Title: The First Four Years
Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder
Series: Little House, book 9
Major Themes: Laura Ingalls Wilder, South Dakota, Farming, Prairies, Family Read-alouds, Autobiography, US History 1865-1900
Synopsis: After they begin their married life, Almanzo and Laura spend several years trying to make a living from the harsh Dakota Prairies.
I’ve always been fascinated by the difference in tone and style between The First Four Years and Laura’s other books about her life. As is stated in the introduction to the book, she did not polish this manuscript as she did the others. Basically, what we have here is her rough draft. It’s still a great story—just not quite the same.
Laura and Almanzo, or Manly as she calls him in this book, have just gotten married. Laura does not want to live the hard life of a farmer; she wants a more prosperous life in town. Manly, however, has always been and always will be a farmer. He persuades her to give it a try for three years, and then they will reassess. Can they make a living on the farm?
Each year brought its joys—and its trials. Life on the Dakota prairies was always hard at best, but every year it seemed like the weather worked against them. And after a bout of diphtheria that left Manly permanently weak, would they ever be able to get ahead? The birth of a daughter in their second year was the best thing that happened during those years. The last straw came when the wonderful house that Manly had built for Laura when they got married was destroyed. Where would they go now?
This is definitely not a glamorized account of pioneer life. Laura tells about all the setbacks they experienced, through no fault of their own, and the tragedies that happened so often to those hard-working people. It is also somewhat of a warning about borrowing money! One thing I noticed as we read this series again was the way Pa carefully avoided going into debt. On the other hand, in The First Four Years, Manly borrowed more and more money to make farming easier, and then just to be able to live—and as you read this book you’ll see the results of borrowing.
WARNING: In chapter 4, Laura says she’ll be darned.
Read Aloud—Ages 5 – 8, 8 – 12, Family Read Alouds
Reading Independently—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12, 12 – 15