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Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography Hardcover – December 30, 2014
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From School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up—Hill presents a detailed annotated version of Wilder's autobiography, written between 1929 and 1930, which served as the basis for the ever-popular and successful "Little House" books. A successful columnist and editor, Wilder chronicled 16 years of the Ingalls family's moves through Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and the Dakota Territory in the late 19th century, offering vivid descriptions of the land and people as well as the ups and downs of frontier life. Though daughter Rose Wilder Lane heavily edited the manuscript, it was never accepted for publication. Wilder eventually fictionalized many of the incidents described here for her "Little House" series and strove to portray the spirit of the time and to illustrate the courage and adaptability of the people who settled the frontier. Using census data, newspapers, and other primary documents, this volume is heavily annotated and puts into perspective the original autobiography and how that manuscript evolved into the fictional stories. Though casual readers may find the information overwhelming, "Little House" devotees will appreciate Hill's thorough examination of Wilder's life and times.—Patricia Ann Owens, formerly with Illinois Eastern Community Colls., Mt. Carmel
Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography offers Wilder s complete first draft of her own story, enhanced by scrupulous and wide-ranging new research. . . . And I m happy to say is a treasure. . . . Wilder pulls off the difficult trick of telling a rich, satisfying story about good people being good. The Pa of Pioneer Girl is still a selfless provider, Ma is a skilled homemaker, Mary a prim playmate, and Laura a good-hearted tomboy. Their stories may have been tidied up on the path between nonfiction and fiction, but their characters remain reassuringly intact. . . . Pioneer Girl is a welcome reminder of the power, even the genius of the Little House books. . . . this annotated edition of Pioneer Girl will deepen and enrich a great American story. Ruth Graham, The Slate Book Review --pioneergirlproject.org/reviews/
Wilder s memoir is a fascinating piece of American history, but it s the annotations that set Pioneer Girl apart as the most important work of its kind. . . . It thrills with new insights and mature content, educates with historical facts and documentation, and enlightens with cultural perspective and commentary, all while maintaining the spirit of adventure and integrity that is the backbone of the Little House world and Wilder herself. . . . With Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, Hill has ensured that not only will Laura Ingalls Wilder continue to inspire, but that her audience will grow and expand for generations to come. Pallas Gates McCorquodale, Foreword Reviews Magazine --pioneergirlproject.org/reviews/
Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography offers an in-depth look at the original hand-written nonfiction manuscript by Wilder . . . an extensive back story of both Lane and Wilder as writers and the role Pioneer Girl played in their respective careers. . . . I found it fascinating . . . Pioneer Girl is dense with annotations that explain how original text was edited, where individual stories ended up in the final series, and how editors worked to fact-check Wilder s personal memories. . . . Most importantly, Pioneer Girl frames Wilder s work in a historical context and closes the gap between her pioneer days as a young girl and her life as a highly acclaimed fiction writer . . . Pioneer Girl offers an in-depth look at the circumstances that, over time, caused the original girlhood tales of Wilder to evolve into a series of bestselling books that earned Wilder critical acclaim and recognition that have endured for decades. Lane Brown, The Christian Science Monitor --pioneergirlproject.org/reviews/
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The information inside is absolute gold. I had no idea that there was anything else I could learn about Laura, as I have read every book written by, for, or about her, but there is so much. It truly gives new insight into what was true and what was fiction in the series. Reading Laura's words is like reading a letter written by my own grandmother, the style of writing is so honest and open. The side-bar information is fascinating. The depth of research that went into every name Laura mentions, every location, and every incident is mind-boggling.
I'm even more stunned now at Laura's memory. Although she makes a few mistakes about some names, for the most part, she remembers names of neighbors and details about events that are verified by Hill and the other researchers. It's truly impressive that Laura was able to remember so much detail about her childhood.
My absolute favorite little bit from Laura's writing was the story about the mitten she knitted for Baby Carrie. It is one of the sweetest stories I've read, and feels so absolutely true and with emotions that I can even remember feeling as a young child.
I still have a bit of the book to go. I'm a speed reader, and it still takes me an hour to get through ten pages. There is just SO MUCH packed onto each and every page that it takes awhile to digest. I've literally been waiting twenty years to read Pioneer Girl, ever since I first found out it existed, when I was about ten years old. Finally reading it is a little stunning.
Essentially Laura's factual personal history, Pioneer Girl was intended for adult readers. She had written for the St. Louis Star Farmer and the Missouri Ruralist, but that writing had generally been about farming and the rural lifestyle. After her parents and her older sister passed away, Laura began, at age 63, to devote herself to writing the family's experiences in the raw American West. This she did in pencil in six tablets that are transcribed and lightly edited for this edition.
Pioneer Girl tells the story of Laura's growing up years, from age two to eighteen. Taken by itself, without the annotations, it reads as a rough first draft, with all the immediacy that goes with getting memories down on paper quickly. It is fascinating to hear the Little House anecdotes told from an adult perspective, and to confirm the realities of pioneer life. Laura's voice feels genuine, and the asides to her daughter make it clear that one of her goals was to preserve familiar stories that were part of the family's legacy. The other object was to get the book published, in part because Laura had writing ambitions, but probably more because the Wilders desperately needed money, both parents and daughter having lost their savings in the economic collapse at the beginning of the Great Depression.
Where this book becomes complex is in the annotations. There are a great many notes, presented in a sidebar fashion, with much South Dakota history and details about the lives of most of the characters mentioned. That information makes this a longer and somewhat cumbersome read, though history buffs won't mind.
The more challenging aspect is that a large proportion of the notes are devoted to comparing this manuscript to the juvenile version presented in the Little House series. There seem to be two intentions here. Firstly, this is a definitive look at the original manuscript and how it was transformed from factual autobiography to juvenile fiction, which will be of interest to scholars and writers, but is perhaps less meaningful to general readers. Secondly, there is evident effort to insist on Laura's authorship and diminish the role that her daughter, Rose Lane, played in producing the Little House books.
Lane had always been her mother's editor and typist, fitting that work around her own much-admired writing. She was an important author of her time, with major connections in the publishing world. It is safe to say that the Little House series would never have been produced without her help—in the editing, in finding an agent, and in facilitating publication. Further, there are strong arguments suggesting that Lane had a larger hand in the writing than this edition of Pioneer Girl acknowledges. To take a deeper look at this, Susan Wittig Albert has published A Wilder Rose, an historical novel based on Lane's diaries and letters and other documentary evidence, which convincingly demonstrates her participation as her mother's silent partner in authoring the Little House books.
Whether or not a reader is concerned with this controversy, what Pioneer Girl provides is Laura's unedited and original voice. The writing is not polished or professional, but she is telling her life experience as she recalls it. As always, a true story makes for compelling and engaging reading, and for those of us who grew up with Laura Ingalls as our heroine, Pioneer Girl adds the spice of adult reality to the childhood saga.
by Susan Schoch
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women