12 February 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 37

We're done! We're done! We're done at last!!! Aren't you glad??? =D Reading the first four Little House books was a lot of fun, but I'm ready to move on now. At the same time, I'd like to drag this last post out for as long as possible . . . =P

All the days were peaceful after that July day when the grasshoppers flew away.

Rain fell and grass grew again over all the land that they had eaten bare and left brown and ugly. Ragweeds grew faster, and careless weeds, and the big, spreading tumbleweeds like bushes.

Willows and cottonwoods and plum thickets put out leaves again. There would be no fruit, for blossom-time was past. There would be no wheat. But wild hay was growing coarse in low places by the creek. Potatoes lived, and there were fish in the fish trap.

The grasshoppers are gone and everything is back to normal. What could possibly go wrong now? 

Just when I was thinking that it would make sense for fire to follow locusts (not that there's any biblical basis for that), Mr. Nelson came riding in to save their home and help Ma make another moral. Note that it's never ex machina when it's a neighbour. ;-)

Chapters 33 to 41

The main issue I've had with On the Banks of Plum Creek is its lack of domestic detail. Apparently, I'm far more literal than I think, because unless I was told explicitly what the Ingalls family were eating, I wondered whether they were eating at all. =P A few lines to describe the contents of the kitchen cabinets would have gone a long way for me.

But I think the lack of detail also hurts the pacing of the novel. The first two Christmases are eighteen chapters apart, while the second and third Christmases (Did you see that third one coming? I hadn't!) are only nine chapters apart. And five of those nine chapters are about five consecutive days. Those five days get a very detailed treatment, but apparently, nothing notable happened during the eleven months leading up to them save the grasshopper migration, the prairie fire, the turnip harvest, and a sudden blizzard. 

It is quirks like this which remind me that the Little House stories aren't "just stories"--although that is how I am reading them for now--but an autobiographical account. Don't we all have at least one year from childhood in which only a smattering of interesting events took place? It would be one of the "valley" years, Chinese metaphor would say, providing balance in between the "mountain" years and their momentous events.

But let's talk about that first blizzard, which the three Ingalls girls have to face all on their own because Pa and Ma are in town. I love that it begins with what Horror connoisseurs recognise as a very well told Cautionary Tale . . .

". . . I'd better get the wood up before we go to town," said Pa. "I don't like the sound of that wind, and they tell me that Minnesota blizzards come up fast and sudden. I heard of some folks that went to town and a blizzard came up so quickly they couldn't get back. Their children at home burned all the furniture, but they froze stark stiff before the blizzard cleared up enough so the folks could get home."

This story reminds me of the first thing that really endeared Pa to me: his talent at freaking his children out. Do you remember that scene in Little House in the Big Woods in which he scares Laura so much that she is able to drag the older, bigger Mary over the woodpile (or something) just to get away from him--much to his delight, of course? (I'm chuckling quietly just thinking about it.) It is a duty of fatherhood to mess with children's minds a little, and Pa does it brilliantly.

We might even argue that his telling them why it is too dangerous to leave them alone for too long is what makes it all right for him to leave them alone at all. They know the worst case scenario--perfectly communicated through a dramatic, chilling story--and so are ready to meet it. Which brings me to one of my favourite parts of the novel . . .

. . . [Mary and Laura] did not know what to do. The cloud was coming swiftly, and they must both bring in wood before the storm got there. They could not open the door when their arms were full of wood. They could not leave the door open and let the cold come in.

"I tan open the door," said Carrie.

"You can't," Mary said.

"I tan, too!" said Carrie, and she reached up both hands and turned the doorknob. She could do it! Carrie was big enough to open the door.

Hurray for Carrie! =D Who else has been waiting for the youngest Ingalls girl (so far) to show some personality? All the girls are growing up and becoming wiser and more capable, so when this chapter ends with the prediction that they will soon be old enough to make their own decisions, it is a very happy ending indeed. =)

I also enjoyed the chapter "The Day of Games" because I love finding out about games that children played in the past. They're fun to play in the present as well--but I usually have to take that on faith because hardly anyone has ever wanted to play with me. =P My favourite game from this book is the one in which they make thimble-circles on the frosty window panes, because, you know, I had one of these . . .

Just as I was thinking these nine chapters would be slim pickings because they tell of a "valley" year, I realised that I could write a whole post on "The Day of Games" alone! Ma is a great teacher and "developer" of games! She probably always was, but this is the first time we've really seen it.

And now we come to the end--not just the end of On the Banks of Plum Creek but also the end of the Little House readalong. Although I felt ready to move on from these books weeks ago, now I also feel a little sad. I don't want to leave the Ingalls family just yet. I've learned a lot from them, and now understand why one homeschooling family I know of has "Little House" days several times during the year. (It was the oldest daughter's idea.) Come to think of it, saying goodbye would be a lot easier if I could look forward to my own "Little House" days with a daughter. =P You know?

What are your thoughts on Chapters 33 to 41?

1. How important should weather be in a story--even a story not set in Minnesota? =P
2. What was the last good example of a Children's Cautionary Tale that you have heard?
3. Have you ever been inspired to bring a Little House moment to life?

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


Jenny said...

Well, congrats on finishing. I never made it past book two. I just couldn't do it.

Enbrethiliel said...


You keep saying that but never explain! Come on, spill!!! What is it about the Little House books that turns you off so much???

mrsdarwin said...

Oh, just read the first chapter of On the Shores of Silver Lake... just the first chapter... do it... a few things might fall into line for you... :)

Enbrethiliel said...


I'll read it if I can find it first! There's the rub, really.

I had my copy of Little House in the Big Woods for almost two years before I read it, and On the Banks of Plum Creek for several months as well. If I hadn't found Little House on the Prairie last October or so, I wouldn't even have nominated this series for a readalong. And of course, I had the great luck to find a copy of Farmer Boy a few days before it's turn came up. One reason I decided not to read By the Shores of Silver Lake is that I wasn't willing to buy a new copy if a used one didn't show up in time--and well, one still hasn't shown up.

So we'll have to see . . . =)

mrsdarwin said...

You know, I'm thinking of American libraries, in which you couldn't swing a cat in the childrens' fiction section without hitting one of the Little House books. I really think you'll like Laura as she gets older -- she's a sharp observer, and you'll enjoy the glimpses of social life on the prairie, and the town school -- and Almanzo all grown up... :)

mrsdarwin said...

I don't know if you'd want to go this route, but here's the first two chapters whole, and parts of others:


mrsdarwin said...

This may be naughty, but someone has scanned the whole thing -- link here.


Enbrethiliel said...


All right. I not just the first chapter, as promised, but also the second. Those must be the saddest two chapters in the entire series! Poor Mary! =( And I'll miss Jack.

mrsdarwin said...

I knew Jack would tug at your heartstrings! And I'd wanted to post an article a few weeks ago discussing what was probably the real cause of Mary's sad condition, but I didn't want to spoil it for you. But doesn't that help explain Laura's facility with words and her vivid descriptions?

Enbrethiliel said...


That was really considerate of you, Mrs. Darwin, and I'm quite moved that you held back from blogging something your other readers (i.e., the 99%) might have enjoyed, on my piddling account.

It would be interesting to compare Laura's visual memories before and after Mary's blindness. So interesting that I'm sure some American scholar has already written a whole dissertation on it! I can see how this series has come to count as serious Americana.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

Bella and I just finished reading Silver Lake and are starting The Long Winter. They are such a delight to read aloud much more than just about anything I've tried so far. When I read them as a girl I read for the story but now I'm definitely reading for the language as well. And I definitely think that the books become visually richer after Mary's blindness.

Enbrethiliel said...


Although I'm a little bit relieved to be giving this series a rest for now, I do envy Bella for getting to read these books for the first time at such a young, sensitive age. =)

Melanie Bettinelli said...

I know what you mean. I got the set of books we're reading from one of my cousins when I was rather older--maybe in late middle school? I think I read them once and then left them on the shelf. By then I was much more interested in other books, more fantasy and science fiction. I'm enjoying them more now than I did then.

Enbrethiliel said...


Do you think that you're also enjoying them more because you have a reading buddy in Bella? =) There are some children's chapter books I've never got around to because I wanted to read them with my little brothers--only to have the boys grow up on me when I had my back turned for five seconds! (Those little scamps!) I could read them on my own if I wanted to, of course, but I also think that if they can't be read by children, then they should be read with children. And I'm waiting for another child to come around . . .

Melanie Bettinelli said...

I think having a reading buddy is part of it. Some books are much better shared and Bella is such an eager audience. I think the act of reading them aloud also makes me appreciate the language more. I can be a rather lazy reader and tend to skim over descriptive passages. Reading aloud makes me slow down and pay attention. Also, I think as an adult I understand much more of the context and appreciate the books as a historical artifact, which is rather too cold a term. I don't think I had such a good grasp of where Laura fit in when I read them as a youngster. And I definitely appreciate Ma and Pa Ingalls more now than I ever could as a child. Seeing Ma from a mother's eyes is so different than seeing her from a child's perspective. She's such a fascinating character.

I spend much of my time perusing my bookshelves and calculating which books I should read next, what Bella will like now and what I might want to wait for. I hate to have one of my favorite books ruined for her because I introduced it too soon when she wasn't ready for it, but I'm so eager to introduce her to my favorite characters. What joy it will be to see her visit Narnia for the first time and Middle Earth. To introduce her to Sarah Crewe and Mary Lennox and Meg Murray and Anne Shirley and all my favorite girlhood friends....

You are right, some books should be read with children. I'd love to hear your list of what you are waiting for a child to come around to read.

Enbrethiliel said...


My first young reading buddies were my brothers, so we managed to get into Beverly Cleary's Henry Huggins books, a few of C.S. Lewis's Narnia novels, some Louis Sachar, and some Jerry Spinelli before they started growing out of readaloud mode. Right around this time, I stocked up on more Spinelli titles and a few more by John Bellairs that I still haven't read yet.

And I totally understand what you mean about accidentally ruining beloved books for children by introducing them at the wrong time. We had to stop reading The Chronicles of Narnia because they were bored; and although I didn't push it then, I did with Henry Huggins, to the effect that they ended up wishing he'd just die or something. =P And The Wind in the Willows was a pure disaster.

My reading list for a girl has a lot in common with yours. I'd add Susan Collins's Katy books, although I know they've become unpopular of late, Louisa May Alcott's novels, and Margaret Sidney's Five Little Peppers series.

And it suddenly occurs to me that these are very Anglo-Saxon choices. =P But I really can't think of any local children's books that I fell in love with a a child and would like to rediscover with another child. Then again, I come from a rich oral tradition. They'll likely hear all the old legends and alamat that I can remember. And the local children's book industry is gaining ground, so both lists may be different in a few years . . .

Melanie Bettinelli said...

I've never read the Katy books. I guess I should check them out. We're doing Five Little Peppers now and Bella likes it more than I do. I actually find it harder to read aloud than many other books. The language can sometimes be so archaic and colloquial. Louisa May Alcott I think she's a little young for yet. Maybe next year?

I rather envy you your oral tradition. I can't tell stories to save my life. When Bella went through a phase of wanting me to tell her stories it was agony.

Enbrethiliel said...


Now I have to ask you how you overcome the "language barriers" of older books! One reason The Wind in the Willows was such a bust was that my brothers didn't understand over half of Kenneth Grahame's style. I don't know if all the writers who claimed to have enjoyed this novel long before they hit their teens were simply hyperlexic, but it would make sense to me if they were. None of the children I have met since I became an adult would have been able to handle such a text.

Now that I pause to analyse the case further, I wonder if it was because my brothers were much more "fluent" in visual media than I was at their age. Before I was seven, I had no more than one hour of cartoons a day (except on Saturdays), simply because that was the only children's programming available. And my family had a limited collection of Betamax videos (LOL!) for children that I could throw into my media mix. So I made do with books. Lots and lots of books!!!

In contrast, my brothers were still in diapers when they started learning all their nursery rhymes from Barney the dinosaur. =P

There was also a sense in which an "oral tradition" was necessary. My brothers didn't really like the language in books when they were young, but they would avidly listen to the same stories if I read them first and just retold them. The notable exceptions were those books in which the writing, the illustrations, and the page layout made sense to the story--because then the medium itself was used really well. But not every book can be by Beatrix Potter, Dr. Seuss, or Stan and Jan Berenstain!

I also wonder if it was because most of the English-language books were written in British English or American English, while we spoke "Philippine English" at home.

But never mind that! Melanie, how do you get over the language when reading "hard" books aloud to young children???

Melanie Bettinelli said...

It's funny but I think Bella overcame that for me. I remember when she was a baby and I was watching my nieces how hard it was to read them Beatrix Potter. I felt so very self-conscious of the hard words and they didn't seem very engaged. But Bella never had a problem with hard books. When she was two-- maybe even before she turned two-- she had a little board book with an abridged version of Eeyore's birthday in it that annoyed me to no end because it left out parts of the story that were essential to it making sense. Like the fact that Eeyore was sad because no one had acknowledged his birthday or brought him any presents. It was just hey, it's my birthday and I'm sad. So I pulled out my big volume of the complete Pooh just to reassure myself about the story and Bella found it on the table and brought it to me and insisted that I read it to her. She got about halfway through the story before she lost interest and wandered off but in the following days she kept bringing me the book and I kept reading it. We kept at it, reading one or more Pooh stories a day at her naptime for the next couple of years. The advanced language and complex sentence structure never bothered her. And she was that way about a lot of things. On of her other favorite bedtime reading materials during that period was a little Mother Teresa novena booklet. I'd read her all the prayers and meditations from cover to cover-- it was great for my spiritual life!

So Bella has always had a high tolerance for hard language. Sophie and Ben might wander in and out during our read aloud times but Bella is hooked. The only reason we give up on books is because she finds them scary, never because she gets bored with difficult language.

Now I'm rather of the opinion that if you start reading the hard stuff early and often they just get used to hearing language that they don't completely understand. I don't think it is important that they understand every word so much as that they enjoy the sound of the language. To me it seems an important skill to have. After all, I enjoy Shakespeare without always understanding all the language.

Of course I do recognize that it won't work with all kids. I'm not sure what I recommend for kids who are resistant. One thing might be to read to them while they do something else, coloring, playing with blocks. Be tolerant of them not paying attention and losing interest and just forge on so that they get used to the sound of the words. I find that if I don't care whether Sophie are Ben are listening they drift in and out of our read alouds. Sometimes they are drawn to me sitting and reading like moths to a flame and then at other times they wander off to do something else. So Sophie has heard maybe half of the Little House books. She knows the characters and some of the incidents but isn't a devotee so much as a dilettante. I don't make a big deal of it and neither does she. Perhaps not letting it become a power struggle, not giving too much importance to whether they listen or not, will help over time for them to gain comfort with the hard stuff? I'm just meandering here, musing out loud.

But anyway with Five Little Peppers the hard language isn't an issue for Bella or Sophie-- they love the story-- but for me. I find it hard to read at times and often lose the thread of what is happening in a sentence or fall asleep while reading. I never fall asleep while reading the Little House books.