This historical fiction book is the first in the "Little House" series by Laura Ingalls Wilder and was originally published by Harper and Brothers, then Scholastic.
Little House in the Big Woods is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
In 1871, Laura Ingalls, older sister, Mary, and Baby Carries live with Ma and Pa in a log cabin in a large Wisconsin woods not too far from Pa's parents. The book details one full year of a family's experiences as homesteaders through the eyes of a 5-year-old Laura.
In the autumn, Pa and Ma put up food for the winter. The girls help as much as they can. Once the family has made, hunted for or stored enough food, their busy lives relax a little, and autumn turns into winter. During the cold months, Pa and Ma do their chores during the day, and Pa plays his fiddle, plays with his girls or tells stories in the evenings. Pa's chores include hunting for fresh meat, trapping for furs, taking care of their livestock and cleaning his gun. Ma cooks, cleans and takes care of the girls. Sometimes they make paper dolls together.
The woods they live in are home to many bears and wolves. The family has a healthy fear of them, but when Pa is able to kill a bear, they have fresh meat for a while. One night during the winter when Pa is away, Ma thinks a cow is out of the barn. She tries to get it into the barn, until she realizes that it is a bear standing on all fours. Laura is with Ma and has to run to the house for safety. Another day, wolves stand outside the house and howl.
As winter slowly thaws into spring, the family's everyday life turns toward making maple sugar and going to a dance at their grandparents' house. As they move into the summer months, Ma gardens and Pa hunts and does fieldwork. The girls watch or help with tasks, such as making straw hats and large rounds of cheese. All summer the family works to prepare food for the winter, but they are no longer isolated as they were during the winter months. Friends come over to visit. The Ingalls also go for short visits to the houses of friends and relatives. Laura learns about life from her parents and how to survive in the big woods.
As autumn returns, Laura has learned that she is no better than or less important than Mary. She and Mary are unique and loved fully by both of their parents.
Laura and Mary give honor and respect to their parents. Adults refrain from working and children from noisy play on the Sabbath in order to concentrate on what the Bible and catechism lessons say about God. A story is told about Pa and his brothers misbehaving on a Sabbath day when they were children. Laura's grandfather disciplined them for not honoring God on His day.
Pa and Ma are role models and include their children in their day-to-day activities. When Laura acts out, Pa disciplines her, but he makes sure she knows that he loves her and wants her to behave appropriately for her own sake. Both parents take their job of parenting their children seriously.
Other belief systems
Animals are hunted and killed for their meat and fur, but nothing is graphic.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Why does the Ingalls family have to work so hard to make food during the summer and fall months?
What does your family do to prepare for the winter?
How is your family similar to the Ingalls during each season?
How is your family different from Laura's family during each season?
What is one thing that Laura's family does that you would like your family to do?
- Why does Laura think everyone likes Mary more than people like her?
What does she feel Mary does better than she does?
Why does she hit Mary?
What causes her to think her brown hair is OK?
How does her brown hair being OK help her think that she is an OK person?
- What do Laura and her cousin Laura disagree about at their grandparents' dance?
How might both girls be a little right and a little wrong in their disagreement?
- Why does Laura receive one more Christmas present than her sisters?
Is that fair?
Why doesn't Mary seem to mind?
How does Ma expect Laura to share her new doll?
What has Laura used as a doll before receiving the homemade one from her mother?
- What is wrong with Pa and his brothers sledding on the Sabbath?
Do they know they are doing wrong?
How does Laura's grandfather catch them?
How were they supposed to honor God on the Sabbath?
How do you honor God on the Sabbath?
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