Book Review: Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

This is a classic that has been read by generations of readers. It is the beginning of Laura Ingalls Wilder's tales of frontier life. Set in the "Big Woods" of Wisconsin in the 1870s, the story is told from the point of view of five-year-old Laura, the middle sister of three, who lives with her parents in a log cabin where her father earns his living as a trapper.

Wilder describes life in the 1870s in painstaking detail that keeps the story interesting without ever bogging down the pacing. The story takes the reader through a year in the life of the family, from the harvest and storing of food for the winter, through the Christmas celebrations, and the playful days of summer.

All of the family's work and play is described, with the occasional tall tale from Pa Ingalls, often told with a lesson in mind for the girls. The cycle of the year forms the structure and plot of the story, although the central conflict involves Laura's struggle with her jealous feelings toward her older sister.

There is humor and tenderness spread throughout the story, as well as a constant subtle tension as the reader is reminded of how fragile life on the frontier can be. The family has only themselves to rely on. Neighbors and relatives are distant, and the nearest town is far enough away that they only make one trip to town in a year. The story does not dance around the realities of hunting and raising animals for food. In fact, the first chapter is devoted mostly to the butchering of the family's hog.

Wilder's talent for description makes this an educational story, but her considerable skills as a storyteller give us characters that we care about as they live their lives in the Big Woods.

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