Posted by: Jeanie F | March 21, 2019

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

As a young girl, I read all of the wonderful Laura Ingalls Wilder books about life on the prairie: On the Banks of Plum Creek, The Little House on the Prairie, By the Shores of Silver Lake . . .  I could list them all but, if you are a fan, you know them all; if you aren’t, you don’t care. I consider myself fortunate to be old enough to have read the series before the televising of the vapid, sugar-coated program that followed. Therefore, I was able to form my own mental images of the Wilder family and the challenges – and glories – of their experience on the American prairie. I also consider myself fortunate that I was happily unaware of the reality of their true lives on the prairie, which were far more challenging that the Little House series let on.

Prairie Fires is the true story, which Wilder wrote during the Great Depression when she was in her sixties and needed the income. It’s a darker and grittier story than the Little House series tells. Caroline Fraser (who was the editor of the Library of America edition of the series), in writing Prairie Fires, has dug down into the reality of that life on the prairie, one of hardship, deprivation, uncertainty, and danger.

In this version of the Ingalls’ life on the Great Plains, we see the true struggle for life and death, the constant dependence on the vagaries of climate, health, poverty. The grown-up story. Life on the prairie was not for the weak or faint of heart. Backbreaking labor was rewarded by insect infestations that killed the crop that settlers relied on to sustain themselves. Infants died. So did their parents. Moments of happiness and glory were hard won but, if Wilder is to be believed, appreciated and savored.

This book has been deeply researched and was rightfully rewarded with both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle award. It is well researched and well written. It pulls back the curtain on a specific time and place in a way that left me, a lifetime admirer of the Little House series, even more impressed by the courage and fortitude of our forefathers and mothers.

Grade: A


  1. I own this book. It is sitting on my bookshelf unread! You have inspired me to get it down and start reading~

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