When I was in the 3rd grade, I started reading the Little House books. I was a late-blooming reader, and the Little House in the Big Woods was one of the first real books that I was able to truly read on my very own. I loved those books and read them all over and over. At times in my life, both happy and sad, returning to those books has brought me a deep and abiding pleasure.
When I gave birth to my son, I experienced a passing regret: he would never love the Little House books. I just assumed that the books would only appeal to a little girl.
I underestimated my 21st century boy.
In the 3rd grade, JT and his classmates read the Little House in the Big Woods and they learned about pioneers. They explored every corner of the pioneer world as they read that book. I came to JT's class every week and read Farmer Boy to the 3rd graders. That book is the only one in the Little House series that isn't about the Ingalls family. It's the story of Almanzo Wilder's childhood. As the book opens, Almanzo is 8 years old and attending school for the first time. Almanzo doesn't mind school, but what he really loves is life on the farm and the prospect of his own pony to train. Though the story takes place in the 1860s, it resounded with the 3rd graders, boys and girls alike.
JT and I talked often about Almanzo and Laura and the world in which they lived. Appropriately enough, this son of a history teacher is fascinated with history. Books with that theme engage his imagination and interest and provide fodder for many a conversation between the two of us.
Last week, JT discovered old Little House on the Prairie episodes on television and he recorded a few for us to watch. I remember the TV show (indeed, I was the target audience for that show), but it never captured my interest like the books. But JT was interested and we watched a few episodes of the show together. When I explained to him which parts of the show were real (the dreaded Nellie Olson, for example) and which weren't (Laura never ran away from home), he asked about the books.
I still have my collection of Little House books. And last week, I was delighted when JT set aside an enormous collection of Indiana Jones stories in favor of reading Little House on the Prairie. Within a chapter, he was hooked, chattering excitedly with me about packing the covered wagon to head west. We have since taken to reading the book together in the evening, taking turns reading out loud.
It is a deep and abiding pleasure for me to share these books with my boy. Last night, as we read about the Ingalls family building their home on the prairie, I was struck again at the rich detail of these stories. At the spirit and independence of a family who would set off seeking opportunity in a place distant from all that they knew. No matter how many times I read them, there is a familiar comfort to be found when I return to the fold of these stories that I have loved for nearly all of my life. And to now be sharing them with my child is even better than I had anticipated.