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Rachael Walker

In this special series, children's literacy consultant Rachael Walker and many of the authors, parents, and educators she’s met and worked with talk about how books have changed their lives, how to bring books to life for young readers, and how to enrich kids’ lives with good books. (Also visit Rachael at her blog, Belle of the Book.)

Bringing Books to Life: My Little House in the Big Woods

February 7, 2017

We’ve had a mild winter here in Virginia and the lack of snow got me thinking about a past cold and snowy adventure to the boyhood home of Almanzo Wilder in upstate New York.

The trip to the Wilder farm happened long before my mother, niece, son and I took our summertime Little Journey to the homes of Laura Ingalls Wilder. For my mom and me, interest in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s writings has been a long affair. As my parents were living in New York at the time, a trip to the Wilder Homestead made for a nice excursion during a holiday visit.

Wilder House

It was incredible to be in the same rooms so carefully described in Farmer Boy, though few of the things inside the house were owned by the Wilders. It was exactly as described, but seemed so much smaller. Almanzo’s childhood memories, like everyone’s, must have made his home larger than life and Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her husband’s story on the scale he remembered it. The cold was right on target though. In the upstairs bedroom, our breath too “froze white in the air.”

Wilder Parlor

I can’t go back to my childhood home in West Virginia. The Jenny Lind house surrounded by 109 acres was torn down decades ago. But like Almanzo’s, my memory holds the details of the wallpaper pattern, digging for potatoes, and the chill when you stepped away from the wood burning stove in the winter.

Though we were living in a little house in a big woods — albeit one with electricity and running water (most of the time) — I could glimpse my own family’s lifestyle and adventures in the pages of the Little House books.

Many times, I took a page directly from Laura’s childhood, playing in the creek, crafting clothes and furniture from natural objects for my dolls and my favorite Fisher-Price people, and making pictures in the snow.

Sometimes Laura’s influence went beyond my own fun and games. Once, when my mother was home alone with a blizzard on the way, she decided to bring in as much wood as she could. It didn’t work out as well for her as it did for Laura and Mary in when they brought in the entire woodpile in On the Banks of Plum Creek. Mom locked herself out in the process, took a ladder to the attic window to get back in the house, and then sprained her ankle climbing in.

Memory is muddled when it comes to my brother Evan’s frozen feet. As adults, reminiscing about some of our snowy adventures as kids, Evan asked if I remembered the time we went out sledding on the fire road and then decided to hike out to the cave to see its icicles. We barely made it back home because his feet were so wet and cold. Apparently, I told him that I’d read that the best thing to thaw frozen feet was to rub them with snow.

Rachael and Evan exploring in the snowy woods

Rachael and Evan at the icicle cave

 

He remembers that I took off his tennis shoes and wet socks to do it and wondered then — and now — if I really thought that was going to work or if I thought the threat of rubbing his feet with snow would get him moving again.

 Evan in the snow

Though I could remember my brother walking home in the snow without socks, I didn’t remember the aborted frostbite treatment. I can imagine I did suggest it, following the example of Royal’s care of his brother Almanzo in The Long Winter after Almanzo returns with wheat for the starving community and frozen feet.

Perhaps Evan was remembering me telling him about Almanzo’s ordeal. Or maybe I just wanted to test the treatment. We can’t remember. But what we do remember now is our conversation about that cold, snowy day. We agreed then that if either of us got cold feet about something or needed any kind of help, all we’d ever have to say to the other was “my feet are frozen.”

I find it interesting that the books I read as a child continue to figure into my daily life and relationships. But not surprising. Books have always felt like a big part of life and I deeply feel the influence they’ve had on my development.

So, I propose that we take a turn in our Little Journey together and focus on bringing books to life, enriching kids’ lives with good books, and the impact books can have on young readers. And we’ll add some new voices — authors, parents, and others — to learn how books have changed their lives and get their ideas for inspiring readers.

Join us for Book Life.

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"You may have tangible wealth untold. Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be — I had a mother who read to me." — Strickland Gillilan