In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Blizzards and budding romance

Dear Aunt Debbie,

The temperatures are climbing in Brooklyn, and this afternoon we set out for our first day of water play in the parks.  At home, however, Eleanor and I find ourselves shivering and worrying about how long food supplies can hold out now that the trains have stopped running.

As you might have guessed, this means that we're deep into book six of the Little House series: The Long Winter.  This makes Little House the first chapter book series that Eleanor has wanted to read straight through, one after the other. Yes, she's also loved the Betsy-Tacy books and The Borrowers, but she's been willing to take breaks between books. Not so with Little House.

The Long Winter may be the most dramatic book of the series.  In it, Ma, Pa, Mary, Laura, Carrie, and Grace (the youngest Ingalls, born between Plum Creek and Silver Lake) are living out in the little town of De Smet, in the Dakota territories.  Pa has a claim a mile or so from town, and the family has been living in a tiny shanty to stave off claim jumpers.  But winter begins early that year, and promises to last for months. The first severe blizzard, in October, convinces the family they need to move to town.  Even in Pa's well-built storefront on Main Street, they are cold and isolated as the blizzards keep coming, sealing them in the house for days at a time.  Then snow stops the trains from running, and soon the Ingalls family is pretty much out of supplies and facing starvation.

The natural drama of the situation is coupled with foreshadowed romantic drama: this is the book where Almanzo Wilder reappears.  (Technically, we get a brief glimpse of him at the end of By the Shores of Silver Lake). Almanzo and his older brother Royal have come out west to stake claims of their own: Almanzo plans to farm, and Royal to be a storekeeper.  While much of the narrative is in close third-person perspective focused on Laura, as are all the other books except Farmer Boy, there are chapters here in close third-person focused on Almanzo as well. We get a glimpse into his head, his experiences, all with the delicious knowledge that he and Laura will some day be married.

Eleanor picked up on the narrative change, and we got to talk about how Wilder, as an author, is making us feel close to both characters by showing us more of what both think. She loves having knowledge of the characters' future, glimpsing the romance to come. It's also helpful when we get to a suspenseful part: "She can't die of starvation, because she has to grow up and write these books!" Eleanor looks ahead at the Garth Williams pictures and reads the chapter titles of this book and the next one, looking for hints of the future ("Mary is going to get to go to the college for the blind!").  Last night, when we had to stop just before reading a chapter whose title and illustration indicated that Pa was going to find Almanzo's hidden seed wheat, Eleanor jumped with excitement. She is utterly engaged. As am I.

Love, Annie

No comments:

Post a Comment