Heresy! Travesty! Also: analogy

So HarperCollins, the publisher of the Little House books (the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, for the unfortunately uninitiated) has decided to "modernize" them. Apparently, Kids Today are so thoroughly enslaved by Pokemon and Club Penguin and cell phones and glittery eyeshadow for five-year-olds that they can no longer enjoy the rich language and gentle pacing of these stories as they were originally written. Hence, the books are being repackaged as "adventure" stories–and foremost among these changes is the decision to strip out the beautiful artwork by Garth Williams. And the tag line for the books at their Web site is now "Little House. Big Adventure."

Can I get a "Bleah?" Hello? The Little House books are not about adventure–though there’s certainly plenty of it in them. They’re not about wily streetwise kids negotiating their way through a world they never made. They’re not about survival against all odds (though, once again, there’s plenty of that sprinkled throughout as well). They’re about something a little more genuine: the lives of young people during a specific–and fascinating–period in history. One of the strengths of the books is their wealth of authentic detail… in fact, the loving descriptions of farm chores, housework and especially those amazing mouth-watering meals in Farmer Boy* are what have enraptured Fisher and Rhys during each bedtime chapter.

The books are also about character. Not the bone-crushingly dull sort of character that’s hammered into kids’ heads by far too many children’s books, or by the twee morals tagged on to the end of every worthless cartoon episode. Real character: the sort that is shaped over time, that bends but does not break, that is revealed equally by what is undone and unsaid. Laura doesn’t have to tell us four thousand times "And then the family worked very hard together and everything was OK." She shows it–as the sisters and their parents nurse each other through malaria, as they tighten their belts and grind seed wheat for flour during a long bitter winter, as she sews shirt after horrible shirt to save money to send Mary to a college for the blind.

This kind of message doesn’t need to be dumbed down. It doesn’t need to be abridged (which, to their credit, HarperCollins is not doing to the original books–but has already done to the subsequent series dealing with the lives of Laura’s mother, grandmother and great-grandmother). It doesn’t need to be stuffed into a shiny Internet-ready package complete with online games and sweepstakes and "Which Little House Girl Are You?" quizzes.

Fortunately, the last time I was in the bookstore, there were still copies of the old-fashioned, super-boring, non-turbocharged Garth Williams-illustrated books available. I’ll just need to make sure and pick up copies of the ones we don’t already have (alas, my childhood copies were read into tatters long ago) before they’re gone forever.

Oh, yeah. Analogies. I tried one out on Fisher yesterday ("Hat is to head as glove is to what?") and for the next half hour or so, the relationships were flying fast and furious as Fisher, Rhys Jim and I came up with our own variations. Fisher especially liked being shown how to write them in official SAT-style notation. Rhys is still working on the concept. (Fisher: "Biology: living things :: geology : ? " Rhys: "Cup is for measuring and a chair is for…")

*OMG, the Wilder farm is an actual museum site where you can go on tours and do workshops and see historical re-enactments and stuff. We are so going on an upstate NY road trip.

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About Molly Newman

Writer, cook and trivia/spelling bee hostess, living it up in North Portland.
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11 Responses to Heresy! Travesty! Also: analogy

  1. Magpie Ima says:

    Oy. How can they mess with these books? My boys never loved them as I did but my daughter will soon be old enough for them and I guess I’d better snap up all the used ones I can find.

  2. stephanie t. says:

    I loved them…My girls loved them (Natalie has been known to read a book twice…The first Little House was one of them!)…In the midst of all the bad stuff in this world, books, for gosh sakes, should remain sacred.
    Freakin’ money-hungry idiots…Next thing you know Pa will be wearing wife-beater shirts with a full ‘grill’ and Ma will be checked into ‘the farm’ for rehab…Blech…yech… phooey!

  3. Jennifer says:

    I understand your dismay. I discovered the books as a Christmas gift in third grade and devoured them. My fourth grade teacher read the series to the whole class and structured several units around things that were happening to the Ingalls family. I remember wearing a “Laura” dress to school one day, eating corn meal mush, and learning to make a corn stalk doll. I still have my much tattered series with the Garth Williams illustrations and find myself going back to them every year. The stories endure and anyone can find something to relate to whether they are 8, 23, or 64.
    When I heard about the change and saw the new cover photography my immediate impulse was to go out and buy as many of the “old” copies as possible for any children/nieces/nephews/grandchildren I may have someday.
    By the way, did you know you can visit DeSmet, South Dakota and go on a tour of the Ingalls home there as well as a few other points of interest?. Works in nicely with a trip to the Black Hills. Also, Laura and Almanzo’s farm in Mansfield, Missouri is open for tours. You can see the writind desk where Laura wrote the entire series.

  4. Laelaps says:

    I never read the Little House books, but that is certainly a tragedy. Perhaps the most disturbing trend amongst kids I’ve seen lately is something called Webkins. I had no idea what they were, but apparently they’re cheap stuffed animals with an online key where you can play with your animal online (although I thought that’s what NeoPets already was). It’s just weird that a toy is being marketed where what the toy does/looks like has no bearing on anything; it’s all about the online game.

  5. sam says:

    I heartily agree that the books should be left alone, and this is coming from the tattooed and pierced guy that you wouldn’t immediately peg as a Little House fan. My oldest son, who also loves Pokemon, has voluntarily read the entire series a couple of times in addition to having them read to him when he was a bit younger. And the artwork goes so well with the book, especially when you can show your child the picture of the yoke for the oxen as it was described so that they get a better understanding of the equipment that was so common to people of the time. Why can’t we just leave things alone sometimes?

  6. Mimi says:

    The hey? I also think it’s a travesty they’ve written other books. Yuck.
    Although, like Magpie, my boys have never loved them. But I still re-read them often.

  7. Melissa Ives says:

    My heart dropped when I read this…I still love these books! My yellow boxed set is one of my most treasured possessions. I even have an edition of “Little Town on the Prairie” with the original pre-Garth Williams illustrations. I read Little House in the Big Woods when I was six.
    I’m getting my niece the “old” copies for her birthday next week I hope I can find them!

  8. Helena says:

    I read about that a little while ago. Is it possible that they’ll have paperbacks with this new packaging and then keep the hardbacks the way they are? (Please?)
    Good grief, somebody needs a good smacking around.

  9. Amy Sorensen says:

    Ewwww. I think I had better go buy myself a set of the GOOD ones. Haley is NOT a Little House fan. (Alas, she doesn’t like Anne of Green Gables, either. I have managed to still love her though. 😉 ) But I think Jake would like them. EVERY time I eat watermelon I think about Pa eating it even though Ma warned him he’d catch the Fever from it. And balloons will forever make me think of pigs’ bladders. Some books stay with you forever.

  10. That’s just NUTS! I’m so glad I have all of the originals here on my bookshelf (along with my other “girl” favorite series – Betsy/Tacy and Anne of Green Gables).

  11. Summer says:

    One of my absolute favorite series when I was a little one- I was 8 when I got a hand me down set of all the Little House books from my cousin who was 10 years older. I remember reading how In “Little House in the Big Woods” when they butchered the pig how nothing was wasted. The pig skin cracklings and bladder balloon really stuck with me for some reason.

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