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Attraction to Simpler Life, Simpler Times… Simpler Choices?

Attraction to Simpler Life, Simpler Times… Simpler Choices?

Shannon Marchese, senior editor fiction


When I borrowed the boxed set of Little House novels nearly twenty-five years ago, the nine books were in pristine condition. The butter-yellow paperbacks with firm spines and colorful Garth Williams-illustrated drew me in like a fly to salt pork. And instead of taking tender care of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s novels, I read them to pieces, literally. I had to buy a replacement set for my cousin, and I continue reading that old, ratty set to this day. True confession…it wouldn’t be unusual to find a tattered copy of Little Town on the Prairie in my bedside book pile.


Our family also watched the Michael Landon television show.  It ran on Monday nights and later, in rampant syndication, and I can recount so many of the episodes, despite knowing that the non-fictional Charles Ingalls was as likely to throw a punch as he was to send a text message. So it is no surprise that I’d be attracted to Wendy McClure’s “Laura World” adventure, The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie.


The author, an editor for Albert Whitman & Company, delves into the Little House settings and facts with fervor. She churns butter, grinds wheat, and envisions walking in Laura’s shoes by visiting all the historic Ingalls homesteads. McClure wrote: “I wanted to go to Laura World: I wanted to visit the places where Laura Ingalls and her family had lived, in Wisconsin and Kansas and Minnesota and South Dakota and Missouri. All these years I hadn’t quite believed that the places in the books existed, but they did…”


I wanted to read McClure’s book because I am interested in Laura’s life – Laura’s real, nonfictional life. The Little House books are classified as fiction. I love reading about Laura’s world, but growing up as a farm kid, I never really wanted to live there. Honestly, we had enough chores.


As the author of The Wilder Life explores the ongoing attraction for the Little House world, she speculates that the past is viewed as “simpler” and this perception draws us to Laura and her family. A set group of chores was slated for each day, designed to keep food on the table and shelter over their heads. In the evenings, Pa played his fiddle and the family might sing or read Sunday School papers. The books create images of joy found in a litter of new kittens, oranges in Christmas stockings, or visiting family. No one needed to own an iPad, attend challenging yoga classes, or vacation in Cabo San Lucas.


I appreciate McClure’s book because it reveals some of those simple joys to be true of Laura’s life, but I’d hesitate to recommend it unless you are a) a big fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder and b) accepting of the author’s vague journey of self-discovery. I believe my love for Laura’s world is rooted in the values we were both raised to cherish; faith in God, commitment to hard work, and love of your family.


In complicated times, a reminder of those simple values can be as attractive as… well, as a fly to salt pork.


Shannon Marchese has worked in books since 1995. She is the senior editor of fiction and the domain keeper of all things related to children at WaterBrook Multnomah, including the resident mascot of the group, nearly year-old Sylvie Marchese. Shannon will not be making a pilgrimage to all the Laura Ingalls Wilder homesites, but will read The Long Winter again when the temperature drops below 10 degrees.


  • I had the same butter-yellow set with the yummy Garth Williams artwork and I have that much-loved set to my daughter when she turned ten. We watched the episodes, she and I over and over. When we lived in Minnesota, we made the one-hour trip to Walnut Grove several times and we knew several families from Sleepy Eye whose kids attend school with my kids. Whenever I hear someone share a Laura Ingalls Wilder memory, I get a little giddy. Thanks for sharing yours!

  • Loved reading this, Shannon. I, too, love the LH books. When I first earned money from writing I bought all of the original LH hardbacks with dustjackets, first editions with Garth Williams. I treasure them.

    A few years ago we drove by Laura’s old homestead in South Dakota. There is a little sign by the side of a lonely road saying that this was where the Wilders’ newlywed home burned down. It felt like a pilgrimage.

    You know the books would never be what they are today without her editor, Rose Wilder lane. 😉 Thanks for sharing this today! I’m as giddy as Suz!

  • I didn’t discover the Little House books until I bought them for my daughter. When she was eight and we were on a cross-country trip, we surprised her by making a detour to Walnut Grove. I’ll never forget her joy and astonishment when she realized where we were. (“Mom! This is Laura’s town!”) Laura was always just Laura to us, as if we knew her on a first-name basis. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  • Shannon, thanks for this. I didn’t read the series until I was a mom, so I experienced them with my daughters for the first time myself. I was entirely moved by their lives to the point where I sat and wept, while my girls wondered if I was okay.
    We live in a time where stories, movies, and articles have so many dark themes–fiction and non-fiction alike. For instance, I felt nauseous after watching “The Social Network,” –a story of what greed does to people, as well as the current reckless social scene in most colleges today. Or do I really want to read another perspective on terrorism?
    Where are the stories of life at its best even in hard times. I don’t think it’s Pollyanna at all to wish for more Laura Ingalls type stories–but will today’s audience be bored? Not enough action, not enough killing, the pace too slow? I don’t know.
    I just know I am refreshed by those Little House stories.
    By the way, if you’ve never seen the movie “The Way Home” (Korean, I think), a story of a grandmother who takes her grandson for a season while her daughter finds work–don’t miss it. It is a picture of what lovingkindness looks like. I realized this is how God is with us. Beautiful story.

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