One of my favorite book series when I was young was the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books. I read them at least once a year while I was in elementary school, and then every few years as I grew older. Now that my older son is almost five, I decided to start reading them to him. Of course, I started in chronological order, with “Little House in the Big Woods.” It was less exciting than I remember.
Poor Jack had to walk all over the prairie through the first few books!
For those who haven’t read this series as recently as I have, “Big Woods” basically goes through a year in the life of the Ingalls family, without having much of a plot. The most memorable part for me was when the kids blew up the pig bladder and tossed it around like a ball. The next book, “Farmer Boy,” about her husband growing up in upstate New York, was memorable for all the vivid descriptions of the food. In the next book, “Little House on the Prairie,” the family attempts to settle on the Osage Indian reservation, and there were a lot of very negative things said about Native Americans, so I ended up skipping over quite a bit. “On the Bank of Plum Creek,” which comes next, has my very favorite part in all the books, where Laura has a party and takes all her school friends to go wading in the crick, and there scares Nellie Olson with the crab who lives in it.
A few nights ago, we started on the next book, “On the Shores of Silver Lake.” There is a gap of a few years between the start of this book and the one before it, and Laura is now 13 years old instead of 9. The tone is very different, and a lot of horrible things have happened, such as Mary going blind and the death of an infant. I knew I had to read the part about Mary going blind, because it is such a prevalent plot point in the rest of the books, but I paused in my reading to make sure my son understood what blindness was before going on. (I edited out the part about the “Scarlet fever settling in her eyes,” because Scarlet fever doesn’t make one go blind. One theory is that she actually had untreated meningitis. But I digress.) And although I swore the part about the baby dying happened right away, I didn’t see it. Perhaps they cut it out of the book, since I have a very new edition? Whatever the case may be, the youngest sister is already born at the beginning of this book, and she was their last born child, so chronologically, it already happened.
The second chapter of the book is memorable because Jack, Laura’s childhood dog, dies. I was prepared for this and fully expected to be able to read it. It’s an important part of the book, because it’s supposed to represent Laura’s transition from childhood to adolescence. But I’m not deluded enough to think my four-year-old child would grasp the significance of that. So as it went on, I started breaking down and crying, and eventually had to stop reading at this part:
“Good Jack, good dog,” she told him. He turned his head to touch her hand with the tip of his tongue.
Then he let his nose sink onto his paws and he sighed and closed his eyes. He wanted to sleep now.
Strangely enough, I don’t remember crying quite so much about it when I was younger. Since I’ve had kids, I’ve definitely gotten more emotional, and everything I see I tend to imagine seeing through their eyes. And while I want to be able to talk to my sons about anything, the death of a fictional bulldog is obviously too much for me right now.