I learned to read when I was four. (Or so my mother tells me.) This is the first in a long line of book-related events in my personal childhood mythology. For example, the book with which I taught myself to read (The Ernie & Bert Book, I’ll have you know) is the same one that I immediately turned around and read to my just-born sister. Apparently this book has magical powers, because she grew up to be a bookworm too!
But the phase of bookwormish childhood that I want to focus on today is my first foray into chapter books: the Little House on the Prairie series.
Apparently I was so enthralled with these books that I would stay up way past my bedtime, sneakily reading in bed until my wimpy mortal eyes betrayed me and I’d fall asleep with a book on my face. (Literally. Like a book-tent for my face.) I loved reading about spunky Laura and her simple prairie family. Even as I grew older, I still loved to follow along with their migration across the country — perhaps because my family migrated a couple times too.
Recently I reorganized my bookshelves and came across my Little House books — still the same boxed set that I first loved in first grade. It’s been about 10 or 15 years now since I read them, and I decided it was time for the Ingalls and me to get reacquainted.
But as I went to place Laura and her stories on my “to read” pile, I noticed an interesting juxtaposition: right next to my Little House books was Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (subtitled, “An Indian History of the American West”).
All of a sudden a lightbulb went on: at the same time Laura’s family was wagon-riding around the Midwest, natives were being pushed off their land. Cowboys were ranching even farther west. THE CIVIL WAR was happening, for goodness sakes!
This may sound like a stupid realization, but I never really thought before about how the Ingalls fit into history. I never learned or thought about who ELSE was living on the prairie. As I looked up the dates of when the events in the Little House books took place, I realized that A LOT was going on in the U.S. A lot more people than just “the settlers” were busy living life — and even “the settlers” are more complex, because, people, there were (and still are) BLACK COWBOYS AND FARMERS. And I know nothing about them. I wanted to learn more.
So, I will be re-reading the Little House series… but in its historical context. As I read my way through the 1850s-1890 with the Ingalls, I will also be reading the corresponding chapters from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, as well as several other (mainly children’s) historical fiction diaries of the time. You can see my full reading list/schedule below:
And here are links to all the books I’ll be reading, in case you want to join me for any of them!
- The Little House on the Prairie boxed set
- Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West
- The Journal of Wong Ming-Chung, A Chinese Miner
- Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
- Emancipation Proclamation
- Gettysburg Address
- I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly: The Diary of Patsy, a Freed Girl
- The Journal of Joshua Loper, A Black Cowboy
- Black Frontiers: A History of African American Heroes in the Old West
- My Heart is on the Ground:The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl
- **[added to Week 13]Debbie Reese’s review of My Heart is on the Ground
- **[added to Week 3] Spirit Car: Journey to a Dakota Past
- **[added to Week 13] As Long as the Rivers Flow
- **[added to Weeks 11, 14, 15, 16] The Birchbark House, The Game of Silence, The Porcupine Year, and Chickadee
I’m really excited to revisit the Little House on the Prairie. But this time, I’m excited to meet the neighbors, too.
*Edited to update book list / reading list based on books and resources added mid-project.