Saturday, October 29, 2011

Book Review: Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Of all the Little House books, this is the only one I have never reread. And I didn't want to. Until I read Shelf Discovery last year, which piqued my interest. Plus it's weird that I have reread a series dozens of times, except for one volume. So I resolved to reread it this year. And as usual I am glad I did.

I have no recollection of this book at all it turns out. While reading it, it felt all unfamiliar and new, not like a reread in the slightest. (I was probably six when my parents first read it to me and likely that's the only time I read it.) I have been within 20 miles of Malone, New York, and I kick myself for not having gone to the Wilder farm. The Wilders were quite well off. They had three enormous barns, sheep, cows, horses, goats, chickens, and more. They had a pond for cutting ice (and a place to store it) and woods for cutting logs and they planted multiple crops (potatoes, wheat, corn). This is not like the Ingalls who only have one crop (and the garden) and who have only 1-2 horses and cows at any time. The Wilders have dozens of each. It's probably good, since Almanzo did not turn out as prosperous as his father, that he had a wife who'd grown up with less.

It's interesting that the Wilder's oldest sister was just eliminated. Perhaps because her name was also Laura which would be confusing, perhaps because Laura Ingalls never met her, I don't know, but instead of five siblings, Almanzo has 4 (after the events of this book he had another brother born.) Eliza Jane is stuffy and always does the right thing, Royal isn't around much, but Alice is fun and hardworking. Almanzo really hates school (interesting he later married a schoolteacher) and takes every opportunity to work instead. He helps Father a lot on the farm. I liked the authenticity of how Laura's language changed from the Ingalls books to this one. The children called their father, Father, not Pa, and they occasionally used overly formal language such as "They are younger than I be." You can tell Laura really quizzed Almanzo before writing this book to get small details like that correct.

Another interesting scene to me was when the parents went away for a week, leaving the four children to themselves. The Ingalls did this as well when taking Mary to the blind school. The Wilders ate all the sugar, made ice cream, ate cakes, and generally were gluttonous and poorly behaved, until the last day when they scrambled to clean everything up. That's a stark contrast to the Ingalls who spent the entire time doing all the spring cleaning so it would be done when Ma got home. While the Wilders did certainly work hard, I think less was expected of them, and all the missing sugar was much less of a hardship for them than it would have been for the Ingalls. The Ingalls girls were living closer to the edge of poverty and they knew everyone had to pitch in or they might tumble over. Whereas the Wilders mostly behaved because otherwise they'd get a whipping from Father (with an actual whip, yikes!)

There were some fun stories, such as how the teacher dealt with the big boys who wanted to beat him, what happened when Almanzo asked Father for a nickel, how he got the better of everyone at the sheep shearing, and Almanzo's giant pumpkin. This book I think would appeal to many young boys, although some of the old-fashioned terminology would need to be explained. Almanzo is a real boy, getting into fights and going fishing and wanting to ride horses. It was a sweet book that I'm very glad I finally reread. But it just doesn't have the same emotional resonance for me that the Laura Ingalls books do.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I bought this book (the box set actually) through my previous workplace, at a discount from the publisher's price.


Julie P. said...

I haven't re-read this one as an adult, but I remember liking the other books better too.

Jeane said...

My daughter is making her way through the series and is on this one right now. It all seems unfamiliar to me, too (plus the book is not nearly as beat-up as the others) so I'm sure its one I didn't reread much either.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

This was always one of my favorites as a girl. The syrup making and Bright and Star stuck with me. When I read it to my older boy, he was amazed at the amount of food Almanzo was able to eat!

Cath said...

In a class in college, we studied LIW personal diaries and her works and compared and contrasted the people and things she put in and took out. It was a really interesting study and very illuminating. I always felt sorry for poor Laura Wilder for being left out of a book that ended up being such a classic!

Anyway, Farmer Boy--when I first read the book as a 9 year old, I hated it. I didn't want to read about a BOY and BOY THINGS. But as a teenager, when I reread it, I remember that Farmer Boy had its own charm, a sense of ease that was missing from the other books, with all the moving and the blizzards and the Indians. And its definitely a love letter to her husband, I think, and says a lot about her relationship with him, that she wanted to honor and memorialize his childhood.

I also remember being utterly horrified when Almanzo throws the boot black brush and ruins the wallpaper and his sister helps him by patching it. That was always my high-water mark for badness as a kid. As long as I didn't do anything like that, I wasn't being too bad. ;)

Silsbee said...

I enjoyed this one, particularly the parts about Almanzo training Bright and Star. This is actually as far as I've gotten in the series so far! I need to get back on this. ;)

tediousandbrief said...

Your post reminds me that I need to read these. I had intended to when I was a kid and had a bunch of the books, but for some reason never followed through with them.

Maybe this is one of those things that can help me get back into reading regularly. I've been slacking off a bit lately.