Though I have been a fan of the TV show for years I resisted reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books. I figured the time to have read them was when I was young. But then last year in response to the 2018 Back to the Classics Challenge I decided to give Little House in the Big Woods (the first book in the series) a try and I loved it. I vowed that I would go on to read book two Farmer Boy published 1933 and now that I have I once again marvel at the quality of the writing. Its the kind of writing that on the surface looks simple and effortless but in reality must have taken a tremendous amount of talent and hard work to accomplish.
That said I preferred Little House in the Big Woods to Farmer Boy. I knew going in that Farmer Boy was a detour. Unlike the other books in the series which center around Charles and Caroline Ingalls and their daughters Laura, Mary and Grace, Farmer Boy focuses on the author's husband, Almanzo Wilder growing up on a farm around 1870 in upstate New York. I didn't think taking a break from the Ingalls family would matter that much to me but it did. Laura Ingalls Wilder after all knew her own childhoood much better than she knew what Almanzo's early years were like. I'm sure Almanzo shared his memories with his wife Laura but its not the same as writing down one's own story.
Farmer Boy takes us through a year in the life of the Wilder household. We are introduced to Almanzo Wilder, age ten, his parents, his older brother Royal and his sisters, Eliza Jane and Alice. We learn a great deal in this book about running a farm and about the specific tasks the Wilders must complete each year based on the seasons, spring for planting and fall for harvesting but throughout the year there is constant work to be done, planting, hoeing, chopping wood, sewing, mending, breaking in horses, milking cows, house cleaning etc etc and then there is the food:
"Almanzo washed as quickly as he could and combed his hair. As soon as Mother finished straining the milk, they all sat down and Father asked the blessing for breakfast. There was oatmeal with plenty of thick cream and maple sugar. There were fried potatoes, and the golden buckwheat cakes. as many as Almanzo wanted to eat, with sausages and gravy or with butter and maple syrup. There were preserves and jams and jellies and doughnuts. But best of all Almanzo liked the spicy apple pie, with its thick, rich juice and its crumbly crust. He ate two big wedges of the pie.
Almanzo and his family are well off, not only in comparison to the Ingalls but farmers in general. They own quite a bit of land with separate barns to keep their horses, cows, chickens, pigs. In one scene Almanzo's father sells his crop of potatoes for $500.00 which in 1870 would have been a fortune. This is a family that works hard from sun up to sun down and at one point Almanzo's parents decide to take off for a week's vacation miles away leaving their kids at home to run the farm. That kind of shocked me and the first decision these kids make once their parents wave goodbye is to make candy. Once the maple candy is made Almanzo sees no harm in feeding his little pig Lucy some of it but the next morning when he wakes up he discovers what a mistake he has made:
"Where her white teeth should have been, there was a smooth brown streak. Lucy's teeth were stuck together with candy! She could not eat, she could not drink, she could not even squeal. She could not grunt. But when she saw Almanzo coming she ran ... she tore through the peas, and squashed the ripe tomatoes and uprooted the green round cabbages ... At last they cornered her. Almanzo held her down. Alice held her kicking hind legs. Royal pried her mouth open and scraped out the candy. Then how Lucy squealed! She squealed all the squeals that had been in her all night and all the squeals she couldn't squeal while they were chasing her, and she ran screaming to her pen".
It's not an easy life working on a farm and for Almanzo's older brother Royal we learn that he wants no part of it and he tells Almanzo that when he grows up he wants to move to the city and open a store. But for young Almanzo farming is in his blood. That would remain true of the real life Almanzo Wilder and Farmer Boy is Laura Ingalls Wilder's loving tribute to her husband and the continuation of a truly wonderful children's series as well.
Farmer Boy fulfills the 2019 Back to the Classics category - choose a classic from the 20th century.
I have not read any Laura Ingalls Wilder (although I'm a fan of her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane). That said, this sounds like a delightful book although I presume that every chapter is not quite as humorous as the episode with the pigs.ReplyDelete
Hi James, Rose Wilder Lane was a fascinating woman and a talented writer so talented that starting in her early twenties she made a very good living entirely by her pen, articles published in Ladies Home Journal and the Saturday Evening Post. A few of her short stories were nominated for O'Henry awards. Rose helped her mother with the editing of the Little House series but the question will always remain did editing turn into rewriting, many critics feel the answer is yes, and if so should her name also be on these books?Delete
I love all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books...I read them over and over as a kid, and still reread The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie and Happy Golden Years now...but Farmer Boy was the one I never really liked as much as the others. Not because it's not a fun book, but because I was such a Laura fan, and she's not in that one. But reading your review makes me want to go back and reread Farmer Boy again. :D Have a Happy Thanksgiving!!!ReplyDelete
Hi Lark, Farmer Boy a very fine book but I also missed Laura, Charles, Caroline and Mary. I will be eager to read Litle House on the Prairie next year. I sense the further into the series one goes the more adult the books become. Happy Golden Years for example sounds like Laura and Almanzo all grown up and possibly retired. Have a great Thanksgiving too!Delete
These Happy Golden Years is when Laura and Almanzo court and get married and start their life together. :)Delete
I hand not read her work but people really love Laura Ingalls Wilder. Though this is the second book in the series it seems to be less talked about and less well known. It does sound like the anecdotes are at least interesting.ReplyDelete
Great review as always.
Hi Brian, I think the most famous book in the series is Little House on the Prairie which I plan to read next year.Farmer Boy is a detour in the series focusing as it does on Almanzo Wilder. But it was a very well written book and quite funny at times.Delete
Unlike Lark, Farmer Boy is my favorite book from the series next to The Little House in the Big Woods. I honestly think young Ruthiella was drawn to the relative comfort and bounty of Almanzo's childhood.ReplyDelete
The life is hard but they are at least successful. It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized that Pa Ingalls led his family from frying pan to fire at times.
Hi Ruthiella, Although I preffered Little House in the Big Woods, Farmer Boy was a great achievement as well. I agree about Pa Ingalls. I will always have a picture of Michael Landon in my head when I think about him but the real Charles Ingalls alot more complicated. Charles as I understand had a problem settling down anywhere and that was hard on his family, particularly financially.Delete
I'm rereading this series right now! :) I read (somewhere?) that after the popularity of Big Woods, Laura needed another topic to write about, so she made Almanzo allow her to focus her second book on him. As in, he was apparently super-resistant and shy about it and dumbfounded when he started receiving fan letters alongside her own. I can't recall where I read that so no idea if it's true. :)ReplyDelete