Little House on the Prairie facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
TheIngallsFamily
The real Ingalls family

Little House on the Prairie is a book written by Laura Ingalls Wilder in 1935. It is one part of series of books about Wilder's childhood in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Kansas during the late 19th century. The books have been made many times into movies and television series. Some other writers have also written books about Laura and her relatives. The story of the first book in the series, Little House in the Big Woods, revolves around the life of the Ingalls family in their small home near Pepin, Wisconsin. The family includes mother Caroline Ingalls, father Charles Ingalls, elder daughter Mary Amelia Ingalls, and younger daughter (and protagonist), Laura Ingalls Wilder. Also in the story, though not yet born historically, is Laura's baby sister Carrie. In the book, Laura herself turns five years old, when the real-life author had only been three during the events of the book. According to a letter from her daughter, Rose, to biographer William Anderson, the publisher had Laura change her age in the book because it seemed unrealistic for a three-year-old to have specific memories such as she wrote about.

Little House Wayside replica
Little House replica at the Little House Wayside

Little House in the Big Woods describes the homesteading skills Laura observed and began to practice during her fifth year. The cousins come for Christmas that year, and Laura receives a doll, which she names Charlotte. Later that winter, the family goes to Grandma Ingalls’s and has a “sugaring off,” when they harvest sap and make maple syrup. They return home with buckets of syrup, enough to last the year. Laura remembered that sugaring off, and the dance that followed, for the rest of her life.

The book also describes other farm work duties and events, such as the birth of a calf, and the availability of milk, butter and cheese, gardening, field work, hunting, gathering, and more. Everyday housework is also described in detail. When Pa went into the woods to hunt, he usually came home with a deer then smoked the meat for the coming winter. One day he noticed a bee tree and returned from hunting early to get the wash tub and milk pail to collect the honey. When Pa returned in the winter evenings, Laura and Mary always begged him to play his fiddle, as he was too tired from farm work to play during the summertime.

Farmer Boy

Farmer Boy, published in 1933, is the second-published of the Little House books and it is commonly numbered two in the series, but its story is unrelated to that of the inaugural novel, Little House in the Big Woods. It features the boyhood of Laura's future husband Almanzo Wilder from before his ninth birthday until after his tenth. The book describes his schooling, holidays, farm work, and most of all, food.

Little House on the Prairie

Little House on the Prairie, published in 1935, is the third book in the Little House series but only the second that features the Ingalls family; it continues directly the story of the inaugural novel, Little House in the Big Woods.

The book tells about the months the Ingalls family spent on the prairie of Kansas, around the town of Independence, Kansas. At the beginning of this story, Pa Ingalls decides to sell the house in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, and move the family, via covered wagon to the Indian Territory near Independence, Kansas, as there were widely circulating stories that the land (technically still under Osage ownership) would be opened to settlement by homesteaders imminently. So Laura, along with Pa and Ma, Mary, and baby Carrie, move to Kansas. Along the way, Pa trades his two horses for two Western mustangs, which Laura and Mary name Pet and Patty.

Caroline&CharlesIngalls
Caroline and Charles Ingalls

When the family reaches Indian Territory, they meet Mr. Edwards, who is extremely polite to Ma, but tells Laura and Mary that he is "a wildcat from Tennessee." Mr. Edwards is an excellent neighbor, and helps the Ingalls in every way he can, beginning with helping Pa erect their house. Pa builds a roof and a floor for their house and digs a well, and the family is finally settled.

At their new home, unlike their time in the Big Woods, the family meets difficulty and danger. The Ingalls family becomes terribly ill from a disease called at that time "fever 'n' ague" (fever with severe chills and shaking) which was later identified as malaria. Laura comments on the varied ways they believe to have acquired it, with "Ma" believing it came from eating bad watermelon. Mrs. Scott, another neighbor, takes care of the family while they are sick. Around this time, Mr. Edwards brings Laura and Mary their Christmas presents from Independence, and in the spring, the Ingalls plant the beginnings of a small farm.

Irony also becomes a part of this book. Ma's prejudice about American Indians, and Laura's childish observations of them, are contrasted with Pa's more egalitarian view of them, and these views collectively are shown side by side with the objective portrayal of the Osage tribe that lives on and owns that land.

At the end of this book, the family is told that the land must be vacated by settlers as it is not legally open to settlement yet, and in 1870 Pa elects to leave the land and move before the Army forcibly requires him to abandon the land.

On the Banks of Plum Creek

On the Banks of Plum Creek, published in 1937 and fourth in the series, follows the Ingalls family as they move from Pepin, Wisconsin to Kansas to an area near Walnut Grove, Minnesota, and settle in a dugout "on the banks of Plum Creek (Redwood County, Minnesota)".

Pa trades his horses Pet and Patty to the property owner (a man named Hanson) for the land and crops, but later gets two new horses as Christmas presents for the family, which Laura and her sister Mary name "Sam" and "David". Pa soon builds a new, above-ground, wooden house for the family. During this story, Laura and Mary go to school for the first time in town where they meet their teacher, Miss Eva Beadle. They also meet Nellie Oleson, who makes fun of Laura and Mary for being "country girls." Laura plays with her bulldog Jack when she is home, and she and Mary are invited to a party at the Olesons' home. Laura and Mary invite all the girls (including Nellie) to a party at their house to reciprocate. The family soon goes through hard times when a plague of Rocky Mountain Locust decimates their crops. The book ends with Pa returning safely to the house after being unaccounted for during a severe four-day blizzard.

By the Shores of Silver Lake

By the Shores of Silver Lake, published in 1939 and fifth in the series.

The story begins when the family is about to leave Plum Creek, shortly after the family has recovered from the scarlet fever which caused Mary to become blind. The family welcomes a visit from Aunt Docia, whom they had not seen for several years. She suggests that Pa and Ma move west to the rapidly developing Dakota Territory, where Pa could work in Uncle Henry’s railroad camp at very good wages for that era. Ma and Pa agree, since it will allow Pa to look for a homestead while he works. The family has endured many hardships on Plum Creek and Pa especially is anxious for a new start. After selling his land and farm to neighbors, Pa goes ahead with the wagon and team. Mary is still too weak to travel so the rest of the family follows later by train.

The day Pa leaves, however, their beloved bulldog Jack is found dead, which saddens Laura greatly. In actuality, the dog upon whom Jack was based was no longer with the family at this point, but the author inserted his death here to serve as a transition between her childhood and her adolescence. Laura also begins to play a more mature role in the family due to Mary's blindness – Pa instructs Laura to "be Mary's eyes" and to assist her in daily life as she learns to cope with her disability. Mary is strong and willing to learn.

The family travels to Dakota Territory by train – this is the children's first train trip and they are excited by the novelty of this new mode of transportation that allows them to travel in one hour the distance it would take a horse and wagon an entire day to cover.

With the family reunited and situated at the railroad camp, Laura meets her cousin Lena, and the two become good friends.

As winter approaches, and the railroad workers take down the cabins and head back East, the family wonders where they might stay for the winter. As luck would have it, the county surveyor needs a house-sitter while he is East for the winter, and Pa signs up. It is a winter of luxury for the Ingalls family as they are given all the provisions they need in the large, comfortable house. They spend a cozy winter with their new friends, Mr. and Mrs. Boast, and both families look forward to starting their new claims in the spring.

But the "Spring Rush" comes early. The large mobilization of pioneers to the Dakotas in early March prompts Pa to leave immediately on the few days' trip to the claims office. The girls are left alone and spend their days and nights boarding and feeding all the pioneers passing through. They charge 25 cents for dinner and boarding, starting a savings account toward sending Mary to the School for the Blind in Vinton, Iowa.

Pa successfully files his claim, with the aid of old friend Mr. Edwards. As the spring flowers bloom and the prairie comes alive with new settlers, the Ingalls family moves to their new piece of land and begins building what will become their permanent home.

The Long Winter

The Long Winter, published in 1940 and sixth in the series, covers the shortest timespan of the novels, only an eight-month period. The winter of 1880–1881 was a notably severe winter in history, sometimes known as "The Snow Winter".

The story begins in Dakota Territory at the Ingalls homestead in South Dakota on a hot September day in 1880 as Laura and her father ("Pa") are haying. Pa tells Laura that he knows the winter is going to be hard because muskrats always build a house with thick walls before a hard winter, and this year, they have built the thickest walls he has ever seen. In mid-October, the Ingalls wake with an unusually early blizzard howling around their poorly insulated claim shanty. Soon afterward, Pa receives another warning from an unexpected source: a dignified old Native American man comes to the general store in town to warn the white settlers that there will be seven months of blizzards. Impressed, Pa decides to move the family into town for the winter.

Laura attends school with her younger sister, Carrie until the weather becomes too severe to permit them to walk to and from the school building. Blizzard after blizzard sweeps through the town over the next few months. Food and fuel become scarce and expensive, as the town depends on the trains to bring supplies but the frequent blizzards prevent the trains from getting through. Eventually, the railroad company suspends all efforts to dig out the train, stranding the town. For weeks, the Ingalls subsist on potatoes and coarse brown bread, using twisted hay for fuel. As even this meager food runs out, Laura's future husband Almanzo Wilder and his friend Cap Garland risk their lives to bring wheat to the starving townspeople – enough to last the rest of the winter.

Laura's age in this book is also accurate. (In 1880, she would have been 13, as she states in the first chapter.) However, Almanzo Wilder's age is misrepresented in this book. Much is made of the fact that he is 19 pretending to be 21 in order to illegally obtain a homestead claim from the US government. But in 1880, his true age would have been 23. Scholar Ann Romines has suggested that Laura made Almanzo younger because it was felt that more modern audiences would be scandalized by the great difference in their ages in light of their young marriage.

As predicted, the blizzards continue for seven months. Finally, the trains begin running again, bringing the Ingalls a Christmas barrel full of good things – including a turkey. In the last chapter, they sit down to enjoy their Christmas dinner in May.

Little Town on the Prairie

Little Town on the Prairie, published in 1941 and seventh in the series.

The story begins as Laura accepts her first job performing sewing work in order to earn money for Mary to go to a college for the blind in Iowa. Laura's hard work comes to an end by summer when she is let go, and the family begins planning to raise cash crops to pay for Mary's college. After the crops are destroyed by blackbirds, Pa sells a calf to earn the balance of the money needed. When Ma and Pa escort Mary to the college, Laura, Carrie, and Grace are left alone for a week. In order to stave off the loneliness stemming from Mary's departure, Laura, Carrie, and Grace do the fall cleaning. They have several problems, but the house is sparkling when they are done. Ma and Pa come home, and are truly surprised.

In the fall, the Ingalls quickly prepare for a move to town for the winter. Laura and Carrie attend school in town and Laura is reunited with her friends Minnie Johnson and Mary Power and meets a new girl, Ida Brown. There is a new schoolteacher for the winter term: Eliza Jane Wilder, Almanzo’s sister. Nellie Oleson, Laura's nemesis from Plum Creek, has moved to De Smet and is attending the school. Nellie turns the teacher against Laura and Miss Wilder loses control of the school for a time. A visit by the school board restores order; however, Miss Wilder leaves at the end of the fall term, and is eventually replaced by Mr. Clewett and then Mr. Owen, the latter of whom befriends Laura. Through the course of the winter, Laura sets herself to studying, as she only has one year left before she can apply for a teaching certificate.

At the same time, Almanzo Wilder begins escorting Laura home from church. By Christmastime, Almanzo once again sees Laura home, and offers to take her on a sleigh ride after he completes the cutter he is building.

At home, Laura is met by Mr. Boast and Mr. Brewster, who ask Laura if she would be interested in a teaching position at a settlement led by Brewster twelve miles (19 km) from town. The school superintendent, George Williams, comes and tests Laura (though she is two months too young, he never asks her age), and she is awarded a third-grade teaching certificate.

These Happy Golden Years

These Happy Golden Years, published in 1943 and eighth in the series, originally ended with a note alone on the last page: "The end of the Little house books." It takes place between 1882 and 1885. As the story begins, Pa is taking Laura 12 miles (19 km) from home to her first teaching assignment at Brewster settlement. Laura, only 15 and a schoolgirl herself, is apprehensive as this is both the first time she has left home and the first school she has taught. She is determined to complete her assignment and earn $40 to help her sister Mary, who is attending Vinton College for the Blind in Iowa.

This first school proves difficult for her. Laura must board with the Brewsters in their two-room claim shanty, sleeping on their sofa. The Brewsters are an unhappy family and Laura is deeply uncomfortable observing the way husband and wife quarrel. In one particularly unsettling incident, she wakes in the night to see Mrs Brewster standing over her husband with a knife. It is a bitterly cold winter, and neither the claim shanty or the school house can be heated adequately. The children she is teaching, some of whom are older than she is herself, test her skills as a teacher. Laura grows more self-assured through the term, and successfully completes the two-month term.

To Laura's surprise and delight, homesteader Almanzo Wilder (with whom she became acquainted in Little Town on the Prairie) appears at the end of her first week of school in his new two-horse cutter to bring her home for the weekend. Already fond of Laura and wanting to ease her homesickness, Almanzo takes it upon himself to bring her home and back to school each weekend.

The relationship continues after the school term ends. Sleigh rides give way to buggy rides in the spring, and Laura impresses Almanzo with her willingness to help break his new and often temperamental horses. Laura's old nemesis, Nellie Oleson, makes a brief appearance during two Sunday buggy rides with Almanzo. Nellie's chatter and flirtatious behavior towards Almanzo annoys Laura. Shortly thereafter, Nellie moves back to New York after her family loses their homestead.

Laura's Uncle Tom (Ma's brother) visits the family and tells of his failed venture with a covered wagon brigade seeking gold in the Black Hills. Laura helps out seamstress Mrs. McKee by staying with her and her daughter on their prairie claim for two months to "hold it down" as required by law. The family enjoys summer visits from Mary.

The family finances have improved to the point that Pa can sell a cow to purchase a sewing machine for Ma. Laura continues to teach and work as a seamstress.

Almanzo invites Laura to attend summer "singing school" with him and her classmates. On the last evening of singing school while driving Laura home, Almanzo – who has by now been courting Laura for three years – proposes to Laura. During their next ride, Almanzo presents Laura with a garnet-and-pearl ring and they share their first kiss.

Several months later, after Almanzo has finished building a house on his tree claim, he asks Laura if she would mind getting married within a few days as his sister and mother have their hearts set on a large church wedding, which Pa cannot afford. Laura agrees, and she and Almanzo are married in a simple ceremony by the Reverend Brown. After a wedding dinner with her family, Laura drives away with Almanzo and the newlyweds settle contentedly into their new home.

The First Four Years

The First Four Years, published in 1971, is commonly considered the ninth and last book in the original Little House series. It covers the earliest years of Laura and Almanzo's marriage.

The First Four Years derives its title from a promise Laura made to Almanzo when they became engaged. Laura did not want to be a farm wife, but she consented to try farming for three years. At the end of that time, Laura and Almanzo mutually agreed to continue for one more year, a "year of grace", in Laura's words. The book ends at the close of that fourth year, on a rather optimistic note. In reality, the continually hot, dry Dakota summers, and several other tragic events described in the book eventually drove them from their land, but they later founded a very successful fruit and dairy farm in Missouri, where they lived comfortably until their respective deaths.

Related books

  • On the Way Home (1962)
  • West from Home (1974)
  • The Road Back (2006)

Screenings

TV movies

  • Little House on the Prairie (1974)
  • Little House Years (1978)
  • Little House: Look Back to Yesterday (1983)
  • Little House: Bless All the dear Children (1984)
  • Little House: The Last Farewell (1984)
  • Beyond the Prairie: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder (1997)
  • Beyond the Prairie: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder II (1998)
  • Little House on the Prairie (2005) - miniseries

TV shows

  • Jackanory - Little House in the Big Woods (1966)
  • Jackanory - Farmer Boy (1968)
  • Little House on the Prairie / Little House: A New Beginning (1974-1983) - live action
  • Laura the Prairie Girl (1975) - animated

Images for kids


Little House on the Prairie Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.