Friday, December 12, 2014

Laura Ingalls Wilder

For eight weeks this fall, I participated in the Laura Ingalls Wilder: Exploring Her Work and Writing Life, Part I class at Canvas.net.  This free class was taught by Pamela Smith Hill, a professor at Missouri State University. I am so grateful that Sian posted about this class back in August, a few weeks before it started, so that I could join in.


The main text for the class was Pamela Smith Hill's book Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer's Life. We also read the first four of the Little House books as part of the class. In addition, there was a list of other recommended books for further study. I jumped right into the course and ended up reading 12 books during the eight weeks of the course! I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the study of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her life and writings.

 
In addition to the four Little House books, I read a couple of other books by Laura Ingalls Wilder that I'd not read before. One was a collection of writings and the other was the diary she kept on the covered wagon trip from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri.


Several of the books I read were written by William Anderson, a specialist in the subject of Laura Ingalls Wilder.


I was fortunate to find quite of few of these books at the library, some in the adult section, others like the the one below, in the children's section. This one contained recipes for some of the foods mentioned in Little House on the Prairie as well as step-by-step directions for crafts and words to the songs they sang.


I've always been a huge fan of the Little House books, so I was excited to learn more about the real life Laura Ingalls Wilder and how she became such a popular and well-known writer. The class materials included weekly reading assignments, video lectures, discussion questions, and quizzes. I found the materials excellent, although the discussion boards were filled with way too many comments to read as there were over 1000 people signed up for the course. Luckily, each week we received an email which summarized and condensed the responses to each discussion question (and I was thrilled to be quoted twice in those emails!).

I have to admit that I am even more impressed with Laura Ingalls Wilder as a writer after learning more about how she practiced and perfected the craft of writing and the way "she altered the truth to make a better story." Wilder's stories revolve around the theme of always moving west, a theme that is consistent in the novels despite the fact that the actual Ingalls family moved numerous times (not always west) before settling in Dakota Territory. The course instructor stated that "Wilder shaped the history of her life for the purposes of her story" and also notes how her writing and storytelling improved with the later books. This improvement could be a result of several things: (1) she grew as a writer, (2) she remembered more about her life during her teenage years, and/or (3) she learned how to explain how things looked after her older sister Mary lost her eyesight and Laura began to "see" things for her through words. As Laura states in one of the Little House books, there are "so many ways of seeing things and so many ways of saying them."

I also learned a good bit that I hadn't known about Laura and Manly once they settled at Rocky Ridge Farm with their daughter. Rose Wilder Lane became an author before her mother, however I have to admit that I didn't think very highly of her as we studied how she edited the Little House books and "borrowed" heavily from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Pioneer Girl autobiography . . . without telling her or asking her first!

I'll definitely be signing up for Part II of this course, which begins in early April 2015. We'll be reading and discussion the remaining Little House books along with Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography that is scheduled for publication later this month.

4 comments:

Barbara Eads said...

I'm sorry I missed this class. I went to check it out and couldn't really figure out the "canvas" site. It sounds so interesting. You certainly seemed to get a lot out of the class. I might just read the book if I can't figure out how to take the class.

Sian said...

Yes, I'll definitely be signing up for Part two.

I learned a lot too - made me smile to discover how tiny Laura and Manly were and the given measurements of her kitchen had me running to measure my own specially lowered worktops! I was also delighted to learn that the author of the Sue Barton books, which were real favourites of mine as a teenager, were written by a friend of Rose. I hadn't known that.

Missus Wookie said...

I dipped into this but didn't really take part. Hoping that I can enjoy Part II more. Have you read the prequels to the Little House series? I enjoyed reading those with Princess a few years ago (and read the original series to her too)

Maria Ontiveros said...

I remember when Sian posted about the course, so I'm really happy to hear about how it worked and how you enjoyed it. Thanks for the recap.
Rinda