The Long Winter
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Harper and Row, 1940
The last time I read this book it was the late 1970’s. We were living in the country near St. Joseph, Missouri with our vegetable garden and our animals and we too had chores to do twice a day. It was an extremely cold winter with blizzards and snow lasting for months. For some reason it seemed appropriate to read this book every evening to our three children. Here we are nearly thirty years later and our children still remember that winter and the reading of this particular book.
The Long Winter is one of The Little House Books – A Pioneer Chronicle. The books are a written account of the Ingall’s life in the 1870-80’s. This particular book is the story of a dangerously severe winter in the northern plains. It’s the first year for the family on this particular homestead and there is only a drafty “shanty” for shelter. After the first severe blizzard and warnings from muskrats and an old Indian, the father decides to move his family of six into a store he owns in town.
The majority of the book covers the months of living a precarious existence in town. Because of the blizzards the little town has been cut off from the outside world. The train is unable to get to them with coal and food. It will not arrive until spring so everyone knows they must survive by any means possible. By April the family has only coarse brown bread to eat.
I find the ingenuity of this pioneer family remarkable. After running out of coal to keep warm, they turn to twists of hay for heat and baking in the kitchen stove. After running out of kerosene for light, they build “button lamps” with axle grease, calico and buttons. For food they survive on a bag of wheat they grind in a little coffee grinder and potatoes from last summer’s garden.
The Long Winter was based on actual events that occurred in 1880-81. Throughout their struggle to survive the family and the townspeople manage to keep sane. The Ingalls family work to keep each other cheerful and hopeful. They love singing and the playing of Pa’s violin as well as reading the few books they have.
As I was reading it now after all these years, I couldn’t help but think about families today who are also experiencing tough times and trying to survive. The book certainly celebrates the value of simple things and how families pull together and sacrifice for each other. I recommend this book for both adults and older children. Best of all would be to be read it to the whole family.