Category Archives: YA fiction

The Monday Book: THE LONG WINTER by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I found THE LONG WINTER at a thrift store, one of my first fun outings in a year involving non-socially-distant hiking. The title looks different when you’ve emerged from your chrysalis, post-vaxx and post-winter weather, to go do something with a friend.

Most American school children read this book before they graduate middle school. As a child I had the boxed set and devoured them over and over. It’s a little odd to read them as an adult and realize how much sweetness hides some truly terrible things.

Last night I read LONG WINTER in one sitting. How did I miss that sense of threat that pervades every chapter, as the family ticks down from the last of the butter to the last of the milk to the last of the flour to the last of the potatoes, to the last of the burnable fuel? The dawning realization of the townspeople that the train was not coming, the train that was their literal supply line, anchoring them out on the prairie with the safety of coal and already-ground wheat and other “new-fangled” things like kerosene. Ma’s ingenuity at producing a button lamp from axle grease. Pa buying the last two cans of oysters in town for Christmas dinner. The hay sticks that they burned as fast as they made them; twist hay to have the warmth to twist more hay.

And the darkness. The robbery that Pa participated in to get the supplies he came home with.The dying of the lamp on Christmas Night. The inability to buy flour or lumber at any price because “Banker Ruth bought it all.” What happened to Banker Ruth when winter was over, one wonders?

The heroism of Almanzo and Cap, going to buy wheat from a man in the middle of nowhere, is offset by the fact that Almanzo walled up 150 bushels of wheat before they left. So no one could ask him to buy it.

It is a different book as an adult than as a child. I’ve observed there are several rewrites and washouts of these American classics over time, based on racist overtones and the charming overwrites of things like being illegally in Indian territory, or quite possibly murdering a railroad employee, etc. You know, these are still American classics. Just, now that I can see what wasn’t meant to be visible to children, I appreciate Wilder’s two-layer genius in writing all the more. She told the whole story, twice at the same time, for two different audiences. Gonna go back and read the rest of these now.

Yep, American classics: fear, prejudices, frontier justice, snowball fights, family spirit, and all.

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Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, post-apocalypse fiction, small town USA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

The Monday Book: MAKE WAY FOR THE DUCKLINGS by Robert McCloskey

I grew up on this book. It’s the story of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard, and since it was written in the 1940s, of course Mrs. Mallard took her husband’s last name. They set up house on an island in a lagoon off Boston Gardens. There, they are befriended by a policeman named Michael.

When Mr. Mallard flies off to visit upriver sites, he and Mrs. Mallard agree to meet in the gardens a week later, but to her surprise, Mrs. Mallard finds a huge stream of traffic between her and reuniting the children with their Egg Daddy.

Enter Michael, who sees the dilemma and radios for help. Soon four policeman, a patrol car, and numerous passersby form a cordon for the family, who are escorted in peace to the reunion. The family settles in the gardens so they don’t have to call out the city’s resources for future forays. You know, spending taxpayer money on journeys to recreational locations, that kind of thing.

I’m writing about this book today because it’s peaceful. Because Nancy Reagan gave Raisa Gorbachev a copy of the Boston Gardens bronze statue commemorating McCloskey’s ducklings to take back to the Soviet Union in the 1980s–another time when we were all afraid of each other. And because so many generations of children learned to read, learned to look after defenseless animals, and learned to value the small things because of this book.

If you’ve never read it, now’s a good time. If you have read it, now’s a good time to re-read it. Two wings up for Make Way for the Ducklings.

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Filed under book reviews, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing, YA fiction