BUST magazine columnist and children’s-book editor McClure (I’m Not the New Me, 2005, etc.) takes an engaging road trip in search of a remembered “Laura World.”
“I was born in 1867 in a log cabin in Wisconsin and maybe you were, too.” Like millions of other young readers, mostly girls, the author had lived the dream and then—possibly impelled by the disappointing way the series peters out—moved on. Hoping to recapture the magic after glimpsing that world years later in a re-reading Little House in the Big Woods (1932), McClure checks out the LHOP canon’s continuing role in online communities, lines of commercial products, the perpetually-in-syndication TV series and a steady stream of literary and other cultural spinoffs. The author also tries her hand at butter churning and farm cookery, and sets out with an obliging companion on a Midwestern pilgrimage. McClure presents a merry travelogue that features stops at Pepin, Wisc. (where Wilder was born), Rocky Ridge Farm (where she died) and most of the other widely scattered sites the peripatetic Ingalls clan set down in between, as well as meetings with fellow pilgrims, a wade in Plum Creek, a weekend at a self-sufficient farm (made scary by a group of “end times” survivalists) and even a later jaunt to the upstate New York farm where Wilder’s husband Almanzo grew up. McClure also ruminates on the qualities that give Wilder’s fictionalized but oh-so-evocative memoirs their enduring appeal. In the end, she moves on once again—coming to recognize the beguiling joy and simplicity of Laura World, but at a slight remove brought on by years and other experiences.
Many others have made the same pilgrimage, but not, perhaps, with such a winning mix of humor and painless introspection.