This is the story of Little House on the Prairie, retold from the viewpoint of Ma, Caroline Quiner Ingalls. Reading the Little House books as a child, I thought that Pa was the big hero, hunter-gathering, building houses and playing jolly tunes on is fiddle, whilst Ma seemed a bit dull, always fussing about the girls’ behaviour and education. Reading them now, I’m overwhelmed with admiration and sympathy for Ma, being uprooted time and time again because of Pa’s “itchy feet”, and trying to bring up four children amidst it all. Her cooking, cleaning and especially sewing skills under such difficult circumstances were amazing.
This book was written with the full approval of the Little House Heritage Trust, and never criticises Charles/Pa, but it does show how difficult life was for Caroline, especially on the long journey they made when they left Wisconsin. The author explains in an afterword that, whilst the Ingalls family travelled from Wisconsin to Kansas, then to Missouri and then back to Kansas (in an area which wasn’t actually part of “Indian Territory”), she’s gone along with Laura’s depiction of their just going straight from Wisconsin to Kansas.
However, she shows, which Laura didn’t, that Caroline was expecting Carrie whilst travelling. And she shows that they had to leave because the buyer of their Wisconsin property defaulted on his payments. They weren’t moved out of the area reserved for Native Americans, because they weren’t inside it.
On the now controversial subject of Caroline’s attitude towards Native Americans, she makes reference to the killing of settlers during the Dakota Wars, and also makes clear the natural fear of a woman when strange men entered her home whilst she was on her own with three little girls. That’s understandable, but there’s no sympathy at all shown for the people being driven off their ancestral lands as they pass the Ingalls claim, and there’s a distinct sense of “otherness” in that Caroline is unable to feel any sort of sisterhood with the Native American women.
Overall, we’re left feeling that life’s hard, but that there’s a lot of joy in it too. We see Caroline’s joy in her new house, which was supposed to be their “forever home”, in her children, and in her marriage. And we’re left with mixed feelings at the end, when they’re going home to Wisconsin and their family there, but leaving the house and crops that they’d put so much work into.
I’ve also got mixed feelings about people publishing books about other people’s characters, especially when they’re just retelling someone else’s story and not even creating their own plots; and this one’s particularly strange in that it’s about a real person, who lived not so long ago. But I did enjoy it, and I think that most of Laura’s other fans would/will enjoy it too.