The first in Laura Ingalls Wilder's acclaimed Little House series, Little House in the Big Woods is a gentle story about a frontier family in 1870's Wisconsin. The family is sisters Laura and Mary, their baby sister Carrie, and their parents Pa and Ma. The titular little house that they live in sits in the middle of a huge forest, the "big woods", and the family must rely on the land and their own skills to survive and make a home.
Little House in the Big Woods is told primarily from middle child Laura's point-of-view. It includes vivid descriptions of her family's everyday life at that time; from collecting milk to make butter and cheese to harvesting crops to warding off dangerous animals. A large portion of the book is Pa telling stories to his daughters, including stories about him encountering a bear in the forest and about his father (Laura's grandfather) and an event involving a sled and a pig.
The story progresses from winter to spring, through summer and harvest and back to winter, and each season brings a different kind of work and a different kind of play. In the cold winter, the family stays at their little house, listening to Pa play the fiddle and singing songs and knitting clothes. But when summer comes and the days get longer, the family can go out for adventures, including to the nearby town and to their grandparents' house.
Overall, the story is a tender look at life on the American frontier.
This story is interesting from a read-aloud perspective for two reasons: first, there simply aren't many characters to voice (the vast majority of the speaking is done by the Ingalls family members, two of whom are young girls and one of whom is a baby and doesn't speak at all), and second, because large sections of the book are stories told by Pa and therefore are spoken in his voice. If you can come up with a suitable voice for Pa, you've covered more than half of the book. I used my main voice dropped an octave and with slower pronunciation, as if he is constantly explaining something to a child (which he is).
Little House in the Big Woods is possibly the most immersive book we've read yet during the Read-Aloud Corner, and a major reason for this is the songs. Pa sings several songs to his daughters and others at different points, and these songs use familiar melodies, if not necessarily familiar words. The songs include:
I grew up in a musical family, and so my familiarity with these songs is probably greater than many people's, but I HIGHLY encourage you to sing these songs when they appear in the book. It provides a truly incredible level of immersion, and my kids' eyes came alive whenever Pa (and therefore I) started singing.
There's no real violence, sex, or language in this book. The most perilous thing that happens is that Ma accidentally slaps a bear's butt, and even that is immediately laughed off.
Ma was trembling, and she began to laugh a little. "To think," she said, "I've slapped a bear!"
No characters die, one minor character gets a ton of insect stings (through his own antics in a boy-crying-wolf situation), and no major tragedies happen to the family. In all, the story is light and peril-free, and therefore perfect to read to children of any age.
"It's kinda slow. But I really, really liked the songs Pa sings."
"[The book] was sweet. I loved it when Laura got an actual doll instead of a corn cob. That made her so happy."
"I liked it! I liked especially the story about Grandpa and the panther. And the dance, that was fun and I liked the pretty dresses."
Little House in the Big Woods is a gentle look at life on the untamed frontier for a close-knit, hard-working family of five. The inclusion of stories and songs creates an immersion unlike any other book Read-Aloud Corner has covered so far, and Ingalls Wilder's text helps complete the magic. If you need a break from the peril-driven series (e.g. Harry Potter or the Jack London novels), give Little House in the Big Woods a look.
And the days of auld lang syne, my friend
And the days of auld lang syne
Shall auld acquaintance be forgot
And the days of auld lang syne
Recommended Age: 2 and up