Little House on the Prairie is one of the few television shows that I can remember everyone in my family gathering around the television to watch. We looked forward to it every week and would talk about the (obvious) lessons learned around the dinner table. The Ingalls family became as well known to us as anyone else in our neighborhood. I did not read the books – I was in high school when the show started – but my sister read all of them. And when Tom and John and I went through Minnesota in 1990, I made Tom drive out of his way to Walnut Grove so I could visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum.
Recently at the library I found a book by an author I like, Susan Wittig Albert, in the New Fiction section. Thinking it was the start of a new series, I picked it up. “A Wilder Rose” is a novelization of the years that Rose Wilder Lane helped her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, write the Little House on the Prairie books. Rose was a published and established author long before her mother began writing. But during the Depression, Rose found the markets that had paid her for her freelance fiction had pretty much dried up. So she took the notebooks in which her mother had written stories about life growing up, and helped her mother craft them into the beloved Little House series. Without Rose’s extensive editorial work, the Little House books would never have been published.
“A Wilder Rose” is painstakingly researched and taken from Rose’s unpublished journals of those years. It covers the 10 years of the Depression when Rose came back to live at the family farm in Missouri. Rose and her mother were very different, but the book looks at ways their common experiences – homesteading, extreme poverty as children, and the deaths of infant sons – shaped them so that they had more in common than either wanted to admit. Despite her desperation to be an individual and get away from the farm, Rose helped her mother write the Little House books so that her parents would have an independent income that would allow them to retire from farming.
I enjoyed “A Wilder Rose” because I was very interested in the subject matter. I’m not sure why Susan Wittig Albert didn’t write it as a biography: maybe she didn’t want to deal with the footnotes! There were times when she got bogged down a little in the historical background, treating it as exposition when it was more incidental to the story. Reading the book made me want to learn more about Rose Wilder Lane and read some of her books. I always appreciate a book that makes me want to learn more about a subject.