What a joy it was to read On the Banks of Plum Creek with my daughter Penelope this year. We started this novel right before we went on our family voyage to Walnut Grove at the end of July. It was wonderful to actually walk through the prairie and see the same flowers and same sights that Laura Ingalls also saw in On the Banks of Plum Creek. It was a great book experience for both Penelope and myself. More on our journey at this link.
On the Banks of Plum Creek is the story of the Ingalls family’s voyage to Minnesota. After they left their cabin on the prairie that they had illegally built on Native American land, they buy land in Minnesota that includes a dugout. Living in a dugout is a new experience for the Ingalls family and Ma is not pleased. Luckily, Pa gets a loan to buy new timber and build them a new house – their first house made of purchased wood boards. The loan is taken out based on what looks to be a bunker wheat group, but tragedy soon strikes with grasshoppers landing in Minnesota and devastating the area. How will the Ingalls family make it with no money, a large debt, and no food to eat? They are in one of their lowest moment of the series.
Laura and Mary also attend school for the first time and meet the infamous Nellie Olson. Nellie is the spoiled daughter of the owners of the general store. She has a life much, much different than Laura’s as she discovers attending a birthday party at Nellie’s. Nellie has purchased toys, store bought clothes, furniture, and carpets. Laura has a country birthday where she serves up revenge to Nellie Olson.
In contrast to Nellie, Laura has only one beloved toy, her doll Charlotte that she got for Christmas in the first book in the series, Little House in the Big Woods. Charlotte has traveled through the West with Laura, but her story takes a tragic turn in On the Banks of Plum Creek when Ma makes Laura give away Charlotte to a younger neighbor girl in a chapter appropriately named “The Darkest Hour is Just before Dawn.” I love this chapter and feel it is the strongest and most disturbing chapter in the book that really taps into the emotions of a child. My son Kile ran from the room when I read this too him when he was five, and now years later, my five year old daughter Penelope was frankly disturbed by it. “Why?” she kept asking. I was unsure how to answer. I know Ma didn’t want Laura to be a selfish little girl, but having her give away her one beloved toy just seemed cold.
Life on the prairie was brutal. Besides the crop failure, the family had to endure a hard winter. “Laura shivered in her shawl. She kept staring at the blank window-panes, hearing the swishing snow and the howling, jeering winds. She was thinking of the children whose Pa and Ma never came. They burned all of the furniture and froze stark stiff.” How scary it would be as a child to be caught alone in your house during a blizzard!
I love the scene when Pa is trapped in a snow bank so close to their house during a sudden blizzard and how Ma keeps a lantern in the window for him at night although she tells the girls he stayed in town. This is a story I loved while reading this book as a child and I still loved reading again as an adult.
My favorite quotes:
“Pa’s slow voice answered, ‘We’re safe enough, all right. Nothing can happen here.’”
“Out on the prairie there was a long grey rock. It rose up above the waving grasses and nodding wild flowers. On top it was flat and almost smooth, so wide that Laura and Mary could run on it side by side, and so long that they can race each other. It was a wonderful place to play.” My kids sat on this rock this summer!
“’Now, Charles,’ said Ma. ‘Here we are, all healthy and safe and snug, with food for the winter. Let’s be thankful for what we have.’” (Christmas and Pa wants horses, which eventually the entire family wants.)
“Laura knew now that there were things stronger than anybody. But the creek had not got her. It had not made her scream and it had not made her cry.” (Laura almost drowns in the creek – behold the power of water!)
Overall, On the Banks of Plum Creek gives a genuine portrayal of what life was like on the Minnesota prairie for a pioneer family. It gives the reality of what it was like to live during brutal times. The magic of Wilder’s writing is that she writes everything from the child’s perspective and gets it so right. It makes children today 150 years later able to relate to the story. It also is relatable to me as an adult remembering what it was like to be a child and also fascinating to me from a historical perspective. It’s a book not to be missed and should be read at least once in your lifetime! Penelope and I have now moved on to By the Shores of Silver Lake.
What was your favorite book as a child?
Have you visited any locations from any favorite novels?
If you’ve read this book, what is your favorite scene?
Book Source: Purchased from Amazon.com as a set a few years ago as my beloved childhood set was falling apart upon reread.