Saturday, June 6, 2009

June NaBloPoMo Special Feature - Heroes

The Book Connection is once again participating in National Blog Posting Month. Blogging every day of the month can be challenging. Actually, it's only the weekends that are challenging because I have so much going on that sitting down at the computer is not easy to do.

This month's theme is HEROES. My favorite hero--as in superhero--has always been Wonder Woman. She's beautiful, strong, and smart. Gee, why couldn't have God made me like that? :) Wonder Woman also has some neat gadgets: a lasso that forces anyone it captures to tell the truth, bracelets that deflect bullets, a crown that doubles as a bommerang, and that cool invisible jet.

But, we talk books here, so unless we are talking comic books Wonder Woman really doesn't have a place. I do, however, have a few literary heroes that I would like to feature this month.

I've never been a huge fan of the classics. [GASP!] Honestly, I didn't think The Great Gatsby was all that great; Ivanhoe could have remained buried in his own time period and The Lord of the Flies gave me nightmares.

Proving once again that my heart and mind belongs to that of a child, most of my literary heroes wrote for young people. That doesn't mean I always appreciated them when I was a child; and actually, the first three authors I will feature this month wrote books I could barely sit still to read a chapter of until I was in my early twenties.

Until Harry Potter came along--I haven't read any of these books [another GASP!]--a woman who grew up on the untamed prairie had written some of the most beloved books in all of children's literature.

Laura Ingalls Wilder was an elderly woman by the time she sat down to write the first book in her now classic Little House series, Little House in the Big Woods. Had it not been for Rose Wilder Lane asking Mama Bess to put her childhood memories down on paper, the field of children's literature may never have known much about Laura Ingalls Wilder.

After losing their investments in the Stock Market Crash of 1929, and considering that so many of her family members including Ma, Mary, and her beloved Pa had passed on, Laura sat down to write the story of living in the Big Woods of Wisconsin. According to Donald Zochert's Laura, in 1931 when editor Virginia Kirkus from Harper's read the manuscript on a train ride home to Connecticut, she was so engrossed in the material she missed her station. She knew she held in her hands "the book that no depression could stop."

Harper published Little House in the Big Woods the following year and Laura Ingalls Wilder became an overnight success. The collaboration between Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane churned out seven additional titles: Farmer Boy (1932), Little House on the Prairie (1935), On The Banks of Plum Creek (1937), By the Shores of Silver Lake (1939), The Long Winter (1940), Little Town on the Prairie (1941), and These Happy Golden Years (1943). Roger Lea MacBride (Rose's heir) discovered Laura's final manuscript with Rose's belongings after her death in 1968. This manuscript became known as The First Four Years when it was published by HarperCollins in 1971.

A love of Laura's books and a desire to learn more about the girl who grew up on the prairie, survived the Hard Winter, married Almanzo James Wilder and left her family behind to start over in the Land of the Big Red Apple (Mansfield, MO), led fans flocking to the sites mentioned in her books. Many of the Little House sites from Laura's books have been turned into historical sites that continue to attract fans every year.

In 1954, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award was created by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association. This bronze medal honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.

In September of 1974, Michael Landon and Ed Friendly brought the Little House books to life in a new way. With Landon starring as Charles (Pa) Ingalls, Little House on the Prairie ran until 1983 and helped catapult Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura Ingalls Wilder, to small screen stardom.

Other televised productions of Laura's life would come in 2000 and 2002 with Beyond the Prairie: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Beyond the Prairie, Part 2: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder, with Meredith Monroe (Andie McPhee, Dawson's Creek) playing Laura. Ed Friendly would team up with ABC/Disney in 2005 to create a Little House on the Prairie mini-series, with the hopes that it would be picked up by a network for a regular series. Unfortunately that didn't happen, but the actors who portrayed Charles, Caroline, Laura and Mary Ingalls have continued to be in demand in the entertainment industry.

The popularity of the Little House books also led to numerous other titles being written about or by Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family. In addition to Donald Zochert's Laura, biographers William Anderson and John E. Miller have written numerous titles about everyone's favorite pioneer.

Demand to know more about Laura's family led to Roger Lea MacBride writing a series of books about Rose. Originally published under the umbrella of Little House The Rocky Ridge Years in 1993, by the time Book 7 - On the Banks of the Bayou and Book 8 - Bachelor Girl came out in 1998 and 1999 respectively, the series was titled The Rose Years.

There have also been books written about Caroline Quiner, who would grow up to become Caroline Quiner Ingalls (Laura's Ma), and four books written by Melissa Wiley about Martha Morse Tucker, whose daughter Charlotte would end up marrying Henry Quiner, Caroline's father. Charlotte Tucker has her own series as well. Unfortunately, when HarperCollins decided to abridge the Charlotte, Martha, and Rose series, Wiley discontinued working with them, so Martha's and Charlotte's stories will remain incomplete. She has stated at her website that all the Little House prequels will go out of print.

More recently, Dean Butler, who portrayed Almanzo Wilder on Landon's Little House on the Prairie, brought Laura's book, Farmer Boy--the only book of her Little House series written about Almanzo's childhood--to life in a new direct-to-DVD documentary from Legacy Documentaries. Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura is available exclusively at the Wilder Homestead in Burke, NY. You can order the DVD online at

New readers continue to be drawn to the books that Laura wrote about her childhood. Educators still use her books to share history and to encourage a love of reading and writing in their students.

I don't know if Laura Ingalls Wilder ever realized the impact her books would make on the world; but I do know that they have foster in me a great love of the time period in which she grew up, a desire to continue learning, and they have motivated me to follow my own writing dreams.

For all that she has meant and still means to the world of children's literature, Laura Ingalls Wilder is my first featured literary hero.

1 comment:

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Great post, Cheryl. I love the Little House books and the TV series was one of my favorite shows.

Shh! The classics are not my cup of tea either, and I've tried to read them, but usually give up.