Thursday, May 30, 2013

Little Farm in the Ozarks

Little Farm in the Ozarks by Roger Lea MacBride is the second title in "The Rose Years" series of sequels to the classic "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, following Little House on Rocky Ridge. The series follows Rose Wilder Lane, the only child of Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder, as she grows up in Mansfield, Missouri.

Little Farm in the Ozarks covers the Wilders' second season at their new home at Rocky Ridge Farm after leaving drought-stricken South Dakota behind for a new life. Having survived their first fall and winter, optimism begins to bud with the spring. Isolated in their little log cabin outside of town by cold weather and all the work involved in establishing a new farm, the Wilders finally begin to move beyond day-to-day survival. Their young orchard has been planted and they can look forward to apple harvests in a few years. In the meantime, the first crops are in, the little house has been repaired, and new friends are being made.

For the first time since they moved to Missouri, eight-year-old Rose can be spared from farm chores to attend the summer session at the school in town, where she meets many new children. But Rose has been so well taught by Laura that she is ahead of her peers in the Third Reader class academically, but her teacher considers her too young to promote her to the Fourth Reader class, even though she has already read both the Fourth and Fifth Reader. Unchallenged, she quickly becomes bored and would have become totally discouraged if her teacher had not recognized her dilemma and arranged for her to borrow books from the library in the advanced class. Losing herself in literature and almost always ending up at the head of the daily spelldowns, she is able to survive the short summer session.

But not without a brush with mortality. Rose's seat-mate at school, Irene, came down with diphtheria, the same dreaded illness Laura and Almanzo had battled in De Smet when Rose was small. Other than her baby brother, whom she really didn't remember, Irene was the first person Rose had known that died. Now Rose began to wonder what would happen if she got diphtheria herself and died. Her parents had never been able to have any more children after their illness. She couldn't bear the thought of Mama and Papa all alone. Who would help them on the farm?

Then the term ended. The last day of school, Rose hurried home to do her chores, then dressed in her best calico and walked back to school with Laura and Almanzo, Rose and Laura carrying their shoes and stockings, to keep them from getting dirty, until they were almost there before they put them on. In the class end-of-school spelldown, and Rose is able to spell down all the other students in front of all their parents, winning a plush red autograph book for her prize. By offering to share the prize with her only academic rival, who had been distant with her the entire term, and then asking her to sign it when she declined, Rose opens the door for a possible friendship with Blanche, the town girl whose father owns the drug store, when school begins again in December after the harvest.

Little House on Rocky Ridge and Little Farm in the Ozarks very much parallel On the Banks of Plum Creek. Little girls of similar age journey to a new home where their family can start over after prior difficulties. There is a new farm to establish, a new school, a new town to become a part of, even a snobby town girl merchant's daughter as a rival, although Blanche is no Nellie Olsen. If you liked On the Banks of Plum Creek, you will like these novels.

As in Little House on Rocky Ridge, I am amazed that Roger Lea MacBride managed to be so very "Laura" in his narrative. It didn't seem quite as spot on as in the first novel, but he still managed to capture the tone and rhythm of  Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I could easily have imagined Laura writing Little Farm in the Ozarks herself. MacBride successfully managed to capture the perspective of a little girl almost as well as Laura captured her own in On the Banks of Plum Creek, and before that in Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie.

Return to my review of Little House on Rocky Ridge.

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