Last month M and I finished reading Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Although I’m sure very many of you will know the book, for those of you that don’t, Little House in the Big Woods is the first book in a series of essentially autobiographical novels about a young girl growing up in rural America in second half of the 19th century.
This first book details her family’s life over the course of a year in the woods of Wisconsin and is full of descriptions of many homesteading skills, such as making butter and maple syrup, preserving food for the winter, and hunting. Such a synopsis does not do the book justice! The fact that Little House in the Big Woods came in at no. 23 in Fuse 8’s Top 100 Children’s Novel Poll should tell you that this is a special book that is definitely worth reading!
I was thrilled to be able to read Little House in the Big Woods to M as it was one of my favourite books as a child. To my great delight she was as inspired and enthusiastic about it as I was (and still am!). As we read the book together there were lots of new words for M – some new because of the American setting, some new because of the historical setting – and because of this, combined with the fact that she clearly loved the story and wanted to listen to it again straight away, we treated ourselves to the audiobook version of Little House in the Big Woods.
To my surprise there seems to be only version of Little House in the Big Woods available. It is an unabridged recording, comprising 4 CDs, read by Cherry Jones, an American actress who was in Erin Brockovich among other films and also starred in the TV series 24. Cherry Jones reads the novel with great conviction and her American accent certainly helped set the scene for us as we listened along.
Occasionally she is accompanied by Paul Woodiel on the violin, playing short excerpts of the fiddle music that appears throughout the novel, as played by Pa, the head of the family. What there is of the fiddle music is wonderful – adding another layer of authenticity to the story, but time and time again I felt that the producers of this audiobook had missed a trick by not letting the fiddle music really shine. For example, when there is a jig competition between two family members the dancing and the music are vividly described in the book and yet there is no music at all at this point in the CD. I don’t think this bothered M at all, but I’m sure these CDs are listened to by almost as many adults as children, and for us a bit more wonderful music would not have gone amiss!
I wondered if M might be surprised by the American accent, especially as some words are pronounced so differently as to be somewhat confusing (eg “herbs”), but she didn’t bat an eyelid! One aspect of the recording she particularly liked was that on the CDs each chapter of the book is given its own, single track (rather than multiple, shorter tracks), making it very easy for her to locate the point in the book she wanted to listen to again.
All in all, even though I personally would have enjoyed more fiddle music, this audiobook was a good buy, a lovely book to listen to.
One of M’s favourite passages in the (audio)book is the description of the playhouses Laura and Mary have outside their log cabin
They had playhouses under the two big oak trees in front of the house. Mary’s playhouse was under Mary’s tree, and Laura’s playhouse was under Laura’s tree. The soft grass made a green carpet for them.
The green leaves were the roofs, and through them they could see bits of the blue sky […] Mary had a cracked saucer to play with, and Laura had a beautiful cup with only one big piece broken out of it. Charlotte and Nettie, and the two little wooden men Pa had made, lived in the playhouse with them. Every day they made fresh leaf hats for Charlotte and Nettie, and they made little leaf cups and saucers to set on their table. The table was a a nice, smooth rock.
M really wanted her own little playhouse in the garden after reading this (to my surprise she wanted to play at being Mary, not Laura) and so of the past couple of weeks, since the weather has turned spring like, we’ve been working on creating two little houses for M and J in little corners of our garden.
I gained a lot of inspiration from an amazing series of posts about how to create an irresistible outdoor play space for children by Jenny at a wonderful Australian blog called Let the children play. The two posts that were particularly pertinent to creating our little playhouses were Just Add Stones, Logs, Stumps and Mounds and Just Add Places to Pause, Places to Hide, Places to Rest.
Armed with some logs liberated from the felling of some trees in a nearby park (we collected them in our wheelbarrow! – walking back and forth to our house raised many a smile from passers by ), a couple of pieces of crockery from a charity shop, and a few pieces of material from my rag collection we set about creating our houses. Here are the results:
These places are already much loved – and I’ve been amazed to see that adults who visit us are also drawn to these spots – everyone, it seems, likes a little place to escape to their dreams and the stories inside their heads!
Little House in the Big Woods (Audiobook): ** (2 stars)
When we’re not out playing in our houses, or inside listening to the Little House in the Big Woods audiobook we’re listening to a lot of fiddle and other folk music at the moment, in honour of Pa and his music making. Things like…
There is also a CD called Happy Land: Musical Tributes to Laura Ingalls Wilder but we haven’t been able to get hold of this – if any of you have listened to it, please let us know what you thought of it. There is also a songbook available – The Laura Ingalls Wilder Songbook: Favorite Songs from the Little House Books – but again we haven’t been able to see a copy for ourselves.
There are masses and masses of resources out there for Laura Ingalls Wilder fans. Here are some that we’ve enjoyed:
I’ve read of some parents editing aspects of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books when reading them to their children – to remove the passages describing encounters with Native Americans (the language used is often racist by today’s definitions). I would never do this – but would rather start a conversation with my children about the language and history – but what are your feelings about this?
Do let us know about any little dens or magic outdoor spaces you and your kids enjoy! And if you haven’t got one yet, please do read Jenny’s posts at Let the children play – you’ll be inspired and looking for the nearest logs and boulders before you know it!
This review will be part of the next AudioSynced carnival – a round up of audiobook reviews in the blogosphere. If you enjoy audiobooks with your kids, why not consider submitting a review yourself next month