Little House in the Big Woods

January 5th, 2014 · 3 Comments · Books

Little House in the Big WoodsReview By JENNIFER KALI

My daughter is really getting interested in read-aloud chapter books. I struggle to find books that meet her at her four-year-old level. We’ve had a few false starts with books that deal with subject matter that is too mature or language that is too advanced. We read the classic Winnie the Pooh collection, which I thought would be perfect for her because she is a Pooh lover, but the clever word play was too advanced for her to follow. On a recent vacation we toured an old farm-house built in the 1800s and she was so excited and interested in learning how people lived long ago, so I thought we might give the Little House series a try. I’m very glad we did.

The book is a year in the life of the Ingalls family, more a collection of stories that happen over the course of a year than a plot driven storyline. The stories are engaging. Even I am excited to read the next chapter each night. The language is simple enough for a four-year-old to understand but still an interesting read for all ages. I’m actually very impressed at how well the book is written.

We borrowed the book from a friend, also a vegetarian, and she warned us that there is a lot of hunting and meat eating in the book. Wow, she was not wrong. The entire first chapter is about getting as much meat as possible in the fall and preserving it to make it through winter. In the first chapter alone, they kill a pig, bear, and a deer. There is a detailed discussion of dissecting the pig which is hard to read. There are a lot fewer references to meat in the rest of the book, thankfully. After the first chapter, I was wondering if we could make it through the rest of the book.

Before reading the book to my daughter, I told her about how people long ago didn’t have stores to get their food from and so they had to eat what they could grow or catch and that meant that there were very few vegetarians in back then.  She was very mature about this and said, “That’s okay, Mommy. I understand. I’m just really interested in learning how people lived in those old days.” We have talked a lot about how lucky we are that it is so easy to be vegetarians now since we can easily go to the store to buy beans and tofu. It’s actually a good catalyst for a discussion on our ability to make ethical choices because of the society we live in, and how not everyone is able to make the same choices we do.

The story was written long ago, so there are some parts that give me pause when reading. Things that I don’t want to discuss with my daughter I just skim over, like a spanking punishment. And I often change the language to something more gender-neutral. This is the benefit of a read-aloud. It is quite obvious to an adult reader that there are specific gender roles, with Pa working outside and Ma working inside, but this can lead to a discussion about gender and society, and changes over time.

I would highly recommend this book (Amazon affiliate link) as a read-aloud, even to vegetarian families, as long as you think you child can handle the discussions of hunting and meat eating. My daughter is so interested in how people lived back then that this keeps her interest night after night.  We are excited to read Little House on the Prairie next.

Ages 4+ as a read-aloud.

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • Jen

    This was a tough read for me with my kid. We liked exploring how people lived long ago but there were more graphic descriptions of both killing animals and what we would now consider child abuse (Pa’s story in particular) than I’d remembered as a child. We did continue to read them. They served as catalysts for a lot of discussion!

  • Katie

    I know this is an old post but I just came searching the wonders of the Internet for thoughts on this book for vegetarians. My daughter is 7 and a lifelong vegetarian. Her class at school is reading this and she was very upset about it. She asked not to have to read it and the teacher refused. She also has a spelling list with words from the book, to include headcheese and lard etc. I’m really not happy she has to read this when she is clearly upset about it. I do suppose though that learning how to spell lard will be helpful for reading food labels… even though she’s been able to read on her own since age 3.

  • Jessica

    In a kinder world, one would not need to know how to spell the word “lard.” Thanks for sharing your family’s experience, Katie. I’m sorry your 7-year-old was so upset.

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