My daughter, Hannah, is 6 years old now. She still can’t read on her own, but she’s enjoying increasingly complex books that we read to her. On a whim at Christmas time I tried my old copy of Laura Ingalls Wilder‘s Little House in the Big Woods. It’s the first book in the classic children’s series, and it opens when Laura is around 5 years old.
In the past three months, we have made our way through Little House on the Prairie and On the Banks of Plum Creek. Hannah received a copy of Farmer Boy for her birthday, which chronicles the childhood of Almanzo Wilder – the man who would grow up to be Laura’s husband. We started that book a couple of weeks ago.
Our current book-in-progress
I read the books as a child, but now that I’m reading them as an adult, I have a totally different perspective. Ma exhibits a lot of casual racism towards the “Indians”. Parents and teachers use corporal punishment, including beating children with whips. And adults leave toddlers in the care of 8-year-old children while they go off to town for the day. Reading the books with Hannah has opened a lot of conversations, and not all of them have been easy.
As an adult, I am also much more aware of the incredible risks that Laura’s parents take. They move their children to distant places, build on land that has been granted to native peoples under treaty, and build from literally nothing. Their hope is that the native people will be moved and they will find riches in the process, but honestly, even ignoring the fact that they’re basically trespassing, I don’t think it’s worth the risk. Can you imagine living, with three young children, in a place where it takes you two days to make it to the nearest town? Where there’s no school, or mail service, and you’re on uneasy terms with the people who live there already?
A page in Farmer Boy
But then, as if the content didn’t provide enough drama, we noticed a mistake. There was a printing error in our copy of Farmer Boy. Everything was fine up until what should have been page 247, when abruptly the story changed from chronicling Almanzo’s life in upstate New York to chronicling Laura’s life on the High Plains. For 32 pages towards the end of the book, Farmer Boy was replaced with Little House on the Prairie.
I’ve never seen a printing error like this. At first it was sort of funny, but then I realized that the book was pretty much unreadable, with multiple chapters missing. So I sent some emails, and didn’t get a lot of help. Eventually, I took another copy of Farmer Boy out of the library, but in case Hannah wants to read the books again in the future, I wanted to replace our copy. Finally, it occurred to me to use Twitter to contact the publisher, and they set me up. Social media for the win!
Page 244 of Little House and page 279 of Farmer Boy, when the story switches back
Now we will be able to continue reading the semi-fictional account of Laura’s childhood unimpeded. I will get to address Hannah’s tough questions, and I will get to wonder in bafflement how any of the adults slept at night, when things seemed so dire. And both of us will get to see that really, all things considered, we are living in the lap of luxury.
Have you read any books with your children that have raised difficult questions? And have you ever encountered a printing error like I did? Do you wish that you could get away with wearing hoop skirts in your daily life? And did you know that Laura herself is on Twitter? I’d love to hear from you!