After suffering through the text of The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie is a delightful read and a return to a narrative that is a little more similar to what fans remember from the television show. Thanks to the family’s diligence, Mary is sent off to a college for the blind in Iowa and will not return for seven years (supposedly). Laura continues to study hard in hopes of being a teacher so that she can help support Mary’s education. Nellie Oleson makes a return to the Little House books, but this time, the blonde haired beauty from Plum Creek is a “country girl” herself whose family business has gone bust and is relying on the kindness of relatives back east while her father establishes his claim. Note: For those of you who do not know this, the character of Nellie was based on three girls Laura knew during her childhood, but merged into one composite character. Although the stories in the Little House books are autobiographical, before Michael Landon took liberties with the characters and plot lines – Laura did it first.
Another “new” character to the book is Eliza Jane Wilder who originally appeared in Farmer Boy and is Almanzo’s older sister who has come to teach at the DeSmet school. Contrary to what you may know from the TV show, Eliza and Laura did not hit it off well. Nellie spoke about Laura behind her back to Miss Wilder souring the older woman on Laura before she had the chance to get to know her. This plot line is played out in the television show, however it is done much earlier in Laura’s life and the teacher who brands her as a trouble maker was not female but male and named Mr. Applewood (or something like that.)
In this book we also see something “brewing” between Laura and Almanzo. Though it’s not clear what, and she does note that she thinks of him as her father’s friend, not hers and she seems more enamored by his horses than she is in Almanzo. Nevertheless, he gives her a ride home from school, they exchange calling cards, and one night during a revival meeting, he offers to walk her home (to the chagrin of Ma.) Almanzo makes this a nightly occurrence and finally Laura becomes comfortable accepting his offer and keeping up her end of the conversation with him. This is a huge departure from the TV show in which it was obvious that Laura was “ga ga” over Almanzo who was just far enough out of reach to make every girl’s heart break who was watching at home. In the books, Almanzo is the one doing all the pursuing, in an honorable way of course…remember – this IS Little House.
By the end of the book, Laura achieves the one thing she has been seeking since the first chapter- her teaching certificate and she is about to go 12 miles from home in order to instruct pupils at the Brewster School which sets up the next installment of the Little House saga in These Happy Golden Years.