldn't have portrayed Laura as a whiner...in Little House in the Big Woods she really is quite young. I just think I was so disappointed because I had been anticipating a return to Little House for so long! But you do make a good point about re-reading favorite childhood books. When I read Catcher in the Rye as a new mother, it drove me crazy, but I remember loving it during high school. Different stages of life, different lenses. I do, however, like that Camille is enjoying it and of course I love having that time with her at night. And yes, I also loved Anne of Green Gables so I will be curious to see what my reaction will be if/when I return to it.

Emily M. said...

Very interesting! So I definitely read these as a kid (or had them read to me) but did not love them, and loved the TV series even less. In fact, I wonder if the series had any affect on my view of the books? The TV series always left me feeling a little sad for some reason, and to date I just cannot watch it. As a kid I continued to watch it probably because it was one of the few TV shows my mom would allow. Incidentally, my older sister adores Little House (to this day) ANYWAY. Onto the books, I say interesting because I feel like they are pretty well regarded in the children's lit world. I did a quick search for reviews but unfortunately couldn't come up with anything to back me up on this. Which makes me wonder where I get this idea from. Obviously I don't think they're super great (though I bought the series years ago for my kids, because, well, it's a classic!), but I'd never thought about why I don't love them. Writing? Story? Just not my cup of tea? I have a lot more going through my head about this, but...Downton Abbey calls!!! :)

Emily M. said...

p.s.
I want so badly to visit to Prince Edward Island because of Anne of Green Gables/Emily of New Moon. And I still read them every couple of years and enjoy them for what they are! Emily of New Moon more than Anne, actually.

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish said...

Emily...Prince Edward Island is one of my dream trips, too! Have you read the prequel book to the Anne series? I just stumbled upon it at the library last week and I am hoping to get to it this week. I never read the Emily of New Moon series so I will add that to my list, thank you. I inhaled and still savor both the Anne books and the tv series. Actually when I was in the hospital during part of my pregnancy,watching the whole series was a saving grace for me.

Mary {The World Is A Book} said...

My daughter loved the Little House series and wanted to visit covered wagons and the Midwest. I never really got into the book series or TV show as a child. This is an interesting point on re-reading childhood favorites as adults. I passed on some Nancy Drew favorites to my daughter and should read one to see how I feel. I think I would have a whole different perspective on all those Jane Austen novels too as an adult.

Dana said...

I like your description of yourself as a "travel junkie," especially since you are my travel idol. ;) Will you still be trekking across the plains in a covered wagon?

I find it interesting that Noah refused it while Camille embraced it. It makes me wonder whether it is a gender issue or age issue (or quite possibly, neither!) I grew up watching the TV series but was never really able to identify with the characters at all; I always feel left out bc so many people share your feelings and memories of Little House.

D

se7en said...

Oh I just have to jump in and comment... so relieved to find someone who has battled with Laura... as a child I was desperate to read them... my older sister had the series and she loved them... and when she finally let me read them I think I had missed "the window" so to speak!!! I have tried to read them to our kids - again and again ... as one must... but we never get past chapter four-ish...
Deep Confession: The Wizard of Oz is my worst school reader, my kids love and adore it... I read it once and that was too often!!! It is so repetitive... every chapter you have to hear about this one's heart and that one's brain... a tiny little bit of new information and then a grand re-iteration... next chapter: tiny bit of new information and the whole re-iteration... Just no. Got the audio and never looked back!!!
In our defence we have loved Anne of Green Gables... loved and laughed our way through it!!! We did also enjoy: Understood Betsy... And there are tons of American history books that we have enjoyed but The Wizard of Oz... just no, no, no!!!

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish said...

This is turning out to be such an interesting discussion/confessional :)

Thanks for the warning on Wizard of Oz.

Jen said...

I had to reread The Little House for a children's literature class that I took last semester. We did a group project on it and several of us felt the same way. We were so excited to read the book again as adults and were somewhat disappointed in the writing and the story. Laura was very young (4, I think?) in the story if I remember correctly, which probably accounts for some of writing style. She is telling the story from her point of view. I would like to read a few of the later ones to see if I feel the same about the whole series!

Emily M. said...

I had not heard of that book! Thanks, Lucia. Placed it on hold at the library and am looking forward to checking it out! You should definitely try the Emily triology. Love it. And yes, the Anne TV series is fabulous. I had forgotten about that. Anyway, Dana described exactly how I feel about not adoring Little House (and Wizard of Oz, actually)--a little left out, and that I'm missing something fabulous! Thinking of books that haven't stood the test of time for me, there are quite a few. Maybe less than most adults though, since the bulk of what I read is mid-grade/young adult fiction! The one that sticks out to me the most is Chronicles of Narnia. Still good, but it lost much of the magic it had when I was a child. As an adult I felt a bit like I was getting beat over the head with religious/moral messages.