Thursday, May 29, 2014

When A Little Girl Reads the Little House

A couple of month ago, I started reading chapter books to Madison at bedtime, instead of the picture books we've been doing since, well, since birth.

Don't worry, we still spend plenty of time on picture books during the day, as well as books that she's beginning to be able to read on her own. But bedtime has become chapter book time, and it's been a great thing for us. Madison is using her imagination, rather than accompanying illustrations, to visualize the story as we read. She is excited for the next installment every night. She always loved being read to, but now it's a big deal to get to bed, cuddle up, close her eyes, and find out what happens next.

We started with the classic Mr. Popper's Penguins. This was a great book to start with. Totally appropriate story, silly enough to keep her giggling, easy enough to comprehend, and just enough black and white illustrations to let her see what the author was thinking. As we finished up, I began crowd sourcing for the next book. I really wanted another "classic" book - something without a lot of pictures, a story that wouldn't be overly mature for her, something that would hold her interest. I got some great suggestions. I was just deciding between Winnie the Pooh and Charlotte's Web (I figured a good way to let her know that she doesn't have to be arachnophobic like  me was to read a story where the spider is the heroine), I happened to spy a display of the Little House books, and I was inspired.

When Mr. Popper had jumped onto the ship bound for the Arctic, I showed Madison the first book, which I'd taken out of the library. Laura was four years old, living a long time ago in a log cabin. Would she be interested? With no prior knowledge whatsoever, Madison was incredibly enthusiastic, and we started the journey with the Ingalls family.

She begs for one extra chapter every night. She goes to bed without argument, so she can hear the next chapter. She talks about Laura during the day. She worries as we get to end of a book that the story will be over.

What we've learned from reading the Little House books (graphic)

I can't believe how perfect these books have been. How much Madison has taken from them, how interested she's stayed, how eager she is to continue.  She talks about Laura and Mary. She named one of her dolls Charlotte, because Laura named her doll Charlotte.

There is so much for a little girl to learn from these books.

Madison has quickly realized that even at four years old, Laura had a good amount of responsibility. She had daily chores. She was involved in helping both inside and out. It was after this that Madison started showing a real interest in making her bed daily, because that was Laura's first job to do every morning.

You respected your Ma and Pa and didn't argue. There were consequences when you disobeyed.

There is an absolutely beautiful line about Christmas. Basically, Santa Claus is there in every unselfish act, every time we focus more on giving than receiving. At Christmas, everyone is unselfish at once, and that is Santa Claus. Madison didn't react as incredulously as I expected she might, when for most Christmases Mary and Laura received candy - and only candy - and not a multitude. We've just read the chapter in the fourth book where they do have a bountiful Christmas, and Madison was so happy for them while saying "and all they hoped for was the Christmas candy!".

Play was simple. Laura and Mary have their rag dolls, their paper dolls, and outside. And that was it. Candy was a once a year treat.

The store was somewhere they might not visit for a year. The family was self sufficient.

It's a very different life, and one that is fascinating for Madison.

Can Madison handle these books, as a not-quite-four year old?

The answer is a resounding YES. She has read about hardship, she has read about joy, she has read about daily life on a farm, and she can absolutely handle it.

I'm really looking forward to revisiting these books again when she's a few years older, to see what else she picks up. I'm awaiting the day when she can read them on her own. I'm excited that this may be one of the series she falls in love with, just as I did when I was a little girl. I'm excited to bring one of my own original American Girl dolls out, and compare her story, talking about historical fiction. I love that she loves this series already, tearing through three books and wanting to read them again and again.

But do we go on? I'm not sure.

We're nearing the end of the third book that centers around the Ingalls family (the fourth in the series, but we skipped Farmer Boy for now), and I'm uncertain.

Laura is growing up. She was four when we began our journey, and she's nine now. When the next book starts, she'll be twelve, and that's when life takes a sad turn for the Ingalls family. In the first chapter of our next book, Mary is sick and has gone blind, the family is in debt, Jack dies and they leave Plum Creek. They venture to a much wilder west. Laura is no longer considered a child in her family, taking on the role of oldest daughter when Mary cannot. There's less play and more work as Ma begins to groom her to teach school. Is this too much for a four year old? And if we finish that book, we start the Long Winter, where there is no shortage of suffering.

I'm torn between finishing the series (as long as she continues to be OK with it) and stopping for now, rereading and then extending the series when she's a little older. I truly can't decide. I'm worried the maturity is surpassing her, but then again, I worried she's completely freak out in the first book where a chapter detailed the slaughtering of a pig, another covered the danger of panther attacks, and they explained exactly how Pa got the furs he traded. So maybe the innocence of a little girl makes it OK for now.

All I know is that I'm thrilled that I picked the right series to start her on. And I can't wait to share them again with Reagan, as my two little girls imagine life in the Little House.

Ok, readers, give me your opinions. We've read Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, and On the Banks of Plum Creek. Do we carry on through the next four books as Laura grows up? Do I invest in the box set now (as opposed to the library and our abundance of overdue fines) or wait a few years?
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