Courtesy of the Missouri Division of Tourism
By Carolyn Tomlin
No matter what age, readers look for the same qualities in books: a compelling plot, interesting characters, vivid imagery, and a genuine page-turner. You hate to read the last page because the characters have become friends.
After more than 80 years, Laura Ingles Wilder’s Little House books have continued to be compelling. But why?
Love of Family
Throughout her books, she writes about the strong family life the Ingalls enjoyed.
Laura describes her jolly, sometimes reckless father and her gentle, proud mother. She recalls listening to Pa’s fiddle as he played by the fireside.
Hartville native Richard Wakefield recalls Laura Ingalls Wilder visiting his elementary school and talking to the children.
“At that time, I didn’t know she was a famous author,” Richard says. “I just knew we enjoyed hearing her tell wonderful stories. She told of the hard times of traveling across America’s heartland. Yet, these hard times held people together. Neighbors were neighbors. They couldn’t afford to hire anyone to help on the farms, so they worked together.”
This is the way Richard Wakefield’s family lived, too.
Strong Work Ethnic
There was never any time to be bored for Laura and her sisters. The animals had to be taken care of, the firewood had to be brought in, and clothes had to be washed.
“As a child reading Laura Ingalls Wilder stories, I learned that carrying out chores, no matter how small, were vital for a household to function smoothly,” says Kenneth Newman, an education professor at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. “In addition, I was inspired by the fact it must be done—even in the midst of adverse circumstances.”
For years, Laura prepared herself to become a writer. It was her dream.
Although she wrote for local newspapers and a few magazines, her first book was published at age 65. At age 76, Laura completed the Little House series.
Laura instilled the desire to dream in her readers, like historical fiction author B Coyne.
“After winning a short story contest in high school, I dreamed of becoming a historical fiction writer,” Coyne says. “My parents were farmers, so I had no hopes of attending college. My trust in God kept me strong, and I never gave up on that dream.”
At twenty-nine, she quit her job and went to the University of Alabama. At forty, she earned her MBA, and sixteen years later, she earned her doctorate at Lancaster University in England. She published her first novel, Treading Water on Ripple Creek Farm: Lily, at age sixty-six.
“Dreams do come true,” she says.
Laura recalled both the happy and the sad parts of childhood life. Her books invoke the similar memories in readers.
“Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family reminds me so much of my own,” says Denise George, author of Johnny Cornflakes: A Story about Loving the Unloved. “The Ingalls faced American prairie and Missouri wilderness with hardships my family could never imagine. But my grandparents and parents survived the Great Depression, World War I, and World War II. Both families had the inner strength and pure grit to keep on keeping on, to persist without giving up even when life and circumstances seemed overwhelming, and survival almost impossible. I admire that.”
Carolyn Tomlin writes for magazines and is the co-author of The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister. In the summer, she fishes the beautiful rivers of Missouri, including the Gasconade and the Little Piney.