At the urging of a homesteader friend, I recently reread Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I hadn’t read it since second or third grade when I read the rest of the Little House series, but I was surprised to discover how many of the stories were still vivid in my memory as I reread them nearly 30 years later.
The Little House on the Prairie series imprinted on my imagination. If life is a trail with numerous turns, valleys, and summits, then those books were my map. Because of those books, I spent my summers barefoot in my backyard pretending I lived in a sod house. My friends and I caught tadpoles down at the creek, we made elixirs and teas out of the plants in our yards, and I taught myself to sew basic clothing by hand when I was 7 years old.
And I wasn’t alone in my handmade/DIY/prairie days obsession. My closest girlfriends also loved the Little House books, and they lived in Laura’s world with me. We imagined ourselves homesteading on the prairie, doing chores, milking the cows, churning butter, making soap and candles. When I went to college and had to make new friends, my tribe was easy to find: they had spent their childhoods with Laura also. They loved to make things with me, and they were uncomplaining about hard work and physical discomforts. We got on splendidly.
When I recently mentioned that I was rereading the Little House books to a friend in Bellingham, I was surprised to hear that she had never read them, and that no one in her childhood friend group read them, either. It wasn’t a thing.
As I processed this information, a few realizations came to me. The first was that my Prairie Tribe is precious. We found each other easily in early life, but we’re more dispersed now, and it’s a little harder to find one another IRL than it used to be, but I’m grateful to have met some of you via the Internet.
The second was that I suspect those 9 books are probably responsible for the life I live today. They made me curious about a different world than the one grew up in in the 1980s. A world without television, frozen vegetables, supermarkets, cars, and shopping malls. I was completely absorbed by Laura’s stories of her family’s self-reliance; when they needed something, they made it. I learned that much of what I relied on to live—clothes, food, shelter—were within my power to provide for myself, if I just learned the right skills. Even the children in Laura’s family had important responsibilities, and they were valued. For an 8 year old, it was an empowering message.
If I hadn’t nurtured a deep curiosity about pioneer skills from a young age, would I be a homesteader now? Would I feel a deep satisfaction from my pantry shelves filled with jars of food from my garden, put up for the winter? Would I delight at the animals that fill my farmyard, in spite of the work and occasional frustration they cause? I can’t imagine the life I didn’t live, but I’m pretty certain that those books are responsible for Bellfern Homestead.
What books nurtured your young curiosities and set you on your adult path? If you’re a homesteader, what books sparked your imagination and yearning for a rural and self-reliant life?
11 thoughts on “The Books That Make Us”
I have thought often about how my favorite books influenced me. Many of my values and attitudes were impacted I’m certain. “The Family Nobody Wanted”, “Karen”, “Mrs. Mike”, “Anne of Greene Gables”, and even Nancy Drew. (I swear I learned some sort of thinking and logic skills from reading so many.) Little House books didn’t make me into a homesteader. I’m not even a gardener, other than ornamentals. Instead they made me a lover of history and I’m sure they impacted my attitudes. “Make hay while the sun shines” Make the best of what you have in tough times (Long Winter). Actually, all of them were part of shaping my determination to keep going no matter what; that contentment comes from things beyond circumstances.
Yes, I’d add Anne of Greene Gables and the American Girl series to my list of formative books. It’s true that the LHOP books don’t make everyone a homesteader, but I think they influenced the values of nearly everyone who read them.
Ironically, I didn’t have any interest in the LHOTP books, and I wanted to punch Nellie out on the TV show 🙂 The only “YA” type of book I ever read was the Black Stallion series – and I’m definitely not a jockey now, hahaha…everything else I read was grown-up stuff from a very young age. I grew up in the ‘burbs but my mom always had a huge garden, and at my dad’s he was a big rose lover, so I got both the gardening and flower things from them I suppose, but beyond my horse camp summers growing up, was never around farm animals – wasn’t actually til my neighbors got chickens and ducks that I even was exposed to them, the city girl I was!
Wow! Is there any other influence that you can attribute your current interests to? I hated the LHOTP Tv series, btw. I agree about Nellie!
Beyond my environment growing up, probably just living in Portland where it’s a really naturally sustainable type of town anyhow – not seen as unusual to have a garden, or backyard bees/poultry/goats/etc., or live car-free (I did for 9 years, my husband didn’t even get a license until he was 47). I remember a blogger in Virginia telling me that she brought her own bag to the grocery store and they looked at it and said “what’s this for?” 🙂
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The Little House series were some of my favorite books as a kid. I loved both Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy. I recently reread them a couple of years ago, and couldn’t help but think that I couldn’t wait to share the love of them with my daughter, who’s now 5.
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Here I am 58 and I’ve never read the Little House series, though I still watch the series on television in syndication. I don’t know why I never read it as a child, I always loved (and still do) to read. I think it is definitely going on my bucket list. Homesteading came to life in my heart as an adult and I love my lifestyle of canning and raising chickens and sending my husband off for his hunts. Repurposing has always been a way of life since I was a kid. Though it may not be for everyone, homesteading is my heart. Ah, what a way to live!!!
I think you would love the books!
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I loved the Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables. I always felt I’d fit in well in the 1800s. Lol
Me too! And yet I’m so grateful for plumbing and central heating.
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Yes and air conditioning! I hate sweating. Lol