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This review is from: Farmer Boy (Little House) (Paperback)
I've been laid up with the flu for the past week, and found myself re-reading all the "Little House" books to cheer myself up. My grandmother gave me all the books in the series in order, for every birthday and Christmas from the time I turned 7 until the Christmas just after my 10th birthday. I must have read all of them at least a dozen times over the past 40 years, but I had forgotten how much there is to marvel at and to admire in "Farmer Boy."
The book is set in 1866 and tells the story of Almanzo Wilder, Laura's future husband, the year he turned nine. He worked as hard as any man to help maintain his father's prosperous farm in upstate New York, but still managed to find time to just be a boy and to play and have fun. Compared to the Ingalls family, the Wilders were almost filthy rich but they were never idle. James Wilder may have been a gentleman farmer, but he worked as hard as any man he hired to help him run the place, and there was plenty of work to keep every member of the family busy from sunup to sundown, and none of the resources they had on the farm were wasted. The rooms of their handsome farmhouse were wallpapered; the floors covered with beautiful carpets, but those carpets were made from the wool of sheep the Wilders raised, dyed using berries and flowers the children gathered that grew in the woods, and loomed by Almanzo's mother. At one point Almanzo's father gives him a silver dollar and tells him how much work is in that one piece of money. You better believe it.
After I finished "Farmer Boy," the other night, I idly made a list of all the aspects of farm life and all the skills that the book describes in such vivid detail that you might be able to teach yourself how to do many of them, if you're handy, and stopped at 34. There are probably some I missed, so easily do these descriptions blend into the narrative. Everything from making a buggy whip to threshing wheat to sheep-shearing and making wintergreen oil to making a sled and breaking oxen is described through the eyes of a nine-year old boy. He learns that hard work is a necessity, but that diligence and patience are rewarded. As he sees it, cleaning stables, hauling timber and baling hay are more fun (and practical) than going to school. There is an old saying that the "rich man gets his ice in summer, the poor man gets his in the winter," and I think my favorite part of the book is the chapter called "Filling The Ice House," which describes the dangerous work of cutting huge blocks of ice off a frozen river and storing them in a sawdust-filled ice house. There the ice would not melt and could be used all through the summer to make ice cream, lemonade and eggnog. Living on the sun-baked prairies, Laura Ingalls probably couldn't imagine such frosty luxuries existed.
Once Laura and Almanzo came to know each other, she clearly became fascinated with his stories of his childhood, so vastly different and in its way so much more privileged than her own. That she chose to set them down alongside her memories of her own much more elemental, hardscrabble upbringing is one of the endless gifts the "Little House" stories provide for generation after generation of readers.