Sunday, August 11, 2013

I just had to share this: Where's Papa going with that ax?

The people who think children's books can't be fine literature aren't reading the right children's books!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Wilder Rose book review and thoughts

A Wilder Rose, by Susan Wittig Albert, is a fictionalized account of the life of Rose Wilder Lane. Rose was the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House series of books. Albert draws from the correspondence between the two women, as well as the original manuscripts and their rewrites and other sources, to create a vivid account of the collaboration that resulted in the series we all know and love.

The story is told from Rose’s point of view, as she looks back and discusses her life at that time with a young protégée’, Norma Lee Ogg. As such, it is not always kind to Laura, which some fans may find unsettling; however, it is a realistic portrayal of Rose’s view as discerned from her journals and diaries. Any mother-daughter relationship is complicated, and any work relationship is complicated; a mother-daughter work relationship is doubly so, and it would be an understatement to say that things did not always go smoothly between Laura and Rose.

Albert does a fine job of portraying both Rose’s insecurities and bouts with depression, and the strong passions – personal and political - that drove her. The times we live in shape us all, and the times in which Rose lived were full of turmoil and deprivation, from her young days growing up in poverty when she felt neglected by parents who had to spend all their time and energy wresting a living to the Depression years when she began working on the Little House books with her mother.  Not only was there physical and emotional deprivation, but society - especially small-town society - imposed its own form of social deprivation (nice girls don’t do that!) which was unbearable for a young woman as eager and determined to experience life as Rose. All of the factors influenced Rose’s natural strong character and willful temperament, and Albert brings this to all light in an interesting, thought-provoking manner.

It is easy to see Rose’s influence in the Little House books when looking at them through the lens of her beliefs – those speeches in various Independence Day scenes, for example – but it is a testament to Rose’s skill as a writer that we as readers do not realize it when simply reading through.

I highly recommend A Wilder Rose to anyone interested in Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder, or the Little House books, and to anyone interested in the Depression and Dust Bowl and the way those events shapes people’s outlook on life, and to anyone interested in the process of writing and becoming published.  Each of these subjects is fascinating in its own right; the book Albert has written weaves them seamlessly into a captivating story.

Realizing the full extent of Rose’s work on the series reminds me a quote made by Anne of Green Gables: “It is never pleasant to have our old shrines desecrated, even when we have outgrown them.” (Lucy Maud Montgomery, in Anne of the Island, Ch. 1.) However, in a disclaimer I must admit that I was not as shocked as some may be when reading A Wilder Rose.

I was in the sixth grade when I discovered that there was a ninth Little House book. I had already read the first eight books several times, and was beyond ecstatic to receive The First Four Years from a friend. Most people, evidently, are immediately struck by the dissimilarities of The First Four Years from the previous books in the series, often making comments such as, “What happened to Laura’s ability to tell a story?” or even “Who are these strange people?” I did not have those jolting thoughts or feelings. I do remember particularly noticing that there was a lot more talk of money – or rather the lack of it. But I thought that’s just how grownups are, and Laura and Manly were now grownup. Of course they would be more concerned with making the farm work and the cost of things.  But I don’t recall having any inkling that there must have been a different writer/editor/something of this last book.

Fast forward about 15 years. While rummaging through the 10 cent paperback books at a garage sale, I thumbed through a copy of Let the Hurricane Roar. I had no idea who the author was, but always ready for a good historical fiction, I put it on my stack of purchases. Upon reading it, I thought “Plagiarism!” The incidents in this story were clearly stolen from the Little House series, but not done very well, I thought. To me, this book lacked the warmth – the life – of the Little House books. Then for the first time I noticed the author’s name. Rose Wilder Lane. Ah, so it wasn’t plagiarism after all, just shared family history.

I had not known that Rose was also a writer. I was intrigued, and did some research, and was surprised at how prolific of a writer she was. This is also when I first became aware of the controversy over how much of the Little House series Rose was really responsible for. Having just finished a sample of Rose’s writing that I was not at all impressed with, and being a devoted fan of the Little House books, I came down firmly on the side of ‘It can’t have been much.’

Still later, however, I was able to view some of the correspondence between Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Even more compellingly, I was able to see some of the manuscripts with the changes Rose made from Laura’s writing. Through the years during this research, I have had to change my mind from “not much” to “quite a bit.”
Without the both of them, we would not, could not, have the Little House series that we have. We know what we would have: it’s right there in black and white, in Laura’s original manuscripts and Rose’s Let the Hurricane Roar. Neither reaches the heart like the finished books that they produced together.

A huge thank you to Susan Wittig Albert for allowing me an advance copy of A Wilder Rose. You can find more information on it, with ordering information, here.

Also, Marie at AllThingsLauraIngallsWilder has an excellent interview with Susan Wittig Albert here.