I absolutely loved Marta McDowell's new book, The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Frontier Landscapes that Inspired the Little House Books.
The book progresses chronologically, discussing the forests, lakes, rivers, prairies, weather, crops, natural vegetation, and animal life that Laura and Almanzo encountered as their families moved around the country. The author suggests reading each book along with its chapter, but since I know the books pretty much by heart, I didn't feel the need to slow down my reading of it by doing so. Although now I definitely am eager to reread another LH book, probably Little Town on the Prairie, before year end.
I did read the book somewhat slowly, just a chapter a night, to savor it and let it seep into my psyche and take root along with the rest of my LH core knowledge.
The book renewed my admiration for LIW as a writer because McDowell basically confirmed all the details that Laura provided in the books. For example, when Laura talks about the trees in Little House in the Big Woods, there are different trees surrounding Pa and Ma's house than those surrounding Pa's parents' house when they go to the sugaring-off dance. That's because the forest itself is different between the two regions.
Here's an excerpt:
...Pa loved the woods. He had the true hunter's love for wild places, and he instilled that love in his daughters. Their part of Wisconsin was the northern edge of the broadleaf forest, dominated by oaks and hickories. Oaks get a prominent place in Little House in the Big Woods, with two in front of the log cabin providing a play space for Laura and May, complete with tree swing. Hickory chips are Ma and Pa's preference for smoking meat. Black cherry and walnut trees, and the shrubby hazel, Wisconsin natives all, make appearances in the novel.
North and east of Pepin, the mix of trees changed to the boreal forest that sweeps far into Canada. Here the conifers--pine, tamarack, and spruce--go to the front of the class, along with birch, beech and maple. So when the Ingallses drove north to Grandpa Ingalls's farm for maple sugaring in late winter, their journey followed the actual distribution of tree species in the woods.In addition to the chronological structure of the book, McDowell also uses a gardening theme to track the chronology, which makes for a satisfying way to reflect on Laura's personal life journey.
Clearing the Land: The Wisconsin Woods
Preparing the Soil: A New York Farm
Harrowing: The Prairie of Kansas, Indian Territory
Making a Better Garden: Creekside in Minnesota and Iowa
Ripening: The Dakota Prairie
Reaping: Settled Farm and Settled Town
Threshing: From Great Plains to Ozark Ridge
Saving Seed: Rocky Ridge Farm
Putting Food By: The Rock House and the Farmhouse
In addition, the book is gorgeously illustrated with maps, photographs, water colors, and some of my favorite images from the various editions of the LH books.
McDowell provides good biographical info on the Ingalls and Wilder families but the book is less concerned with providing every fact or theory about the family members and their struggles than it is with using their story to convey what America was like when they lived and worked on the land during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
It is a lovely book--rich, warm, interesting, and immensely satisfying.