Did I read this one as a kid? I can’t remember but I suspect not: I’m sure I read Little House in the Big Woods but I think I was pretty young at the time and I don’t know if I got this far in the series; I think I would have been bored by the courtship aspects but I would have liked the horses. Though the beginning, when Laura is staying with the Brewsters, does seem somewhat familiar to me, so maybe I started it and abandoned it. Anyway: when the book opens Laura is fifteen and leaving home to teach school for a bit; we see her at that first school (which is a bit challenging, both in terms of the pupils and her living situation, in a household where the wife is possibly depressed and certainly doesn’t want to be living where she’s living) and then at home again and at other schools, after, both as student and as teacher. As the book progresses, one of the main things we see is Laura’s relationship with Almanzo Wilder, which progresses from courtship to engagement to marriage, and is pretty sweet. I like how Almanzo lets Laura drive his horses, including Barnum, who has a tendency to rear and bolt, and how Laura handles whatever comes her way.

As a modern city-dweller, it’s quite something to picture the big cold prairie landscapes that are described in this book. Where I live, it snows and it gets cold, but not negative forty degrees Fahrenheit cold. And because I live in NYC and walk a lot, I have a decent sense of distance on foot: like, it’s a mile from home to the climbing gym, and I walk there and back. But to think of a space in which that distance is the distance between a house and its nearest neighbor, like when Laura talks about living out on the McKees’ claim in the summer, is pretty trippy for me. I like the way Wilder writes about the prairie in all the seasons, how she describes the stars overhead and the wild roses and the snow and the trees. I like this, from early in the book: “A faint trace of sled runners stretched onward before them. There was nothing else to see but the endless, low white land and the huge pale sky, and the horses’ blue shadows blotting the sparkle from the snow.” And this, from later on: “The prairie was empty of all but birds and cloud shadows.”

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