Monday, September 14, 2015

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pamela Smith Hill (editor)

Pioneer Girl is not only a great tale of an American family settling the west, but it is a must have for any fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her series of children’s classics, the Little House books.  Pioneer Girl is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s original tale written for adults.  It covers the same time period as her beloved classic novels and tells the story of the Ingalls family’s struggle as they move across the country as pioneers trying to make a better life for themselves while also answering the siren’s call to move every westward.  They travel from Wisconsin to Kansas back to Wisconsin to Minnesota to Iowa back to Minnesota and then finally to South Dakota.  The family expands from two children to five, with one lost along the way.

What is very interesting to learn upon reading this book is that there was a lot of information that was taken out of the story to make it more palatable for children.  There were also many sections that were very brief in Pioneer Girl that Wilder expanded on as she created her children’s novels.  It was very interesting to read Pioneer Girl and to see Wilder’s creative process as she fictionalized her own story and wrote it for children.  I also learned a lot more about the Ingalls family’s adventures and that life was a lot grittier than what was explained in the classic novels.  For instance, Pa actually left Iowa in the dead of night to avoid creditors.  I almost tipped over from shock when I read that.  The Ingalls family also had more help than what was explained in the original novels, especially after the grasshoppers ate their crops in Minnesota and they were left with nothing and had to take a government handout.

I loved that this autobiography was greatly researched and had extensive notes in the margins from editor Pamela Hill Smith.  These notes helped to bring more to the story and also to validate it.  They also answered many of the burning questions I’ve had since I was a child about the story.  Questions such as were there really panthers in Wisconsin (answer, probably not, more likely another large cat that was called a panther by the locals), and whey aren’t their flocks of grasshoppers eating all of our crops these days (they are extinct!).  The format of the book was great, it’s an oversized book that is more like a textbook which leaves plenty of room for the notes and wonderful pictures that are throughout.

The past ten or fifteen years, I have been distressed by the internet talk that Laura’s daughter Rose really wrote the Little House series and is the “ghost in the little house.”  I think this book can really put those rumors to rest.  The great introduction details Rose and Laura’s collaborative effort.  It also shows how Rose herself used Pioneer Girl to write her most famous novels as well as at least one published short story.  All of the Little House books as well as much of Rose’s later work were all based off of the original Pioneer Girl manuscript written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and sent to her daughter Rose to edit and find a publisher.

Overall, I found Pioneer Girl to be both a fascinating tale of one family’s survival as they settled the West as well as a great look into Laura Ingalls Wilder’s creative process as she wrote the Little House Books.  This is a must have book for Little House fans and a riveting read for anyone who is interested in the history of the pioneers.

Book Source:  I purchased this book from Amazon.  I first heard about it on NPR last December and had to wait for a while to be able to purchase it (it out of stock for a long time!).  It was a great book to read over the summer.


  1. Laura, this sounds quite interesting. I have enjoyed reading The Little House books (and featured some on my blog, way back when). Lovely review, as usual!

  2. I'll have to see if I can find them on your blog! I love Little House!