Every time I read any of the "Little House" books, I always come away with the feeling that the Ingallses were the ideal family. All they needed was each other. Add a cow and 160 acres, and they were entirely self-sufficient.
I must have read the series at least 10 times. I thought I knew all about the Ingalls family, but I didn't. I thought I knew why they succeeded and why they failed, but I was wrong. I didn't even know who really crafted the books.
"The Ghost in the Little House," by William Holtz, claims that Laura's daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, was the true genius behind the series.
He points to primary source documents that show Laura would write a pretty basic rough draft, then Rose would heavily rewrite it for publication.
Rose was one of the honorary mothers of the Libertarian party, and her political views had influence. That's probably why major instances of the Ingalls family receiving government assistance were downplayed. The biggest example of this is in "Little Town on the Prairie."
In real life, Laura's teaching salary didn't pay for her sister Mary to go to college for the blind; the government did. Laura helped fund Mary's transportation and incidental costs. That's a meaningful contribution, but it's not nearly as dramatic.
The real drama comes in the conclusion to the series, "The First Four Years."
Almanzo goes into major debt to purchase modern farm equipment, and their farm is almost lost. Beloved Laura can't even afford to buy hairpins from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue.
The tween in me can never read about that time of hardship without wanting to blame Almanzo for being so spendy.
"Just farm like Pa!" I want to say. "Why do you need the fancy machinery?"
Timothy Egan's book, "The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl," helped answer that question for me.
It wasn't that Almanzo was a bad farmer. The standard farming practices of the day were doomed to failure. Almanzo and Laura were caught up in the early stages of an environmental disaster that became the Dust Bowl. You might even say it was the economic bubble of their time.
I bet modern-day families can relate. Sometimes it doesn't matter how hard you work. If you get caught up in a "gigantic something," you might lose your farm.
But the brilliance of the "Little House" books is that they encourage us to find solace within our families, no matter what.
Jennifer Bardsley is an Edmonds mom and blogs at teachingmybabytoread.blog.com.
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