Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,
Whether you're a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books or interested in the evolution of a manuscript into a series of autobiographical novels, Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder is a beautifully conceived and carefully researched book.
As the book states, "The Pioneer Girl Project is a research and publishing program of the South Dakota State Historical Society, working since 2010 to create a comprehensive edition of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Pioneer Girl." The editor of the book is Pamela Smith Hill, but it involves the contributions of an untold number of people.
When I was growing up, my favorite books were those in the Little House series. I read Laura Ingalls Wilder's books over and over. I admired Laura's strength and sympathized with her fears. I cried when Jack the brindle bulldog died. I was shocked when Laura's sister Mary became ill and lost her sight. I sighed with joy when she became engaged to Almanzo Wilder and allowed him to kiss her goodnight. Every episode, every moment in the books, was a treasure to me.
When I was twenty-two years old, I visited the home the Wilders built in Mansfield, Missouri. I'm not sure when I learned that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote a manuscript titled Pioneer Girl. It was intended for adults, and in spite of a great deal of work on it by Wilder and her daughter––Rose Wilder Lane, who was already a successful author––Pioneer Girl was never accepted for publication.
However, Pioneer Girl led Wilder to write her famous series of children's books, and perhaps it was twenty years ago when I learned that I could purchase a copy of Pioneer Girl from The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, which houses a collection of Rose Wilder Lane's papers. I had to have that manuscript.
When it arrived in the mail, I read it with fascination. It included so much information that Laura Ingalls Wilder [LIW] did not use in her books because the stories were not appropriate for young readers or because facts were eliminated to further promote the books' overarching theme of independence.
Now we have this annotated version of the autobiography. It is a work of art––a large hardcover book with a beautiful illustration on the cover, illustrations from the Little House books throughout, and best of all, the scholarly annotations that illuminate the choices LIW made when she wrote her books.
One of the most interesting examples to me is that the Ingalls family did not live alone during The Long Winter. A young couple and their baby lived with the family. The man of this family was quite unpleasant. Rose Wilder Lane argued that they should be included in the book to provide a greater variety of characters. LIW decided they would be eliminated because it was important for the family to face the elements alone, even though they moved from their claim shanty into town. Living in town served little purpose. It was the Ingalls family against the blizzards, the howling winds, and the need for food.
Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography earns The Janie Junebug Seal of Greatest and Highest and Amazingest Approval.
I must warn you that the annotations are in sidebars and they are numerous. It took me many hours to read this book, but they were hours filled with delight.
Infinities of love,
P.S. Tomorrow I'll tell you about a frightening incident from Pioneer Girl that was excluded from LIW's children's books.