“Other” Families

Family means different things to different people. For me, family is everything. I grew up in a traditional family of four in the small town of Clinton, New Jersey.  My dad worked and my mom stayed home until my brother and I were in school full-time. She then worked only during school hours, so I had the luxury of seeing my mom before I went to school and when I got home.  We went on one or two family vacations each year, (usually to Wildwood Crest) and spent a lot of quality time together playing all kinds of games – both board games and imaginary ones. It was an amazing time in my life.

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Happy Birthday, Laura!

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Today is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birthday!  She is my all time favorite children’s book author and possibly one of the reasons why I love history so much. I grew up watching the show “Little House on the Prairie” and read all of her books – several times.  I related to Laura in many ways.  Laura hated her brown hair and compared it to the color of “mud” unlike her sister’s blond hair which she describes as the color of “golden wheat.” Growing up in the 70s and 80s, blonds were the big sex symbols (Farrah Fawcett, Suzanne Somers, Heather Locklear, Heather Thomas) and I remember thinking that when I grew up, I was going to get blue contacts and dye my dark brown hair blond to be like them.  (Of course, I did not realize how ridiculous I would look, but hey, I was a kid!)  Laura also had trouble sitting still in church and school (like me) and liked to hoot and holler and play with the boys more than do “proper ladylike” things like sewing and sitting quietly.  My mom tried to teach me how to do cross stitch and basic stitches several times, but I did not have the patience for it.  When I would read Laura’s books, I felt like I was reading about myself, which made me want to read more. Little did I know, I was also learning history.

For decades, her books were a required part of the curriculum in schools all over America. I am very sad to say that that is no longer the case and because of that, we are cheating our children out of a great American story. Laura’s is one that was shared by many.  She tells of the challenges that the pioneers faced as they created and shaped the world we live in today.  She also shares stories of  basic human emotions that we all feel and that every child can relate to – feelings of love, anger, jealousy, joy, surprise, hope, fear,  frustration and determination.  It is historical fiction at its best.

I am not sure why her books are no longer required readings in elementary schools.  When teaching Westward Expansion to my 6th graders, I often read excerpts from her books describing the bumpy journey in a covered wagon on an unpaved road facing all types of weather, the fear of crossing streams and rivers.   My students looked forward to hearing these snippets and many of them would check out the book or borrow it for silent reading. There are also excellent examples of  life lessons with values and morals in them, teaching empathy, respect and tolerance.

I encourage every young child to read the Little House on the Prairie series.  It is normally recommended for 4th graders, but I think a few years before or after that is also appropriate. Laura Ingalls Wilder is an important person in America’s history and certainly in children’s literature.   She and her books will always and forever hold a special place in my heart.

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