Growing up, I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series and eagerly read the books over and over again. So much so that the spines of my paperback copies are all cracked, and a couple of pages are marked with the sticky fingers of childhood. Long after I outgrew the series (in terms of reading level), I discovered the continuation of Laura’s series through the eyes of her daughter, Rose, for sale at Half-Price Books.
Over time, I bought what I thought was the complete series by Roger Lea MacBride, whom Rose Wilder Lane left her mother’s literary collection to and was considered by MacBride to be a grandmother figure in his life. I quickly read each book as I located them, cracking their spines and tearing pages in my eagerness.
Recently, I decided to reread the series as I found myself in need of a counterbalance to the heaviness that comes with reading Crime and Punishment and a nonfiction book about human evolution. And I had every intention of limiting these reviews in length and posting a set of eight mini-reviews.
Yet, once again, my excitement over the series got away from me and I was unable to corral my thoughts. Therefore, I’ll be sharing my thoughts the first four books in this eight-part series in this post and then discussing the final four books in a separate post on Wednesday.
‘Little House on Rocky Ridge’ (Little House: The Rose Years #1) by Roger Lea MacBride. Fiction — print. HarperCollins, 1993. 353 pages. Purchased.
The drought introduced in the last book in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series, The First Four Years, has continued unabated for six years, and Laura and Almanzo (Manley) Wilder have decided that they can no longer attempt to eke out a life in South Dakota. When Rose is seven-years-old, she and her parents along with their good friends, the Cooleys, travel in a covered wagon from South Dakota to Missouri. The Ozark Mountains promise to be a land of plenty, but the Wilders must manage dangerous river crossings and spend their life savings on the right farm.
The first novel in the Little House: The Rose Years series is the closest in tone and content to Wilder’s original series. Rose is a spunky, adventurous little girl – just like her mother was before her – and she is eager to explore the land and meet new people. Laura is just like her own mother, echoing some of the sentiments her mother had about other people on the land. She doesn’t want Rose interacting with “covered wagon folk” or the Russian immigrants they met along the way, and she is constantly admonishing Rose to be a good girl.
For me, the best part of the novel is the way Laura’s relationships with her Pa and her husband are portrayed. Although the series is supposed to be from Rose’s point of view, MacBride still manages to slip in moments that show just how much Laura and Manley care for one another. And the goodbye between the Ingalls and the Wilders is just heart-wrenchingly beautiful.
‘Little Farm in the Ozarks’ (Little House: The Rose Years #2) by Roger Lea MacBride. Fiction — print. HarperCollins, 1994. 286 pages. Purchased.
The Wilders are settling into their new farm in the Ozarks, which they have decided to call Rocky Ridge Farm, and learning how difficult it can be to eke out an existence from the rocky soil of Missouri. After spending months helping her parents, Rose starts school in the town of Mansfield, experiencing the same “country girl” versus “town girl” divide that her mother experienced.
But Rose is undaunted because she has made her first friend outside of Paul and George Cooley, who traveled to the Ozarks with the Wilders. The neighbor’s daughter Alva Stubbins teaches Rose about the foods, superstitions, and history of this part of Missouri – information that both excites and frightens little Rose.
Like the previous book in the series, MacBride matches much of the tone and content of Wilder’s original series with this book. The Wilder family takes one step forward followed by two steps back in their attempts to farm the Ozarks – just like the Ingalls family did on the prairie – and the lessons Rose learns along the way are the classic ones her mother had to learn before her.
The story moves quickly with the introduction of new characters that enrich the Wilders’ lives. Despite this being the umpteenth time that I’ve read this book, I still felt the tingle of anticipation and intrigue as the Wilders apprehend Swiney Baird attempting to steal eggs from their henhouse. I just adore the character of Swiney; sometimes more than I do that of Rose.
‘In the Land of the Big Red Apple’ (Little House: The Rose Years #3) by Roger Lea MacBride. Fiction — print. HarperCollins, 1995. 228 pages. Purchased.
At the age of eight, Rose examines her appearance versus those of her classmates who live in town and asks her parents if they are poor. Laura and Manley try to help Rose see that the family is not financially wealthy but are richer than most because they are farmers and, therefore, able to grow their own food.
This short interaction is actually the basis for the rest of the story as MacBride demonstrates how the Wilders’ wealth changes with the seasons and their needs. For example, when Laura learns that Rose is walking to school in December with wet feet because her route requires her to cross streams, her father arranges to trade with the livery in town for a donkey to carry Rose to and from school. Not every farming family can afford to provide their children with a donkey, a sign that the Wilders are better off than most.
I remember Rose’s donkey featuring more heavily in the book than it actually does, and I completely forgot about the lie Rose tells about Abe Baird and his sweetheart. I felt so much shame on her behalf and was, frankly, surprised at how gracious Abe and her parents were about it. But the story provided exactly what I was looking for – that warm feeling that comes from feeling like you’re at home.
One thing I didn’t catch onto as a kid was the way MacBride really contextualizes his stories in history. The Wilders are strongly against William McKinley and refuse to sing “Dixie”, a song memorializing the Confederacy. Rose and the Cooley children at one point pretend to campaign in favor of “free silver”, even though Rose confesses that she doesn’t know what that means (and Paul and George tell her she can’t vote anyways).
MacBride definitely takes a more political viewpoint that Wilder did in her series. In doing so, he also helps make it clear that this is a story with a particular setting and a particular time that can’t be romanticized as much as Wilder’s series can be (and has been).
‘On the Other Side of the Hill’ (Little House: The Rose Years #4) by Roger Lea MacBride. Fiction — print. HarperCollins, 1995. 349 pages. Purchased.
The title of the fourth book of the series is indicative of where Rose’s head is at as she enters double digits in age. Technology has made it easier for the outside world to reach Mansfield, Missouri, as the constant arrival of trains to the town’s depot brings news and the drumbeat of war with Spain over Cuba.
In Rose’s own life, the arrival of technology and easier travel beings to show her that there is a life beyond her small, insular town. When Rose is invited to the birthday party of Blanche Coday, her wealthy best friend who lives in town, Rose gets to see pictures of Chicago and hear about how great the city is from both Blanche and her cousin.
As a result, she starts to make comparisons between her life and the one Blanche leads. There are things Rose loves and admires about being a farmer – a fact she angrily tells Blanche’s complaining cousin. Yet, she also feels shame that her life isn’t as refined as Blanche’s despite the efforts her parents’ efforts and she starts yearning to know what life would be like on the other side of the hill.
Rose’s angry confrontation with Blanche’s cousin continues to be my favorite part of this novel. It reminded me so much of Laura’s conflict with the horrid Nellie Olsen, a memory that Laura brings up when she finds out what happened at Blanche’s birthday party. I was enraged on Rose’s behalf and cracking up at how her life continues to echo that of her mother’s despite the change in setting and time.
And I really felt for Rose as she struggled to find contentment with her life, particularly as Mother Nature conspires to make things even harder for the Wilder family. The hope that fills the previous three books is shattered by a terrible turn of events, and it’s difficult to read about the Wilders suffering yet another setback. But Rose and her parents never lose their pioneering spirit, and the book ends with the promise that the next book in this series will be a big departure from the previous ones.