Did you know Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote a nonfiction manuscript about her life before she turned to writing the Little House books?
Originally written about 1930, Pioneer Girl was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s attempt to earn some money during the Great Depression. A successful newspaper columnist in her rural community, Laura had watched her daughter Rose Wilder Lane achieve international success as a writer of books. Laura wanted to try, too.
The Wilders and Rose all needed the money.
The recently released Laura Ingalls Wilder Pioneer Girl is an annotated version of the book edited by Pamela Smith Hill along with several other writers from the South Dakota Historical Society Press.
The 400 page book is dedicated to you and me: “for generations of readers inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life and work.”
The Little House books came from the original manuscript. Laura and her daughter Rose tried to sell it at first as a nonfiction manuscript, but they had no luck.
Laura rewrote the book several times trying to generate interest, but no one ultimately purchased the story. When Rose suggested she make alterations and turn it into a juvenile book, Laura rewrote the beginning section for children. Little House in the Big Woods became history.
(Rose herself took sections of the book and turned them into an adult novel called Let the Hurricane Roar, renamed Young Pioneers).
Pioneer Girl is a fascinating read for anyone interested in publishing, the Little House books and Laura herself. The book begins with an overview of Laura’s life after the books ended and continues with a detailed publishing history of Laura’s efforts to publish the original version of the manuscript and her revisions that became The Little House books.
|Laura and Almanzo Wilder, 1885|
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The numbered annotations are exhaustive in their information.
Hill provides photographs of not only Laura and Manly (Almanzo), but also of pertinent characters in the story, Pa’s violin, a twist of hair and numerous maps. Some of the maps are
reproductions of those Laura drew herself while writing her manuscript.
Hill found photographs of DeSmet about the time Laura lived there, and from a town plate, for the first time, I realized the Ingalls family lived south of town. I would have loved this information when I read the books the first time!
For me the delight was in learning “the rest of the story,” of some of my favorite characters. Here’s a quick rundown:
Mr. and Mrs. Boast lived in DeSmet the rest of their lives, never had any children, and always were good friends of Caroline and Charles Ingalls.
Cap Garland never married and died at the age of twenty-six when a threshing machine exploded.
Royal Wilder ran a general store in DeSmet, eventually married, had a daughter, and moved back to Minnesota for good in 1910.
Eliza Jane Wilder had her own homestead and tree claim. She eventually sold a plot of land to Caroline Ingalls (where Ma lived the rest of her life) before EJ moved to Washington D.C., to work as a secretary for the Department of the Interior. She finally married a man 18 years her senior, gave birth to one child, and was widowed five years later. Rose lived with her in California one year of high school.
Pa wanted to leave DeSmet and move to Oregon, but of course, he never did.
Mary graduated from the College of the Blind and lived at home the rest of her life. Her 1928 death is what prompted Laura to begin writing Pioneer Girl, to remember their childhood.
Laura had a tough time writing The Long Winter. Her original title was The Hard Winter but her editor felt it was too depressing for young readers. Laura wrote, “It has been rather trying, living it all over again as I did in the writing of it, and I am glad it is finished.”
The annotated Pioneer Girl is fascinating for writers to see how and why Laura made editorial changes when adapting her original manuscript into the books we loved as children.
Pamela Hill, editor, was surprised at how well the book has done. The first printing was a modest number, but so many have wanted to extend their knowledge of the Ingalls and Wilder families, Pioneer Girl has been reprinted several times and is a best seller.
For this dedicated fan, Pioneer Girl was a joy to read—because I could be immersed in that series of stories I’ve loved so long and which set me on my road to reading and writing historical fiction.
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