I’ve been slowly reading all of the Little House books to my daughter Penelope. At six in the early stages of reading, I can see that in just a couple of short years Penelope will be reading these books on her own. We both enjoy the reading time together, but with school books, the reading has been going slower on Little House. We actually finished this book last spring – but I’ve been running a bit behind on reviews!
It was great that we did finish this book last spring as we visited De Smet South Dakota in June. We not only got to see the actual Surveyor’s house that the Ingalls family spent their first winter in in South Dakota, but we also camped for three nights at the Ingalls family Homestead in De Smet. Having just read this book, it really made the book and story alive for both Penelope and myself.
In By the Shores of Silver Lake, the Ingalls family decides to move West after years of grasshopper plagues and crop failures in Minnesota. Aunt Docia arrives and offers Pa a job on the railroad making good money. Pa heads west and the family joins him taking their very first train ride. The family adjusts to living in a railroad camp and then stay behind in De Smet to watch the surveyors’ cabin over the winter. Pa finds a good claim and the family settles there in the spring.
Penelope is a little sad that Laura is no longer her age and firmly a teenager in On the Shores of Silver Lake. She was further devastated that after Aunt Docia’s visit, the family decides to pack up except for one member - their old faithful dog Jack. He will not be able to make this last journey with them in his old age and he peacefully falls asleep never to awaken again. This section had me in tears, especially as our old faithful dog Jack is 14 and in his golden age. This scene was masterfully written. I was intrigued to find out that it was not actually factually true in my further reading this summer. Wilder used artistic license, but very expertly as a writer wrote this scene to substitute for the real life loss the Ingalls felt at this time as they drove off and left the grave of little Freddy Ingalls.
I love how free Laura was in the book, especially racing horses with Lena over the prairie. I also love Wilder’s vivid descriptions of building a railroad and riding on a steam train for the first time. I was disturbed (as I was as a child) when Laura and Lena meet a woman who talks about her 12-year old daughter’s marriage. Lena and Laura were still girls and not ready to grow up. It’s hard to think about a 12 year old girl being married although I do know it happened in the past and probably still happens in other cultures.
As an adult, I’ve really grown to realize even more how great a writer Wilder was. Her descriptions are beautiful and characters are realistic. Even though it doesn’t 100% follow the story of the real Ingalls family, it tells a good story of what life was link in that time period and it also preserves the story of her family.
“Laura knew then that she wasn’t a little girl anymore.”
“The sun sank. A ball of pulsing, liquid light, it sank in clouds of crimson and silver. Cold purple shadows rose in the east, crept slowly across the prairie, then rose in heights on the heights of darkness from which the stars swung low and bright.”
“I’m thankful the paymaster was sensible. Better a live dog than a dead lion.” I love this advice from Ma!
“It was so beautiful that they hardly breathed. The great round moon hung in the sky and its radiance poured over a silvery world.”
“Lonely and wild and eternal were land and water and sky and the air blowing.”
By the Shores of Silver Lake is even more poignant and beautiful to me as an adult after reading it a dozen times as a child. If you haven’t picked up this classic since you were a child or have never read it, I highly recommend it!
Book Source: Set of books purchased from Amazon.com