Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Something I've Read Lately: The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure

Did you live in "LauraWorld" when you were growing up?  Chances are, if you're as old as I am, your LauraWorld was based on repeated re-readings of the Little House books, while if you're a few years younger than I, your LauraWorld starred Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert.  Either way, LauraWorld was largely a happy place: simple, comfortable, and filled with Pa's fiddle music and adventures on the big prairie.

One fall years ago, we were traveling from Dallas back home to Omaha.  Tory was just old enough for us to start thinking about which chapter books we would be reading aloud to her.  (Parenting tip:  Kids need to be read aloud to from the time they are infants until past the time they can read on their own.  The books you choose should, most of the time, be slightly above their reading level.  Kids also develop in their listening skills, so when starting to read chapter books aloud, don't start with the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Start with simpler, shorter books.  My top choices for girls and boys alike are the Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary and the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.)  Somewhere in the middle of Kansas (Andy often tends to get off the interstate and use secondary roads) I heard a query from the drivers' seat:  "Huh.  The original Little House on the Prairie is somewhere around here.  Want to see if we can find it?"  Well, YEAH.

By the time we arrived (late on a Sunday afternoon) the actual house was closed, but we looked around, read the signs, and talked with the kids about Laura and her books.  If I remember correctly, the signs at the house pointed out the fact that there are a number of "Laura Sites" scattered across the midwest, and living in Omaha, we were right in the middle of them.  My roadtrip planning began, and so did our reading aloud of the series.

I have stories to tell about our trips to the Laura Sites (tornados, anyone?) but those will have to wait for another post, because this post is about a book I read, not my travelogue.

Wendy McClure also lived in LauraWorld.  Her book (subtitle:  My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie) details her travel to the various Laura Sites and discusses the research she did into Laura and Almanzo's life together.  Having had my own experiences visiting most of the sites, I enjoyed reading Wendy's stories.  More than that, though, I especially enjoyed hearing her reminisce about growing up in LauraWorld, because that echoed my experience perfectly.  I kept wanting to pick up the phone and read passages aloud to my friends Katie and Jeanne, who also lived in LauraWorld.  (In fact, Katie BECAME Ma when her family was stationed in the Outback of Australia.  She learned how to make her own bagels and kill poisonous spiders in the yard before they got to her baby girl.  She always said, "If Ma could do it, and do it while wearing long skirts and with no electricity, I can do it.")

Parts of the book disappointed me, though.  I'm saddened that Wendy didn't seem to derive much joy from her visits to the sites.  I believe in enthusiastically embracing experiences, which, yes, makes me look a little goofy sometimes.  There is a huge difference between someone who dives in with an expectation that the experience will be enjoyable and one who stands back and stands apart for fear of looking stupid or because they need to "remain impartial in order to report."  I think Wendy held back.  I, on the other hand, was one of those women who stood in front of Pa's fiddle and cried.  I held Tory's hand while she put flowers on Laura's grave (and I cried.)  I stood below the homestead in South Dakota and got chills looking at the 5 cottonwood trees Pa planted.  This family was so much a part of my life and the stories so real to me that being there was simply thrilling.

1998 visit to Mansfield, MO
Tory (age 8) and Robin (age 5)
Wendy took her research beyond just visiting the sites, though, and her stories of churning butter, taking home a straw twist in a plastic bag and finding it in her closet months later, and spending a weekend with a group of End Timers learning to can butter are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.  It's is also a nice tribute to her very supportive significant other.  This is a book for adults who are willing to add another perspective to their Laura experience, one that is witty, contemporary, and slightly irreverent. 


  1. I've already downloaded it to my iPad. Wish I could stay home and read instead of going to work. Your blog is awesome!

  2. Great Blog!!! We've visited with our girls the home site in Mansfield, Missouri but never any others. You've inspired me!

  3. Oh, I love it already!

  4. Wonderful Blog! I loved reading the Little House series to my students at Beckton School nestled next to the Big Horns outside of Sheridan, Wyoming. They loved them!