When I was young I read a series of books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, reading a whole series back then wasn’t quite as easy for me as it is now. I had to either borrow from the library, track them down at a second hand book shop or hope someone would buy them for me for a present. I wasn’t very good at speaking to the librarians and requesting they be brought in from another library so I waited to see if the books turned up on the shelf and the other two methods were just as unreliable so mostly I only read part of the series. I’ve been waiting to read Farmer Boy for far more years than I care to remember so when I saw it in the library a couple of weeks ago I grabbed it.
Wilder was born in 1867 in Wisconsin. Her books are her life story written so that people of all ages can enjoy and begin to understand about life in that era and in that place. She died in 1957 and these books were made into a TV series from 1974.
Farmer Boy is the story of her husband’s childhood. Almanzo Wilder was born in 1857, this book details roughly a year in his life near Malone in upstate New York. It’s a fascinating story not least because of the detail but also because as a nine year old Almanzo is expected to work a full day as if he is a fully grown man. They live on a farm with cows, pigs and grow the bulk of their own food. This book gives much detail of the workload Almanzo is expected to do and the little free time he has. Sometimes he can be spared and goes to school but this seems to only happen in the coldest of weathers and he has a two mile journey to take on foot to get there.
One thing that struck me about the schooling was the attitude of some of the students. The big boys attended rarely and they were really against the teacher. One teacher they’d terrorised physically so much he actually died from his injuries, they were boasting about this and the father was boasting about his boys killing the teacher. The current teacher spoke to Almanzo’s father and borrowed a whip from him, i.e. he had to physically best the big boys before they would respect him and not beat him up.
Like all of Wilder’s books this is a good read. She wrote an autobiography before her books were turned into children’s books and this is being published today, edited by Pamela Smith Hill I can only find it available at the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation. If you wish to buy her children’s books (bear in mind they’re good for any age), they’d make a great Christmas present there’s a box set available at Booktopia.