Friday, February 1, 2013

Laura Ingalls as Social History

After my bread machine died (see The Daily Bread) and I was forced to finish the bread on my own, I started thinking about how many of my ancestors surely made bread every day to feed their families. For some reason it reminded me of the Little House on the Prairie books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I imagine they baked their own bread regularly, and I remember reading about their trips into town to buy big bags of flour, sugar and other staples at the general store. I also recalled reading the Anne of Green Gables books and what daily life was like for her. Though I never realized it at the time, I was reading social history.

I don't know how many young people still read these books or if they consider them hopelessly old-fashioned. To get some sense of this I asked several friends, (some teachers, some not) about it. A couple said that their kids had been exposed to the Little House books at school. Several others said that they had introduced the books to their own children. A twenty-something downloaded the Anne of Green Gables books to her e-reader. A pediatrician friend told me she usually sees kids reading more current selections. I guess it boils down to having teachers and/or parents who continue to see the value in these books. I'm sure it doesn't hurt to have parents who are “book people.” Needless to say, when my daughter gets older I plan to share these stories with her.

Though the ways of life described in these books are vastly different from those of modern generations, I think these books still deserve our attention. After all, the characters and their conflicts are very much like those from the present day. As my mom says “times change, people don't.” Though young people may not make the connection between the lifestyles of Laura and Anne and their own ancestors, they may someday. Or maybe, the family genealogist could mention that Laura's life might not be that different from ggg-grandma's. Who knows, perhaps the story will then mean just a little bit more.


  1. Great post! I LOVE the Little House books! Here's my post about it:

    I've been a social historian for a long time, then :)

    I introduced my three daughters to them, but they have long surpassed them now.

  2. No one read these books to me when I was a child. I did read them to both of my daughters when they were little. They, and I, learned more from these books than we probably ever learned from any history textbook in school.

  3. When reading the Little House books to my son, I found that it stimulated discussions on how things were made and how things were different. I know we spent a whole lot of time discussing how a butter churn worked at one point.

  4. Several years back some acquaintances of our in Nashville conceived a project and recorded at least some of the music of the Little House books. It is magic to listen to the tunes that are described in the books. It is also part of who we have become, if you are interested there is more here:

    1. How neat! It's been so long since I read the books I didn't remember anything about the songs. Thanks for sharing.