For the past two weeks, our evening storytime has taken a departure from the usual picture books and headed deep into the Big Woods — Little House in the Big Woods, to be exact. The first in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s famous “Little House” series.
It’s the first real “chapter book” I’ve read out loud to the kids, and they are for the most part following along very well. I felt that we were going out on a limb with it; the Little House books have been unfortunately marginalized as “girl books,” and I’ll admit that the first chapter, with its long descriptions of smoking meat and making butter, made both Jeffrey and Eleanor a bit restless.
BUT — then comes the moment when Pa picks up his gun. And goes hunting for BEARS. And THEN he comes home and cleans the gun and makes BULLETS in the FIREPLACE. Can’t get more boy-appeal-oriented than that.
There’s also the great moments when Ma slaps a bear, Pa hacks apart a tree full of bees, various characters are chased by panthers, and many, many meals in which everybody has either maple candy or honey and not much else.
Ah, the 19th century! Motto: “Teetha Rottenum Est.”
The secret motive, of course, is that I wanted to get Jeffrey ready for the Intermountain Living History Conference that we attended last week at This is the Place Heritage Park (aka “the Pioneer Village”)– a conference for people interested in historical reenactment. They had inexpensive children’s classes taught concurrently with the adults’ workshops, so while I was off learning about tinsmithing or millenery, Jeffrey got to learn how to wash with a washboard, write with a quill, and how to take a bow like a gentleman. He enjoyed the classes and bowed all the way home, carefully holding his feather quill in one hand. (His “pioneer schoolteacher” later told me that, when she was encouraging all the kids to write in cursive with their quills, Jeffrey huffed, rolled his eyes, and said “Geez, I’m only in kindergarten!”)
Did reading the book help? Well, his first class was held in the Gardiner cabin, a little log house decorated with all the accoutrements of 19th century frontier life. As Jeffrey waited on a bench with the other kids for the class to begin, he looked all around him, wide-eyed.
“Mom!” he cried. “This is just like the Little House in the Big Woods!”
I smiled at the cuteness, but his period-dress-clad teacher was simply touched.
“Why, yes,” she cried, choking up a bit. “You’re absolutely right!”