How would you like to work in town, Laura?
When Mary lost her sight, she lost all hope of continuing her education. A kindly reverend tells the Ingalls family of a college for the blind. It goes without question that Mary will attend the seven years of school.
Now, the Ingalls family desperately needs money to cover school costs for Mary. Laura takes up work in townsewing buttons of all things. While she hates it, she wants Mary to go to college far mor. The Ingalls family's crops are set upon by great swarms of pests.
And, to top it all, Eliza Jane (Laura's future sisterinlaw) teaches their oneroom schooland she's terrible at it. No discipline, belittling students and extreme favoritism. Even Laura cannot stand her. When Eliza Jane unjustly punishes Carrie, Laura escalates until she is thrown out of school.
Laura gets the last laugh. She pens this poem and publishes it in her autobiographical novelfor thousands of children to read and remember:
Going to school is lots of fun,
From laughing we have gained a ton,
We laugh until we have a pain,
At Lazy, Lousy, Lizy Jane.
She is my pettyrevenge goals.
Read by Cherry Jones and accompanied by Paul Woodiel on the fiddle. Love this dynamic duo!
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I kind of don’t know how to deal with the casual racism in these books. The minstrel show in the chapter “The Madcap Days” appals me as an adult. As a child, living in Jamaica, sharing homes with Jamaican families and running in a pack with Jamaican kids, I actually didn’t know what the “darkies” of this chapter were supposed to be. Clearly they were men making music and singing, their faces disguised with black polish. I neither knew nor would have understood what they were supposed to be. They might as well have been Morris dancers or chimney sweeps. I don’t think this excuses what’s going on here, but I do think it shows that A) what you read doesn’t necessarily damage you for life, and B) children are very good at blocking out the things they don’t get. I wish it wasn't like this: but the book was published in 1941 and is set in 1882, so we're stuck with it.
And for a long time, as a child, this book was my favorite of the series. In many ways it’s straightup YA, though it was published so long ago. I’m astonished, now, at how much of the book is focused on Laura being dissatisfied with her looks and struggling to be stylish. Some of the little conversations about style are wonderful – Ma is constantly, gently disapproving of Laura’s newfangled notions, and Laura does a fair bit of eyerolling over Ma’s oldfashionedness. The crowd of high school kids sledding together, jockeying for social position, experimenting with electricity, eying up each other’s clothes, the first hints at romance, Laura’s burnout with school, are absolutely timeless. The battles with Eliza Jane Wilder and Nellie Oleson are so frustrating and yet so satisfying, and Laura is no angel. (I love that when she writes the mean verse about Eliza Jane she excuses herself: “She meant only to please Ida, and perhaps, just a little, to show off what she could do.” I know this feeling so well. Also – wow, her verse GOES VIRAL! The innocence with which the teasing starts and the anonymous rapidity with which it tears through the town is all Laura’s fault and she knows it and feels terrible about it. It is fascinating to see how bullying has not really changed much.)
Timeless, too, are moments such as Laura’s struggle to do the fall housecleaning and discovering how some projects always take six times as long as you think they will: “It was amazing, too, how dirty they all got, while cleaning a house that had seemed quite clean. The harder they worked, the dirtier everything became.”
Quotations I like:
“There is no comfort anywhere for anyone who dreads to go home.”
“This earthly life is a battle,” said Ma. “If it isn’t one thing to contend with, it’s another. It always has been so, and it always will be. The sooner you make up your mind to that, the better off you are, and the more thankful for your pleasures.”
“I don’t see how anybody can be prepared for anything,” said Laura. “When you expect something, and then something else always happens.” [Ma responds:] “Even the weather has more sense in it than you seem to give it credit for. Blizzards come only in a blizzard country. You may be well prepared to teach school and still not be a schoolteacher, but if you are not prepared, it’s certain that you won’t be.”
This is also where I first read the Declaration of Independence. She quotes an awful lot of it.
Minstrel show? Lunatic fringe? Halfwit? 23year old Almanzo slithering around 15year old Laura?
And why is Ma so keen on Laura becoming a teacher? It seems to be a oneyearofteachingandthengetmarried sort of enterprise. Why even bother? Over two car trips we finished listening to the wonderful Cherry Jones read book seven in the popular classic Little House series, as Laura Ingalls grows into a young (15eyarold, but mature for her age, given what she has been through) lady. In earlier books, ones I really prefer, such as The Long Winter, the Ingalls family was nearly starving, struggling to create the homestead and stay alive, but in this one, set in 1888 DeSmet, South Dakota, it is really about how a group of people begin establishing “civilization”—Church, School, and things like a Literary Society.
As a teacher, I pay attention to the creation of things lthere ike a spelling bee, where simple prairie people struggle in a competition to spell words no one will ever use, something that still happens in the SAT and ACT. To be” civilized” is to know big obscure words! They attend public debates about topics such “Who was a greater man: Lincoln or Washington?” Laura delivers a kind of summary of American history that ign9res the fact that they have displaced Native Americans entirely.
They study the Constitution in school, which is inspiring on one level, but as they see it, it is serving the white folks, of course. Ma says she hates Indians, and (saint) Pa (never criticized by Laura), participates in an appalling minstrel show, Pa in black face. School and church and Literary Society separate white settlers from the savages (the Indians, never much mentioned here).
So okay, I am not giving the tale a complete pass for all that, but I don’t think it is a complete contradiction to say the 1888 Ingalls family is still pretty sweet and charming, over all. Laura earns her teaching certificate at 15 (!) and is asked out sledding by her dreamy future husband Almanzo Wilder. She, no saint, gets in trouble for writing a poem criticizing her future sisterinlaw, her terrible teacher. She gets a job working as a seamstress in town to put her blind sister Mary through college. I know, I know what I have said, but I still found a lot of it charming and fascinating in all its ethnographiclevel detail. I like Laura and this family pretty well in spite of all their (historical) faults.
Eleanor and Gwennie are both here, but before we begin, I want to tell MY favorite part... and I have to write it quietly because it's not quite appropriate.
Laura had just started working in town, when she saw these two men get kicked out of a bar. They were sloshed, and singing an old church hymn. They went through the town punching holes in the screens of local businesses, and Laura thought this was funny.
Laura got in trouble when she got home for thinking this was funny, but the last line of the chapter read: "Pa looked at Laura, and his eyes were still twinkling. Laura knew that he didn't blame her for laughing."
Maybe I'll add some more things I thought about as a grownup at the end of the review, but for now, I think the girls are ready to give their input. They're here talking about a babydoll being allergic to babies. Before I start typing the review, I might just wait to see how this conversation plays out...
Dad: Ok ladies, are you ready to start the review?
... (They continue talking and counting...)
Dad: You ready?
Eleanor: Dad, are you writing equations?
Gwennie: He's writing too much!
D: So lets talk about the book.
E: The first thing I want to talk about was that the men were saying, "I'm Tay Pay Pryor and I'm DRUNK! I'm Tay Pay Pryor and I'M DRUNK!"
D: (not outloud): ...Huh... I guess that part stuck with her too. It's weird that THAT'S the first part she mentioned, even though I don't think she understands what "drunk" is. ...Although, maybe I explained it to her in the reading... (outloud): Hey El, do you know what it means to be drunk?
E: It means... ...I don't remember... I don't remember, Daddy. And DON'T put that in the review, either. What? I don't remember what being drunk means? OOOOOOOOOOOoooooooohhhhhhhh.... If you drink too much wine, or alcohol, it makes you a little goofybut goofy in a bad way.
D: Huh... you're right. Did I tell you that?
E: I think so, yeah.
D: Did you ask me about it?
E: Yes. When we got to that part in the book.
D: Well, what else did you like?
E: Well, maybe I can whisper in Gwennie's ear, and then she can tell you! That way she can help with the review!!!! *Whispers something to Gwen.*
G: I liked that Laura was able to become a teacher!!!!
D: Do you want to talk about anything else in the book?
E: Laura felt nervous a bunch of timeswhen she started working in town, when she was going to do mental math in front of the class, when she was going to the Thanksgiving party, when she was going to the birthday party, when she was going to the social, when she did the histories at the school exhibition...
D: That's an interesting observation, Eleanor. Nice job.
D: No, seriously. I'm not sure what to make of that, but I bet it's important. Let me also say, that I liked the race,
E: The 4th of July race?
D: Yeah... and that they got a cat, and I thought it was interesting that Laura got suspended.
E: Why is it interesting? It wasn't good for Laura and Carrie.
D: I know it wasn't good for them.
E: Then why were you saying it was interesting?
D: Maybe because I always hear people talk about how good people were back then, but it seems like even the best people got in trouble sometimes, you know?
E: I thought it was interesting when Pa got a mouse in his hair!
D: What did it do again?
E: It CUT off his hair, and made TOOTHMARKS in his head!!!
D: HA! That's right! That was crazy!
E: Daddy, why don't we ever have a mouse in our hair?
G: (very scared) Can we not talk about it? I don't want to get scared.
D: Don't worry, it won't happen to us. We've got a cat that likes to catch anything that moves.
G: Do cats eat mouses?
D: It's not "mouses." Do you know how to say it?
E: YEAH! Do you want me to tell Gwennie?
E: It's mice.
E: Can I talk about the Happy Days, quick? Actually, I want to talk about how each walk they took seemed like the last walk they would have together.
E: Mary and Laura.
D: Was that part sad?
D: Because their time together was ending?
D: Well, all good things come to an end. And, maybe that's a good place to end this review too, because I think Gwennie's getting bored. :) I flew through this one, maybe because I was so happy not to be stuck in a blizzard anymore, freezing and starving. Things are really looking up for the Ingalls familythey get a kitten, Mary finally goes off to college, there are parties in town, and by the end of the book, Laura gets her teaching certificate. The most extravagant thing is when Pa allows Laura to buy name cards (they're the latest thing and cost 25 cents!). I actually squealed, "Oh, Pa! Letting Laura buy name cards!", eliciting an eyeroll from my husband. Laura always works so hard and tries to be so good, so it's nice to see the little rewards.
There are a couple of moments that make you stop and think as an adult. One, Pa and some buddies in town put on a show wearing blackface, which is pretty cringeworthy. Two, as much as we all love Laura, you start to wonder about how Laura writes about herselfis she this good? That whole thing with Nellie and Miss Wilder kind of makes you wonder who really is the petty person.
Another thing, I love Almanzo as he begins to court Laura (maybe I squealed more). But as Ma exclaims, Laura's only 15! And Almanzo's 10 years older. I know at the time that was fine, but you could say the same for blackface. Of course, Laura doesn't marry him until she's 18, so I guess that makes it less creepy? Also making it less creepy, Laura's maturityshe even helps Ma and Pa get the money to send Mary to college. Making it creepy againLaura's innocence. She can't figure out why Almanzo wants to walk her home after the church revival. We see more of their slow courtship in the next book (more squealworthy moments). Digital audiobook performed by Cherry Jones
Book seven in the popular classic Little House series, has Laura growing into a young lady. She feels that the new teacher, Miss Wilder, is unfairly picking on her and her sister. Nellie Oleson seems to be thwarting Laura at every turn. Mary has left to go to a college for the blind, and Laura takes on a part time job to help pay the expenses. The town is growing and with growth come new opportunities for socializing. Laura passes her examination to be certified as a teacher, and love begins to blossom.
I love this series for the way the pioneer spirit is portrayed and the strong family relationships.
THIS book, however, has a scene that is very uncomfortable for modern readers. The towns folks put on a minstrel show, including performers in blackface. I know this is historically accurate to the period, but I just cringed reading about it.
Cherry Jones does a fine job narrating the audiobook. I particularly like it when she sings the hymns or folk songs.
Once again, a super sweet read. I found myself feeling so proud of Mary finally going to the college for the blind, and so proud of Laura getting her teacher's certificate. And Almanzo. <3 Of course I also continued loving the historical context of the story.
Only two more books to go, I think? I'm looking forward to them. :)
Mention of strangers swearing, and also mention of the husband in a family Laura works for swearing while he and his wife constantly argue.
Laura witnesses a couple drunk men causing some destruction and singing. (She thinks it's funny.)
Mention of a minstrel show and a song from it is sung that repeatedly uses the tem "darkies". Pa himself is in the show and plays one of these characters and apparently wears black face. I squeezed one more book into 2012! The characters are the same as in all the books, of coursePa is the greatest and a hero among men, Ma is uptight and kind of racist, Laura is rebellious but good at heart. Everything is described in such loving detail. I do feel like I should have reread The Long Winter before this one because the relative plenty in LTotP is in such contrast to those poor people starving around the stove.
Notes of note:
I liked the conversation when Mary admitted that she was being good partly to show off. It really made her more likable. I wonder if that really happened.
Almanzo makes his move on Laura! And she seems completely confused at first. That was cute. But she held up her end of the conversation. That's why we like her.
It's interesting how close the family was out of necessity. Like, they'd miss Pa when he was out working in town all day. I guess if you're used to being around someone 24/7, it's pretty strange when they're gone. And of course, Mary went to college and they were too despondent to have Christmas. It makes Laura's already understandable unhappiness at the crazy Brewsters' in the next book even more poignant(and Almanzo's kindness at bringing her home every weekend even more touching).
Related to the above, Laura and Carrie absolutely freaked out whenever they went into town. There were almost 20 students at the school! And not having a clue how to act at a party. What if they'd never moved to town, as I'm sure a lot of people didn't? Who did those people marry?
For someone who hated to sew, Ma sure did a damn good job of it. Can you imagine doing all that by hand? I'm sure a lot of women just ran around in big old sack dresses. But Ma had a bit of upperclass striving that makes Laura's scorn of Nellie Oleson a little funny, IMO.
Good Lord, the blackface. Progress is good.