While on a family trip a couple months ago, we picked up an audio book of Little Town on the Prairie to keep the back seat peaceful. We'd already read the first six of the Little House books aloud to the girls (some of them multiple times), but he hadn't tried this seventh book on them yet, since it deals with Laura in his mid teens -- an age still somewhat distant from our young ladies. Still, car trips are car trips, so we tried it on them.
In the end, I think we probably enjoyed it more than the girls did, though it did tamp down the fighting in the back seat a bit. (We now have all seven seats of our minivan occupied, so long car drives are contentious and make us wish for a larger vehicle.) I'd forgotten how suddenly the book ends -- after Laura gets her teacher's license and before she starts to teach -- and I found myself wanting it to go on. So last weekend, when taking the kids down for their weekly library run, I picked up These Happy Golden Years, the last full book in the series, and read it over the next couple days.
Truth to tell, these last books of the Little House series are fairly familiar territory for me. I read Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years a number of times in my early and mid teens. (I don't believe I ever re-read the early books, though I had read them as a kid and I would at times sit in while Mom was reading them to my younger siblings.) I'd also read The First Four Years a couple times and a few books about Laura's life.
Of course, there's the fact that there's a lot of fun "American frontier" history and background in the Little House books, and looking back I see it was ideologically congenial to me. But the truth is that I was not necessarily against reading "girl books" as a kid and even in my teens. I read Little Women a few times and tried Little Men and Jo's Boys each once as well. (Though unlike just about any female fan I've met, I liked Amy better than Jo in the second half and was glad to see her marry Laurie.) And I read some of Louisa May Alcott's other books as well.
I read several of the L. M. Montgomery books as well, though I tended to find her heroines less congenial than Wilder or Alcott's. I even had a fondness for Burnett's Little Princess (though I could never finish Secret Garden) and Rumer Godden's Holly and Ivy still feels like Christmas to me (I read it to the girls a couple times each year.)
Now, lest I start sounding like a total milksop here, I'll say in my defense that this was in part because I just read so much that I was always looking for new things to read, and since Mom was a children's literature specialist, reading classic kid lit (which can be a little heavy on the "girl books") provided good conversation and common ground. And, of course, I voraciously read "boy books" as well. Heinlein's juvies were a huge favorite of mine (my favorites included Space Cadet and Tunnel in the Sky) as well as other Golden Age science fiction authors -- and, of course, I read the Narnia books and Lord of the Rings repeatedly.
Quality kid lit, I think, tends to transcend the girl book/boy book division. Coming back to Golden Years after all this time, I'd say it held up moderately well. It no longer has the gripping quality which reading about people only very slightly older than you has for the child eager to grow up, and like all the Little House books other than Long Winter, it's fairly low on plot. But characters and period atmosphere are as involving as ever, and some aspects of young Laura's interactions with her friends and family I find I see from another angle now than I did then. Altogether, it was an enjoyable quick read.
The cruelest month, a few days early
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