Book Review: The Long Winter

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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.

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5 Responses to Book Review: The Long Winter

  1. Cerrin says:

    I do remember you reading this book to us. I think I was only 4 but I remember sitting and listening to you read to us. And then seeing the snow in the morning where it piled to the door over the top of my head. And we had to leave out of the garage because that door opened up and you didnt have to push out the door thru the snow. That was a great time…I dont remember it being difficult I just remember the wonderful time we had as a child.

  2. Beth F says:

    I loved these books, which I read in elementary school. The story of that long winter was amazing — can you imagine being cooped up in a small cabin for that long?

  3. Kathy says:

    You know a book is well written when it stands the test of time like these do. I loved them as child. Great review.

  4. Book Psmith says:

    I read this in the 5th grade. I remember skipping lunch time to sit behind the lockers and read it. My friends didn’t get it…lunch period is very big for socializing when your ten:) Good times, good times.

  5. Jillian says:

    I’m reading this book right now. I’m really enjoying the walk with the Ingalls (and Wilders.)

    Great blog, by the way!! I just read Alcott for the first time a couple months ago. I am a fan, and will read more of her work for sure. 🙂

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