Odd Man Out

We went through all the Little House on the Prairie books a year or so ago for Chestnut, much longer ago for Diana. We all had our favorites: I am partial to The Long Winter, Chestnut went for Little Town on the Prairie, Diana was a fan (as we all were) of Little House in the Big Woods, which has the craziest non-narrative narrative of anything, and seems the most truly Laura of the books. (The others were more edited/cowritten/rewritten by Laura Ingalls's daughter, the writer and right-wing-nut Rose Wilder Lane; there is an excellent article on their collaboration, and the books about their collaboration, in The New Yorker.)

But here's the thing: we never got around to reading Farmer Boy. We just…didn't. We looked for it, going so far as to buy a copy of what looked like Farmer Boy, but was only On the Shores of Silver Lake with the Farmer Boy cover taped on.

And I just felt like it was fine. I mean, it's not really part of the story, is what I thought. We won't miss anything of Laura's life. And besides, a smaller, less acknowledged part offered: it's about a boy. How crucial could it be?

I wish I weren't this way.

But, time went on. We made it through the various books. Though there were times when it was too scary to think Pa might die in the blizzard and we had to take a break, we persevered and made it all the way to These Happy Golden Years, and even dipped into The First Four Years, then backed off. Other books interceded. People got older.

Then this past week, I went to the amazing book store in midtown, where many, many books are a dollar, and you can wander among the stacks for hours, take home a huge bag, and just spend $20. I was looking for The Witch of Blackbird Pond and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase for Chestnut, who is just the right age and personality for these books right now. And there, sitting snugly on the shelf, in excellent condition, was Farmer Boy. For $1. I grabbed it.

And brought it home. Chestnut has been reading it, and then rereading it ever since. She loves it. She wants to read about the pig getting candy. The melons. Life on the farm. All of it. And it's so excellent to watch. And I hope to hell I have learned something about the gender of the protagonist and its relevance to anything, which is just about nil. I hope I've learned. It's possible to learn, isn't it?

And now a semi-related question: I have a vivid memory of reading these books as a kid, and Pa panning for gold in a stream and finding a huge smooth gold nugget, but then never finding another one. I read through all the books hoping to find this scene, only it's not there. Did I imagine it? Did I watch it on TV and think I read it? What the heck is going on with the big smooth egg-shaped gold nugget? Does anyone know?

9 thoughts on “Odd Man Out

  1. To your memory: I remember an episode on the show where they found Fool’s Gold, but that’s it. Not that it means that it’s not there. I have a terrible memory.
    I read these in first and second grade and I love them. They ate my life up and were all I could think/talk about most of the time. I have been thinking about reading them to Brynna, but they seem so sweet and calm compared to what she normally loves. This has given me new hope. Maybe we’ll give Big Woods a try. My favorite was Farmer Boy, but Big Woods was a close second.


  2. It’s funny, I know I read FB as a kid, but don’t remember it. But then, the first time I read the books (up through the first chapters of The Long Winter) with my daughter, we read Farmer Boy, and I *loved* it. What strikes me most, though, is the enormous contrast between his childhood and hers, in terms of pure bounty. Food is important in both narratives, of course, but it seems so central in his. And there’s always so much of it! As an adult reading the books, I find myself wanting to know more about Eliza Jane. I mean, here she was, homesteading by herself (and trying to teach her future sister-in-law). She must have been an amazing woman.


  3. BTW, have you read “Private Life,” the newest Jane Smiley book? There’s a character in there that I *swear* is modeled on Rose Wilder Lane. Loosely, but some of the elements (investigative reporting, Ayn Rand-like politics, etc.) are definitely there.


  4. I’m just here to vindicate your “old” thinking…Farmer Boy never did it for me and I read the rest over and over. I went back and looked: all my copies are worn and dog eared…except Farmer Boy. Maybe now, with my two sons, it’s time!


  5. You learned to move beyond your girl bias, and I’m proud of you. As a child I had a city bias, and thus, never got into the Wilder books (nor for that matter did I like The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres or any other rural-set “entertainment.”) Maybe I should learn from this post and demolish this prejudice so I don’t pass it on to my daughter.


  6. It’s funny you say that about Farmer Boy. I own all the books including the ones with Laura’s daughter Rose and I’ve read every single one of them a good many times, but I have yet to read FB. I’m pretty sure your reasoning is the exact same as mine. I’ll have to change it– it’s good to hear it is worth reading!


  7. That’s funny. I can’t remember why I didn’t read Farmer Boy when I was a child — I loved the Little House books. I may have set it aside because it wasn’t about my favorite characters, or maybe because the main character was a boy (I mean, it’s right there in the title!). Anyhow, when my husband was reading the series to the kids (2, 4, 6) he read Farmer Boy. I, too, was struck by the abundance of food in the story, in contrast to what Laura’s family had to do to barely survive.


  8. After The Long Winter, Farmor Boy is my favorite…food porn! 🙂 And no, there is no panning for gold anywhere in the books. I don’t remember it in the TV show either, but could be there.


  9. I expect maybe you and others who left out Farmer Boy may have also done so because it diverged from the major thread of the story? I think that’s why it didn’t interest me as much, though I did read it. Because you get used to reading about a certain set of characters and just want to hear more about them until it’s all finished.


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