Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure - Little Houses Everywhere

Pros: Fun and educational for fans of the Little House books
Cons: Not as much fun if you've never read the books

The Bottom Line: If you loved Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House books (like me!), then you'll get a kick out of one woman's journey to see it all.

When we got The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure as an ARC a while back, I had to read it. The premise was just too good to pass up.  I loved the Little House books. When I was a kid, I saved up all my money and spend a whopping $6 to get my hands on the next book. I still have those books too. My favorite is On the Banks of Plum Creek.

But McClure wanted to take things a step further. When she rediscovered her old Little House books as an adult (yep, she still had her books from when she was a kid too), she decided to go on a bit of a Laura Ingalls Wilder adventure. She wants to actually find the Big Woods where Pa's cabin was. She wants to follow the trails in the prairie lands and wade in the one and only Plum Creek (beware of leeches!). She wants to immerse herself in what she calls "Laura World" and pick out the truth of the books from the fiction that everyone so loves. Heck, she even makes butter with a butter churn (apparently not as hard as it sounds - I was shocked) and that molasses candy in squiggly shapes using just a pan of snow.

If you have read the Little House books, McClure will remind of you of all the little things in them. I just started and was only on page 4 when she reaches out to the reader and says, "...because you do remember the button lamp, in the saucer, with the little square of calico that [Ma] twists up and greases into a wick?" Now, I haven't read the books literally in decades, but that was my very first Laura Ingalls Wilder flashback moment, in which I internally shouted, "Omg, yes! I do!"

This book brought back a whole bunch of those memories. Even better, McClure tries out all sorts of things, such as making a bunch of food from the books like salt pork and vanity cakes. Yeah. Who remembers the vanity cakes? Remember how awesome they sounded in the books? Apparently they're made using two pounds of lard. Ha!

It was really fun to follow her around as she sought out the places where Laura and her family lived. If you aren't a super-Laura buff, then you'll also learn all sorts of interesting tidbits and truths about the family, such as Pa and everyone skipping town one night to avoid paying rent they couldn't afford. If you don't want to leave Laura World, that magical fantastical place, then don't read this book and you'll stay there. But if you've long since left it, you'll enjoy every page. McClure reads all sorts of other books and accounts, both by Laura and her daughter Rose, as well as by other historicists and such.

I left Laura World a while ago - long before Ms. McClure. I distinctly remember when driving home from Colorado one year through South Dakota when my father saw a sign announcing that Laura Ingalls Wilder's home was coming up so turn off if you wanted to check it out. The thing that actually strikes me now is that my dad somehow remembered that I liked the books and asked me if I wanted to go see it (this is the man that can't remember my birthday and once a year for several years in a row was always surprised when I said I liked to fish). I remember looking at the sign, smiling a little, and saying, "No, that's okay. I'm good." (Though I think now it would have been nifty to look at from a historical perspective.)

The only issue with this book is if you haven't read the Little House series. This book isn't about the television show (in case you haven't figured that out yet), so that won't help you in the least. My mom read this book before me and she said it was fun, funny, and interesting, but she'd never actually read the books so she wasn't always sure what McClure was talking about. She couldn't relate to her story the way I could. So maybe read the Little House series first, eh? They're a lot of fun anyway!

One last thing is that I think McClure's hubby deserves some kudos for how supportive he is when it comes to his wife's little obsession (hey, if you go and buy and actual butter churn to churn butter, while that's pretty cool, I do think it borders on obsession. And by the way folks - churned butter tastes the same as regular grocery store butter, so don't spend extra money on magical handmade butter because it's nothing special - unless whoever is making it has cows eating actual grass...or if it comes from Ireland...). He also provides some extra amusement to the story, so high-five to Chris.

It's a delightful little story that's relatively quick to get through. You'll have a great time reading it and remembering a bit of your childhood. McClure's favorite was Little House on the Pairie, but my favorites are On the Banks of Plum Creek, Little House in the Big Woods, and yes, Farmer Boy.

All's well that ends well!


Originally posted on

 Notes from the playlist: "Waking Dream" by Natalie Walker

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