Top 100 Children’s Novels #84: The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Cold! Hunger! Suffering! My mother read the Little House books to us children in a constant loop, starting with Big Woods, cycling up through Golden Years, and then back to the Woods again. Then when my mother was dying, I read the Little House books to her. – Anne Nesbet
I came this close to calling it something awful like “The original Hunger Games”. Slap me if I ever get close to doing that again. So here is what I find so interesting. The last time I conducted this poll three Little House books ended up on the list. The Long Winter? Not one of them. Clearly those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mistaken in their assumptions that there would be no new Wilders.
The summary from the Little House Books website reads, “The adventures of Laura Ingalls and her family continue as Pa, Ma, Laura, Mary, Carrie, and little Grace bravely face the hard winter of 1880-81 in their little house in the Dakota Territory. Blizzards cover the little town with snow, cutting off all supplies from the outside. Soon there is almost no food left, so young Almanzo Wilder and a friend make a dangerous trip across the prairie to find some wheat. Finally a joyous Christmas is celebrated in a very unusual way in this most exciting of all the Little House books.”
Truth be told this was always sort of my favorite Wilder as well. The claustrophobia mixed in with the survival is hugely compelling. I do remember being disturbed by the Garth Williams cover, though. Sure the girls were smiling but who the heck was that no-goodnik boy with the snowball? I disapproved in the way only a nine-year-old can disapprove. This was the sixth in the series and took place during the horrendous 1880-1881 winter. It would be interesting to look at different books for children that handle the subject of this particular winter in books of both fiction and nonfiction. Now when we consider the whole swath of the Wilder titles, The Long Winter is one of the most interesting and least offensive. That is not to say that it doesn’t have anti-Indian sentiment in there. But compared to some of the other books it’s quite mild. Oyate has discontinued its Books To Avoid section but even a search of the backfiles reveals that it’s the other Wilder books that have the most problems. In this book a single American Indian comes to warn the settlers of the upcoming blizzard. That’s about it.
The honors it garnered included a Newbery Honor, a mention on the ALA Notable Children’s Book list, and a mention on the Horn Book Fanfare list.
- You can hear an audio excerpt here.
- Read the beginning of the book here.
Not a ton of different covers to speak of. That’s probably a good thing.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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