10 January 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 31

In case you missed it, Shaz wrote a catch-up post for the readalong: Farmer Boy (Part One).

Now what do you think of using models for covers? I don't think it's too different from having evocative illustrations. But with the medium being the message and all, perhaps I should be more critical. =P

Every day the pumpkin vine drank up the bowlful of milk, through the candlewick, and the pumpkin was growing enormously . . .

Almanzo had his little pig now, too . . . and he fed her all she could eat. She was growing fast, too.

So was Almanzo, but he was not growing fast enough. He drank all the milk he could hold, and at mealtimes he filled his plate so full that he could not eat it all. Father looked stern because he left food on his plate, and asked:

"What's the matter, son? Your eyes bigger than your stomach?"

Then Almanzo tried to swallow a little more. He did not tell anyone he was trying to grow up faster so he could help break the colts.

It occurs to me that the farm is a perfect setting for a coming-of-age story, inasmuch as growing is the very business of a farm. Not just any kind of growing, mind you: a weed can do that. It is a growing that is helped along, in the way it needs to be helped along, for the greater good of all. On a farm, the crops have to be tended correctly and the animals have to be raised properly, or else all is lost. How much truer that holds for a child!

Chapters 15 to 21

Whenever I divide up the chapters of a new readalong novel, I always worry a little that I'm not editing the "episodes" properly. I initially felt this way about Chapter 15 ("Cold Snap"), which felt closer in spirit to the "working" tone of the previous chapters than to the "celebratory" tone of this bunch. But then I looked more closely and saw that there was no way to separate "Cold Snap" and the next chapter "Independence Day", inasmuch as they take place on the same day!

Remembering this fact makes this exchange between Almanzo and Mr. Wilder even more arresting . . .

"Father, how was it axes and plows that made this country? Didn't we fight England for it?"

"We fought for Independence, son," Father said. "But all the land our forefathers had was a little strip of country, here between the mountains and the ocean. All the way from here west was Indian country, and Spanish and French and English country. It was farmers that took all that country and made it America."

Mr. Wilder goes on to characterise the Spanish as "high-and-mighty gentlemen that only wanted gold," the French as "fur-traders, wanting to make quick money," and the English as "busy fighting wars." I suppose he'd echo Mrs. Scott's view of the Indians, quoted in Meeting 28. All those interests, and only the farmers got it right? Hmmmmm!

We find a different kind of independence in what is, hands down, my favourite chapter so far--and what may quite possibly turn out to be my favourite chapter of all: "Keeping House".

Its very premise is intoxicating . . .

. . . one evening at supper, Father said,

"It's time Mother and I had a vacation. We're thinking of spending a week at Uncle Andrew's. Can you children take care of things and behave yourselves while we're gone?"

"I'm sure Eliza Jane and Royal can look after the place for a week," Mother said, "with Alice and Almanzo to help them."

Wow. What a windfall.

When I was in Grade 3, a friend and I made some plans for the coming summer, blithely assuming we'd have a similar living situation. Her family had been planning to spend a month in another country, but she was sure they'd be okay with leaving her behind to look after the house. As sure as I was that my family would let me spend a month living with her and no one else. Of course, you don't need me to tell you how the adults in our lives reacted to that. =P But it's partly why I have some trouble suspending disbelief for the Wilder children's royal romp of freedom.

And yet I love it!!! I adore the sibling interaction and the way they run wild as soon as the usual restraints are off. Am I the only one who took the chapter at face value and believed that all they ate for a week were ice cream, two kinds of cake, watermelon, and homemade candy? (Yes, I know better now.) But what I like the most is the way the brothers and sisters bounce off each other in both seriousness and play. And I think I love Eliza Jane the most now.

Do you think she should have just told Almanzo her plan, to spare him all the misery? My first answer was Yes, but now I'm happy that she held back and let him discover for herself what she had done. There's a modesty in her actions that any pretense at "teamwork" would have cancelled out. I'm sure she felt some guilt about the ruined wallpaper, too; so she wasn't saving Almanzo as much as she was rectifying her own actions. It wouldn't have been right to make a show of that. Nevertheless, I can't help thinking that her making Almanzo stew a little more in his fear doubles as a punishment--both a well-deserved bit of justice and one appropriate for an older sister to dish out. So her quiet actions are a sign of both character and authority: they were a decision she made not just for her own sake but also for Almanzo's . . . and not just to save him from a whipping, but also to teach him a lesson.

A few more notes . . . I see that I was wrong to worry that Laura Ingalls Wilder has been unfairly stereotyping city people. The butter-buyer is quite nice. =) . . . And I now know the origin of another expression, "a run for your money," which turns out to be almost as far from my initial understanding as "green cheese" was! Apparently, getting a run for your money is not having to race for your own money, but paying someone to race for you! (Or am I still off-base?) . . . The descriptions of the county fair are just wonderful, so I'm sorry that I'm not giving them a closer look here. But readalong posts demand to be written "on time". Perhaps someone else will write about the fair in more detail . . . Hint! Hint!

What are your thoughts on Chapters 15 to 21?

1. Is it possible to say that a single class of people built a country?
2. If you had been left home alone for a week as a child, what would you have done?
3. Your four children have proven competent at household chores. The oldest is thirteen; the youngest is nine. Would you leave them home alone for a week?

All comments are welcome in the combox! And if you write a readalong post that links up to this one, I'll be happy to return the favour. =)

Image Source: Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder


Shaz said...

I absolutely hate those photo covers! It's completely irrational and I can't justify it in the least, but I still loathe them.

Jenny said...

You almost, almost, make me want to give these books another try. If only I didn't shudder every time someone mentions them. ;-)

Enbrethiliel said...


Shaz -- I don't like them very much, either, but I'm starting to get used to them because they're everywhere! I wonder if people had similar reactions when covers started to have illustrations on them.

Jenny -- Now I'm really, really curious about what your impressions of the Little House books are! Please don't feel that you'll be raining on my parade if you share them. I'd love to know what you think! (Incidentally, I've hit what may be the lowest point of the readalong, so I'm feeling open minded about any contrary opinions. =P)