20 January 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 33

Now that I'm no longer worried about squeezing a fifth Little House book into January, I'm happy to announce that this will be one of five readalong posts on the last novel we are tackling together, On the Banks of Plum Creek. It's the longest one, so far!

As we say hello to the Ingalls again, we also say goodbye to three beloved friends from the prairie . . .

Beyond the firelight, Pet and Patty and Bunny were eating grass. They bit it off with sharp, pulling crunches, and then stood chewing it and looking through the dark at the low stars shining. They did not know they had been traded.

Laura was a big girl, seven years old. She was too big to cry. But she could not help asking, "Pa, did you have to give him Pet and Patty? Did you, Pa?"

Pa's arm drew her close to him in a cuddly hug.

"Why, little half-pint," Pa said. "Pet and Patty like to travel. They are little Indian ponies, Laura, and plowing is too hard work for them. They will be much happier traveling out West. You wouldn't want to keep them here, breaking their hearts on a plow . . ."

Nice one, Pa. It's worthy of Mr. Edwards. LOL! But seriously, I think it's the loss of Pet, Patty and Bunny, more than the loss of the little house on the prairie, that really underlines the fact that the adventure is over. Laura Ingalls Wilder can play my emotions like an autoharp. =P

Chapters 1 to 8

I may be the only one "here" who is reading this books for the first time, but I have to ask anyway . . . Did anyone else expect Pa and Ma to rebuild somewhere else? I'm a little surprised that they were content to live in a dugout made by someone else after Pa had gone to so much trouble to build them their own place just one year ago. Granted, they had had other options then . . . and they don't seem to have neighbours willing to trade work in the same way now.

Speaking of those new neighbours, I found this passage kind of curious . . .

In Wisconsin we lived among Swedes and Germans. In Indian Territory, we lived among the Indians. Now here in Minnesota all the neighbours are Norwegians. They're good neighbours, too. But I guess our kind of folks is pretty scarce.

So the Ingalls aren't Swedish? I hope this isn't putting it too bluntly, but . . . What are they then? =P

I also want to say, for the record, that I like their new dugout. =) Who knew that the Norwegian pioneers were the American hobbits? LOL!

But so far, the most notable development is a character development: little half-pint Laura is naughty here! Bwahahahahahahaha! (Remember that "naughty" is defined in the Ingalls-Wilder dictionary as "disobedient to one's Ma and Pa.") In this third book in the Little House series, Laura is seven and starting to test the boundaries--not out of spite, but out of a natural curiosity to see how much she can get away with. And she finds loopholes like a pro! =P

I like the way the "strange animal" she encounters plays Jiminy Cricket to her Pinocchio. (No, she doesn't tell a lie . . . but as the text itself quotes her inner monologue: "Breaking a promise [is] as bad as telling a lie.") And I love the way she learns the value of being a trustworthy person, reflecting, "Being good could never be as hard as being watched."

Now let's all read that again very slowly, because it's made of golden fire: "Being good could never be as hard as being watched."

Big Badger Is Watching You!

If I may be allowed a sweeping generalisation, this brings us to the BIGGEST difference between the Ingalls' generation and our own. For these days, children are constantly being watched. We say it's for their own safety: I know; I get it. But the implication of all that surveillance is that adults don't expect children to be good--that being good is just too difficult for children to do.

A few weeks ago, I saw a news report on new technology that lets parents spy on their children from afar. The products included tracking devices that would let them know where their children are at all times, spyware that would send them transcripts of email, sms or even social media correspondence, and even drug test kits. It's downright dystopian.

Yes, I get that we have more to worry about these days than Charles and Caroline Ingalls ever dreamed of, but it may be that we're channeling all that worry into the wrong parenting channels. To quote The Last Psychiatrist blog on modern parents: "They secretly read their kid's email and Facebook accounts, but have never once read the kid's math book . . . If you do your kid's math homework with them every night, I swear to you that you won't need to worry about Facebook. I will concede that monitoring their Facebook is easier." (The quote is from the provocatively titled post "The Dumbest Generation is Only the Second Dumbest Generation".)

You see, it's not about getting the right external guards in place for all those external threats, but remembering that what matters is internal. Breaking a rule is wrong even if no one knows you did it--and Laura confesses her secret because it is the only way to right that wrong. But if your concern is not setting off the tracking devices, outsmarting the spyware, and passing the drug tests by the skin of your teeth, then you believe--even if you don't put it into these exact words--that breaking a rule is wrong only if you are caught doing it. The concept of confession doesn't even enter that picture.

What are your thoughts on Chapters 1 to 8?

1) Would you mind living in a dugout for a while?
2) Do you think Charles and Caroline Ingalls' parenting style is too unrealistic for modern parents?

Image Sources: a) On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder, b) American badger


geeklady said...

The Ingalls family was English, primarily, I think with a dash of Scottish in there. :-) In any case, it's definitely not a German or Swedish surname.

1. As my dream home is a real functioning Hobbit hole, no. As a dugout with a dirt floor and oil paper windows, I'd put up with it with the understanding that something better was in the planning.

2. I suspect their parenting style was much the same as mine is today: as much freedom as the child can handle. But it requires too much work actually knowing your child for many parents to bother with today.

3. While you don't have to blog them, I highly encourage you to read the rest of them. On the Shore of Silver Lake in particular is a favorite of mine.

geeklady said...

Whoops, I forgot something. I never took Pa's comment about the ponies to be sentimental blarney. Ponies really aren't made for plowing, and they could literally work at it till their hearts gave out.

mrsdarwin said...

Although I'm a punk and haven't been commenting, I've been enjoying reading your thoughts on the Little House books, and I really hope you'll continue on with the reading and posting past Plum Creek. As Laura gets older, she gets more insightful, and you may find that she's foreshadowed some of the more sobering events later. Please do go on to read On the Shores of Silver Lake, even if you don't blog it. It's the first one in which you really get a feel for Laura's grown-up personality. Also, The Long Winter is Laura's most novel-like book, with a clear structure and resolution. And it is VIVID, especially if you've always lived somewhere fairly temperate to hot. Do it for me!

It's true that ponies are not plow horses. But they're also Pa's form of currency.

Laura goes on to do a few more naughty things in this book. The difference between now and then (and one of the reasons obedience was so harshly enforced) was that death and injury were always close at hand. A child could wander off onto the prairie and be lost forever. A child could touch a hot stove and be maimed for life. And in a culture in which it took the work of the entire summer to survive the winter, a child's careless behavior could mean the difference between life or death for his whole family. It's no laughing matter.

Caroline is Scottish, and I believe Pa was of English descent. Several times during the book Pa comments on Ma's ingenuity: "You can't beat the Scotch!"

Enbrethiliel said...


Geeklady -- I wouldn't mind living in a hobbit hole, either! =) But I do have distinct memories of reading The Swiss Family Robinson and being really disappointed when they left their tree house for the roomier cave system. I don't think the Ingalls will ever move into anything quite like my dream home! ;-)

Mrs. Darwin -- Believe it or not, The Long Winter is the one I want to read the most. (Freezing weather fascinates me! =P) I think I read an excerpt from it once, in an English textbook, but I can't really be sure. (Is there a chapter in which children have to walk home from school through what is nearly a blizzard?)

I read a few more chapters last night. Laura just got a little naughtier--and yes, the stakes were much higher! I feel that I'm being set up for Serious Consequences and will be a little disappointed if she will always get off totally scot-free. =P

Sheila said...

I always figured they were Scottish because of the Scottish songs, Auld Lang Syne, Highland Mary, and so on.

1. I think I'd love it. Then again, I could live in any kind of house if there was land to farm. Sigh.

2. Oh, no, I'm all for it. How are kids ever going to learn to take themselves and their decisions seriously if nothing they do ever counts for anything -- if they are never in a position to get hurt or make a real difference in someone else's world. We're afraid to let our kids grow up, so ... in some ways, they never do. We've created a world in which children hardly ever die ... and they get no chance to live either.

Bob Wallace said...

You can't really understand these books until you look up the life of the daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. She really wrote the books for her mom.

I didn't know who Rose was until several years ago when I visited the family home in Mansfield, Missouri. Rose had an exhibit, too.

Rose was a very well-known writer in those days, although these days she's best-known for writing "The Discovery of Freedom."

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- I'm all for it too, but I thought that asking, "Isn't the Ingalls' parenting style fantastic?" would be a little too biased. ;-)

Bob -- I know what you're getting at and I agree with you, but I'm not out to write a dissertation. So I'm happy to read the Little House books as if they were completely fictional. (Besides, I'm a little tired of Wilder by now and would like to give the series a rest for a while.)

Melanie Bettinelli said...

I don't know about the Ingalls side but Caroline's mother, Charlotte, grew up in the Boston area and her grandmother, Martha, was Scottish. I know you're getting tired of Little House now, but at some point you might look up the books about Charlotte and Martha, which were written by one of my favorite blog friends who goes by the pen name Melissa Wiley.

I'm rather fascinated by Caroline's... is xenophobia too strong a word? In The Long Winter she expresses a very strong disdain for the foreigners who let their women work in the fields. We're Americans, she says, and we don't do that.

Enbrethiliel said...


Believe it or not, Melanie, I did a double take when I saw that Melissa Wiley had written the Charlotte and Martha books (which are also listed in my copies of the Little House novels) all because I remembered her from your blog! =D I'm usually very hesitant about trying any "non-canonical" contributions to a popular series (such as the Sherlock Holmes novels written by Anthony Horowitz--although I'm actually a fan of Horowitz's), but I will definitely take your endorsement of Wiley into account!

Besides that, I think Ma is a very interesting character, and in the future, I'd love to learn more about Caroline Ingalls and what makes her tick. (That she is a historical person and not just a character will make that tricky, though!)

I remember the same aversion to people who simply do things differently in Mrs. Scott from Little House on the Prairie. As you pointed out in another comment, Melanie, not everyone who became a pioneer was the adventurous type. I can imagine that those who would have preferred not to wander so far would be more intolerant of new neighbours who are too "other."

Melanie Bettinelli said...

I might have been hesitant about reading the Charlotte and Martha books too had I not first gotten to know Lissa through her blog. I'd been reading it for quite a while before I checked them out. I have enjoyed reading about her research and writing process and that did help me to know how much was fiction and how much historical fact. She's a great storyteller and the only reservation I have about her books is that they are incomplete. The publisher never let her finish either series. Also, you have to hunt up older copies because what they are currently publishing is an abridged version, for some reason.