Little House in the Big Woods

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Little House in the Big Woods
Little House in the Big woods easyshare.jpg
Front dustjacket with Sewell illustration
Author Laura Ingalls Wilder
Illustrator Helen Sewell[1]
Garth Williams (1953)[2]
Country United States
Series Little House
Genre Children's novel
Family saga
Publisher Harper & Brothers
Publication date
Media type Print (hardcover)
Pages 176;[1] 237 pp.[2]
OCLC 2365122
LC Class PZ7.W6461 Li[1]
Followed by Farmer Boy

Little House in the Big Woods is an autobiographical children's novel written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and published by Harper in 1932 (reviewed in June).[3] It was Ingalls Wilder's first book published and it inaugurated her Little House series. The story is based on memories of her early childhood in the Big Woods near Pepin, Wisconsin, in the early 1870s.

Based on a 2007 online poll, the U.S. National Education Association named Little House in the Big Woods one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children".[4] In 2012, it was ranked number 19 among all-time children's novels in a survey published by School Library Journal – the first of three Little House books in the Top 100.[5]

Historical background[edit]

Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder was born to Caroline Ingalls and Charles Ingalls on February 7, 1867, near Pepin, Wisconsin.[6] At that time, she had one sister, Mary Amelia Ingalls. Wilder’s actual birthplace is about seven miles (11 km) north of Pepin, and is marked by a replica cabin along the Pepin County highway CC (formerly Wisconsin 183) at the Little House Wayside (near Lund).[7] Pepin celebrates her life every September with traditional music, craft demonstrations, a "Laura look-alike" contest, a spelling bee, and other events. Other places the Ingalls’ lived in the Little House books have also been restored and preserved for visitors.

Little House replica at the Little House Wayside, 2007

The family actually lived in the Big Woods twice. When Laura was still a baby, the family moved to Independence, Kansas. Laura’s sister, Carrie Ingalls, was born while they lived in the Kansas Territory, and Laura saw her first Indians (Osage) at this time and how they lived. The family returned to Pepin a couple of years later.[8] Laura and Mary went to school for the first time in Pepin rather than Walnut Grove, which is not included in Little House in the Big Woods. In 1874, the family started their journey to Walnut Grove, Minnesota, stopping for a while in Lake City, Minnesota.

In the book, Laura turns five years old; however, in reality, she was only three. According to a letter from her daughter, Rose, to biographer William Anderson, the publisher had Laura change her age in the book because it seemed unrealistic for a three-year-old to have specific memories such as she wrote about.[9] This is also why Laura portrayed herself as 6–7 years old in Little House on the Prairie, to be consistent with her already established chronology. Since she skipped writing about 1876–1877 when the family lived near Burr Oak, Iowa, her age progression in later books is seamless.

Laura & Almanzo Wilder, 1885

At 18, Laura married the 28-year-old Almanzo Wilder.[10] A year of Almanzo’s childhood in rural New York is memorialized in her second book, Farmer Boy. They had one daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, and lost a son in infancy. Laura wrote essays and articles for newspapers and magazines over the years, mostly articles related to homesteading.[11] Laura's daughter Rose was, by this time, a newspaper writer herself, and encouraged her mother to write down the stories of Laura's childhood to preserve for herself. Laura eventually put these into a book, initially called "Pioneer Girl", which was then submitted to a publisher but rejected. With Rose's advice, another draft, now entitled Little House in the Big Woods, was accepted by Harper's when Laura was 65 years old.[12] For Little House in the Big Woods, and each of her books, Laura wrote out the manuscript by hand.[13] The well-known illustrations by Garth Williams appeared in the revised edition, first published in 1953.[14]

Plot summary[edit]

Original front cover (see dustjacket above)

Little House in the Big Woods describes the homesteading skills Laura observed and began to practice during her fifth year (see comment on Laura’s age, above). This first volume does not contain the more mature (yet real) themes addressed in later books of the series (danger from Indians, serious illness, death, drought, crop destruction). Hard work is the rule, though fun is often made in the midst of it. Laura gathers woodchips, and helps Ma and Pa when they butcher animals. Laura also helps Ma preserve the meat. This is all in preparation for the upcoming winter. Fall is a very busy time, because the harvest from the garden and fields must be brought in as well.

The cousins come for Christmas that year, and Laura receives a doll, which she names Charlotte. Later that winter, the family goes to Grandma Ingalls’ and has a “sugaring off,” when they harvest sap and make maple syrup. They return home with buckets of syrup, enough to last the year. Laura remembered that sugaring off, and the dance that followed, for the rest of her life.

Each season has its work, which the author makes attractive by the good things that result. In the spring, the cow has a calf, so there are milk, butter and cheese. Everyday housework is also described in detail.

That summer and fall, the Ingalls again plant a garden and fields, and store food for the winter. Laura’s Pa trades labor with other farmers so that his own crops will be harvested faster when it is time. Not all work was farming. Hunting and gathering were important parts of providing for the family as well. When Pa went into the woods to hunt, he usually came home with a deer then smoked the meat for the coming winter. One day he noticed a bee tree and returned from hunting early to get the wash tub and milk pail to collect the honey. When Pa returned in the winter evenings, Laura and Mary always begged him to play his fiddle; he was too tired from farm work to play during the summertime.[15] In the winter, they enjoyed the comforts of their home and danced to Pa’s fiddle playing.


Little House in the Big Woods (price two dollars) was reviewed at length for the New York Herald Tribune in its June 12 issue. Jessie Hirsohl advised, "It should be read by all Middle Border children—and by many others to whom its experiences will not be even an echo of word-of-mouth inheritance. Too few, nowadays, can tell as real and treasurable a story. [paragraph break] Moreover, this story is delightfully told." In conclusion, "The book's make-up is entirely in character—a homespun-color linen jacket, and inner boards calicoed with tiny strawberry leaves and blossoms. The illustrations are by Helen Sewell, and are pleasantly reminiscent of woodcuts and daguerreotypes."[3]

Related books[edit]

In addition to the Little House books, four series of books expand the Little House series to include five generations of Laura Ingalls Wilder's family. The success of the Little House series has produced many related books including two series ("Little House Chapter Books" and "My First Little House Books") that present the original stories in condensed and simplified form for younger readers. There are also Little House themed craft, music, and cookbooks.


  1. ^ a b c "Little house in the big woods" (first edition). Library of Congress Online Catalog ( Retrieved September 21, 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Little house in the big woods"; Newly illustrated, uniform ed. LC Online Catalog. Retrieved September 21, 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Children's Books: Recapturing Rapture". Review of Little House in the Big Woods. Jessie Hirsohl. New York Herald Tribune. June 12, 1932. Page H5.
  4. ^ "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children". National Education Association ( 2007. Retrieved August 22, 2012. 
  5. ^ Bird, Elizabeth (July 7, 2012). "Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results". A Fuse #8 Production. Blog. School Library Journal ( Retrieved August 22, 2012. 
  6. ^ Gormley, Laura Ingalls Wilder: Young Pioneer, p.36
  7. ^ Anderson, The Little House Guidebook, p. 11
  8. ^ Anderson, Prairie Girl, pp.2–7
  9. ^ Anderson, Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Iowa Story pp.1–2
  10. ^ Anderson, Laura's Album, p. 29
  11. ^ Anderson, Laura's Album, pp.41–45
  12. ^ Biographical SketchLaura Ingalls Wilder Archived February 3, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ Anderson, Laura's Album, pp.53–54
  14. ^ Anderson, Laura's Album, p. 72
  15. ^ Each Little House Book contains lyrics to folk or patriotic songs. See The Laura Ingalls Wilder Songbook reference below for full lyrics and music.


  • Anderson, William. Laura’s Album: a remembrance scrapbook of Laura Ingalls Wilder. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 1998. ISBN 0-06-027842-0.
  • Anderson, William. Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Iowa Story. Burr Oak, Iowa. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum. 2001. ISBN 0-9610088-9-X
  • Anderson, William. Prairie Girl: The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 2004. ISBN 0-06-028974-0
  • Anderson, William. The Little House Guidebook. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 1996. ISBN 0-06-446177-7
  • Garson, Eugenia and Haufrecht, Herbert. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Songbook: Favorite Songs from the Little House Books. New York: HarperCollins Children's Books. 1996. ISBN 0-06-027036-5
  • Gormley, Beatrice. Laura Ingalls Wilder: Young Pioneer. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks. 2001. ISBN 0-689-83924-3
  • Ward,S. Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder. New York: Rosen Publishing Group. 2001. ISBN 0-8239-5712-8
  • Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Dear Laura: Letters From Children To Laura Ingalls Wilder. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 1996. ISBN 0-06-026274-5
  • Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little House in the Big Woods. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 1953. ISBN 0-06-026430-6
  • Wilder, Laura Ingalls. A Little House Traveler: Writings from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Journey Across America. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 2006. ISBN 0-06-072491-9

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