The Incredible ‘Story Behind the Stories’

Pioneer Girl imageTitle: Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography

Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder and Pamela Smith Hill, Editor

Publishing House/Publication Date: South Dakota State Historical Society Press/2014

Genres: Historical Non-Fiction; Autobiographical;

Number of Pages: 400+

Generations of children over the past three-quarters of a century have grown up reading the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. These books have become a symbol of the pioneering spirit of the Ingalls family, but also a hallmark of childhood innocence, imagination, and a window to the past. Now, for the first time, dedicated readers of Laura’s timeless tales can step once again into the world of Little House – this time through the original memoir penned by Laura years before her classic series came into existence. Incredibly, almost every word of the original manuscript is included exactly as Laura first recorded it in 1929-30, in several little, lined ‘Fifty Fifty’ tablets. However, Pioneer Girl is not only a reprinting of an autobiographical memoir by one of the world’s most celebrated children’s authors… It is also much, much more.

Basing Laura’s original manuscript as the foundation of Pioneer Girl, Pamela Smith Hill has taken the memoir a step further and added hundreds of insightful, fascinating annotations regarding the factual details of Laura’s life. Irrefutably, Ms. Hill must have devoted many years of her life to uncovering the true occurrences, real people, and even surprising secrets of Laura’s childhood and young adult years, before compiling them into the resulting volume alongside Laura’s own words. Newspaper articles from the time and location of Laura’s remembrances are often included, correlating noteworthy events and even weather patterns. Corresponding excerpts of letters written by Laura in her later years, relating to the content of her memoir, are also common annotations, as are census records of neighbors and friends. Apart from the annotations, maps, photographs, sketches, drawings, and images of original documents are also included. While reading about the Ingalls’ residence in the town of De Smet, for instance, readers can view an actual map of the town and note the location of ‘C.P. Ingalls’’ house in relation to the rest of the town, or view Laura’s own rough diagram of the real ‘little town on the prairie’.

The amount of work that went into this volume is truly astounding, and Pamela Smith Hill and all the historians who assisted her on the project are to be commended for their untiring commitment to preserving the heritage Pioneer Girl paintingof Laura Ingalls Wilder. Nonetheless, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Pioneer Girl is not in the documented research of the Ingalls family, but in the voice of the renowned author herself….

For loyal fans who may be concerned that this new work will reveal inaccurate story elements from a classic childhood series, Pioneer Girl does not detract from the winsome, innocent charm of the Little House novels. On the contrary, it enhances the literary abilities of a truly remarkable author. Laura Ingalls Wilder used material very close to her heart – her own childhood. Using these memories of years past, Laura created a world that while not completely factual, was no less true in spirit. As her career progressed and the Little House series grew, she learned how to bring her prose to life with increasing artistry. At the same time, she was able to intuitively know which aspects to withdraw from the novels, regarding them as unsuitable for her young audience, and which hardships to fully portray as the price of growing up and becoming aware of reality. In the end, Pioneer Girl will be a captivating book to read slowly, relishing each page. For all the adults who were once children, growing up with Laura and Mary and Carrie, nurtured by Ma, protected by Pa and Jack the brindle bulldog, don’t hesitate to find a copy of the remarkable volume that is entitled Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography.

***A review copy of this book was provided courtesy of the South Dakota State Historical Society Press, in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Jennifer for sending me this remarkable book!


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For more information about The Pioneer Girl Project, please click here to visit the website, containing posts, photos, videos, and so much more relating to the research process for this project.

To order a copy of Pioneer Girl, visit the South Dakota State Historical Society Press bookstore here.

To learn even more about the ‘story behind the stories’ – the real life of Laura Ingalls Wilder – check out the great biography by Pamela Smith Hill below…

A Writer's Life imageTitle: Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life

Author: Pamela Smith Hill

Publishing House/Publication Date: South Dakota State Historical Society Press/2007

Genres: Historical Non-Fiction; Biography

Number of Pages: 244

You should read this book if… You grew up reading the Little House book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. From start to finish, this book is filled with the fascinating ‘story behind the stories’, including insight into factual events from Laura’s childhood, young adult years, and during her career as a writer. A few of the aspects certain to delight Little House fans of all ages include:

  • Detailed and organized portrayals of the events that shaped Laura’s life, from early childhood up to her death at the age of 90.
  • Insight into the unique relationship between Laura and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who acted as Laura’s editor and writing consultant throughout her career.
  • Fascinating thoughts on the evolution of Laura’s writing voice, as seen through the Little House novels.
  • Quotes from Laura’s personal memoir relating the real events of her life, and how she managed to weave true stories into a classic work of children’s literature.

This book is not your typical, boring biography of a figure from history. On the contrary, the quotes, real life scenarios, and true relationships cause the writing to sparkle and bring the real Laura Ingalls Wilder’s personality to life with vividness. If you have fond memories of the Little House books, or have ever wondered about the real life of the author behind the novels, don’t hesitate to step into the pages of A Writer’s Life.

***A review copy of this book was provided courtesy of the South Dakota State Historical Society Press, in exchange for an honest review.

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