Sunday, July 02, 2006

Farmer Boy

Laura Ingalls Wilder
Memoir, Children's, Historical

This book is usually listed under the fiction section even though it, like all of the 'Little House' series, is based on the life of a real person, with real events. The fictional nature of the books comes into play with the anecdotal nature of the stories relayed, and with the fact that the uncertain memories of the participants are glossed and conflated into stories that, while true to life, are not strictly historical.

I read these stories as a child and loved them. I think that the best way to read them as an adult is to be visiting family in an old farmhouse, and to be sleeping in a tiny little room with low ceilings and little nooks, and antiques all around. While the farmhouse in question is a good fifty years too young to fit the subject of the book, the function shapes the form, and one can imagine nine-year-old Almanzo Wilder snuggling into a similar bed in a similar room after a long day of chores and play.

The books themselves contain laundry lists of duties and activities. One could be amazed at the number of things that a young boy was expected to do on a typical day, but then one could also look at the number of things a young boy does today and it would probably be similarly amazing. And the food - in a culture which treats a bowl of cereal as breakfast, stacks of pancakes, donuts, eggs, sausage, and apple pie (!) seem to create a meal inedible in its immensity, but the food was needed to fuel the incredible range of physical activity a farmer's family needed to perform on a daily basis.

This book is geared toward readers the age of the protagonist, and the amount of detail involved is sure to give the reader a sense of being there, and a feel for how life was in the latter half of the nineteenth century. (I just realized that biographical notes on Almanzo Wilder set his birth date in 1857. This book is set, literally, at the ending of the Civil War. The Civil War is not alluded to within this book.)


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