Trigger Warning: Few Safe Spaces in Little House in the Big Woods!

Excitement on the horizon! In just over a month, on March 23rd, Bibliothèque Lennoxville Library will be hosting our annual Canada Reads…and so does Lennoxville event. As our avid followers will recall this is an annual foreshadowing of the CBC premiere perennial radio event. This year we have another exciting panel of presenters who will attempt to convince the audience that theirs is the “one book that Canadians need” at this time. Here is a list of presenters and their books: Kathleen Adams: The Right to Be Cold, by Sheila Watt-Cloutier; Stephanie Brown: Fifteen Dogs, by André Alexis; Melanie Cutting: Nostalgia, by M. G. Vassanji; Ross Murray: The Break, by Katherena Vermette; and Anne Ross: Company Town, by Madeline Ashby. Now, here’s a new take on an old title, as Shanna Bernier discusses some vintage Wilder—Laura Ingalls Wilder. (S.S.)
—Shanna Bernier
I first read Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, in the 3rd grade. I don’t recall much from my first read through, but I do remember the book being a part of my teacher Mr. Whittall’s unit on pioneers. One of the many exciting hands-on learning activities we did as a part of that unit was to make butter. We took fresh cream (presumably from a local farmer) and placed it in a mason jar. Then, one by one, each of the students in our class got a turn shaking the jar vigorously until finally the cream began to transform into pale yellow fat globs and thin buttermilk. At the end of our experience of shaking and separating and washing and salting, we each got a saltine cracker with fresh butter spread on it. This experience of making butter, in a way similar to how it was made more than 100 years earlier, made the story of Laura and her family come alive for me. This past week, I decided to pass this memory on and took this book, the first of the Little House series, out of the Lennoxville Library, and we began reading it aloud as a family.
Coincidentally, Laura Ingalls Wilder was born 150 years ago last week, on Feb 7th, 1867. Her childhood is related in eight short volumes, and, while there are some chronological discrepancies, the Little House books are a mostly linear autobiographical outline of her somewhat nomadic youth as her parents attempted to settle and farm the land in the American Midwest. Little House in the Big Woods is set at the time when she is a small child, and follows her family’s daily activities as they attempt to survive in their log cabin in the great woods near Pepin, Wisconsin. All the books in the Little House series are written for an elementary school audience, but they explore a lot of problems and difficult topics. Laura’s life has tragic moments, and the books do not gloss over the danger, the illness, the conflict with Native Americans, and the death that her family encounters during these years. The first book has fewer large-scale conflicts, so it is easier to share with a younger audience. (In the story, Laura turns five, but in reality she lived there in the Big Woods when she was about three. The publishers felt it was more believable for a 5 year old to have such vivid memories of childhood.)
Throughout the book we read detailed descriptions of everyday hard work that the family does to survive. Every season has different tasks, and all of it is described beautifully. My daughter’s review of the first chapter? “A lot of animals die!” Indeed, the book describes hunting for deer, butchering a pig, and shooting a bear all within the first few pages. It is very compelling as an adult to read all the details of preparation and work that Laura’s parents must accomplish to get ready for winter, and the book shares the details in language a young child can understand. I like reading this book with my daughter because it opens up many conversations about where our food comes from, and how simple things we take for granted were impossible in Laura’s childhood. Laura receives her first doll as a Christmas gift, at five years old. My nearly four-year-old was fascinated by Laura, who, before getting her first doll, wraps a corn cob in a blanket to play with. I think it is a good idea to remind our children how lucky they are, and give them a bit of insight into the hard work today’s farmers do to make the food we eat so absentmindedly. After we started to read this book, I happened to be blessed with some fresh local cream, and Beatrice and I shook it in a jar and made butter (After finding instructions on the internet, somewhat ironically!) We read the pages together about Laura helping her mother churn the butter and we felt just a bit closer to those big woods so long ago.
If you are interested in reading Little House in the Big Woods or other books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, check out the Lennoxville Library for more information!


About BiblioLennLibrary

The Lennoxville Library, in Quebec's Eastern Townships, offers free memberships to all residents of Sherbrooke. We have a great selection of books in French and English, plus books on tape and CD, too! Check out our large-print section, our graphic novels... La Biblio Lennoxville se situe dans les Cantons-de-l'Est du Quebec. Les residents de Sherbrooke peuvent devenir membre gratuitement. Nous avons une grande selection de livres en francais et en anglais. Venez donc nous voir! Hours/Heures d'ouverture: Mardi-Tuesday, 10am to 5pm -- 10h a 17h Mercredi et Jeudi -Wednesday and Thursday, 10am to 6pm -- 10h a 18h Vendredi-Friday, 10am to 5pm -- 10h a 17h Samedi-Saturday, 11am to 4pm -- 11h a 16h Pour plus d'info, vous pouvez nous trouver au Click on the above to get to our website!
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