Book Review: On the Banks of Plum Creek

Plum CreekI wanted to read next On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder right on the heels of Let the Hurricane Roar (linked to my thoughts) by her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane  while it was fresh in my mind, because they covered some of the same events.

Little House on the Prairie had ended with the Ingalls family having to leave their homestead in “Indian territory” when it was determined that the Indians had rights to the land. On the Banks of Plum Creek opens with the family coming into Minnesota near Walnut Grove (“only three miles away, a nice walk”, Pa says) and trading their horses for the land and crops of a family who is leaving. The family had a little dugout house, and the Ingalls live there until Pa’s wheat crops start to sprout, and he borrows against it to buy lumber and supplies for a new house.

Since they are close to town, Mary and Laura begin to attend school, where they meet the infamous Nellie Oleson, who becomes an instant enemy with her derisive assessment of them as “country girls.” The also meet Reverend Alden and are able to attend church for the first time in a long time.

This book contains some of my favorite “Little House” scenes, like the party where their classmates are invited to the house on the creek and Laura lures Nellie into the area where the crab and leeches are, the church Christmas party where Laura gets her fur cape and muff, the girls bringing in all the firewood during a storm when Ma and Pa are away after they heard about a house of children who froze. It also tells of the awful grasshopper invasion, Pa’s having to go East for work, prairie fires, and the terrible blizzards.

Some of us reading Laura’s letters in books like West From Home have remarked how unemotional her correspondence seems. I’m not sure how much of that comes from her personality and how much from her upbringing. The Ingalls weren’t stoics, but their attitude during any crisis seemed to be to buck up and do what you had to do. Emotion is shown more subtly, as when Pa stops playing his fiddle during stressful times or Ma sits late at the window with the light in it, staring at her hands, worried for her husband, who might be caught out in a blizzard. Once when a visiting child takes a liking to Laura’s rag doll and wants to keep it, Ma admonishes Laura that the child is little and company and should have the doll, and scolds Laura that a great girl like her (about age 8 at this time) should sulk over it. But then later Ma does come around and says she didn’t realize Laura cared so much for the doll and helps her restore it when Laura rescues it from a puddle, and while she doesn’t let them rant, she does understand when they’re strained and stops work to play games with them. Laura is ashamed of herself for crying during Pa’s long absence, saying it would be a shame even for younger Carrie to cry. Laura seems to paint herself as the only family member having bad emotions, like envy and pride.

Once again I marvel at the strength of the early settlers, who regard three miles as a “nice walk” and bear so much without a whimper. I don’t know if we could do today what they did, maybe because we haven’t had to. But then, each generation has its particular trials and hardships.

I liked seeing through Laura’s eyes as she described new things and how she thought when she fell into temptation. I enjoyed visiting with the Ingalls family again, with Pa’s cheerfulness, Ma’s gentleness and resourcefulness, their industriousness and endurance of the whole family as well as their enjoy of simple pleasures, and the interaction of the family as well as getting to know new neighbors from town.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

9 thoughts on “Book Review: On the Banks of Plum Creek

  1. Fascinating. These books always take me back to my childhood, when I devoured them one after another. Then, I had some of them for my own, and they loved them–our daughter for the story, and our son for all the how-tos.

    I loved your phrase, “each generation has its particular trials and hardships.” I believe that is true.

    I agree with you that, physically, I’m not sure I would have held up back in those “old days” when a three-mile walk was a pleasant stroll. And, all the other Little House chores, washing, etc. I might have ended up in a grave by the wayside. You do have to admire their spunk and strength–just to do what had to be done!

  2. I just finished reading this book this morning! It’s my favorite so far, but it’s the only one I’ve read for your challenge this year – just not enough time this time!

    I agree about the sheer fortitude the Ingallses had. I was amazed at all that even the children could do and willingly did to help, especially during a crisis, like the cattle eating all the hay or the fires tumbling across the priarie. I was fascinated by the grasshopper plague, and looked it up online. Laura’s description was perfect! I really enjoyed this one so much, and I hope to write a review of it this week.

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  4. I always really enjoyed this one too. Having kids who liked listening to the audiobook over and over made me notice how much Laura portrays herself as admirable for being so mean in response to Nellie, though. Same thing with ‘Little Town on the Prairie,’ where Laura takes revenge on Eliza Jane for her favoritism. She’s so likable, yet these reactions are so contrary to what I believe or would want my children to emulate. I never really flinched at them until the audiobook created the phenomenon of hearing them over and over. I was glad it was a library copy so we didn’t have it here all the time.

    That scene where Ma makes her give up Charlotte seems so unjust doesn’t it? I’m glad Ma comes around.

  5. Pingback: Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge Wrap-Up | Stray Thoughts

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