What's the Best Age to Read the Little House Books?

Today I got an email from a friend. She knew about my Laura Ingalls Wilder obsession interest and she was holiday shopping for her niece. She asked me what would be a good age for someone to start reading the Little House books.

Frankly, her question stumped me. In my case, the TV show came before the books; I didn’t even know there were books to base the show on until I read it on the TV credits when I was about nine. That Christmas, just before I turned ten, I got the first half of the series. A week later, on my birthday, I got the other half. The rest is pioneer history.

But I was rather old, wasn’t I? I know people who read them at eight and seven. My daughter, who reads more than I did as a kid (which I didn’t think was possible), finished the series just before her seventh birthday. But I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them to a six-year-old. There’s a fine line between challenging reading and reading that’s so hard it becomes boring. So I wondered: what is the ideal age?

Those of us here at Beyond Little House represent a skewed sample. We’re all a bit more interested than the average slapped bear. In the general population, if you just want to expose a child to the books, what age is the “sweet spot”? Or on the other hand — this is just occurring to me–should they get them sooner and have them read aloud?

In the end, I told my friend age 7 or 8, depending on the reading level of her niece. But I’m not a children’s literature expert, nor do I play one at a Friday night literary. Was that what you would have said?

Posted in Cultural Impact
15 comments on “What's the Best Age to Read the Little House Books?
  1. My opinion is that it totally depends on the child. I started as a read aloud at 3; my niece didn’t have the attention span at 3 to listen to a book that long without pictures on every page. She was more like 5 before she would start listening. And although she’s perfectly capable of reading anything right now, she balks at anything long and won’t even try… something I just cannot understand as I was devouring long children’s novels at her age. My friend’s little girl started as a read aloud at 4 and paid close attention and loved them.

    I say that just to say: It totally depends on the child. But I’d say by 8 or 9, assuming the child has typical reading skills, you should be safe. I’d recommend younger only for children who are already demonstrating the ability and interest to sit and attend, or to sit and read, longer books. But remember there are always those picture books for the preschool set to get them introduced young — which is the route I ended up taking with my niece.

    What age has been best in everyone else’s experience?

  2. Kim says:

    I didn’t start reading the books until I was around 8 years old. I was immedediately hooked on anything “Laura”. My youngest daughter started reading them when she was 8, as well. However, some kids will be able to read them at a younger age. It would be a great gift for kids younger than 7 or 8 if they are strong enough readers, or if the parents are willing to read these books out loud. My mom spent many hours reading these to me, even after I was old enough to read them, just because we both wanted to read them and we only had one copy. 😀

  3. Judy G says:

    The “sweet spot”, interesting semantics, Sandra.
    I would set it at third or fourth grade, which is probably the 8-10 age range.
    Kids that old have a concept of the world outside their own realm, and can appreciate the differences between their life and the Ingalls. They have a concept of time, past/present, that a younger child might not grasp as readily.
    That said, LHBW is a great read aloud for 5-7 year olds, because that is the age of the young characters they can identify with.

    Interesting itinerary Sandra. It will be exciting to see it take shape.

  4. Sommer says:

    I’m new here..but LOVE this little spot! Thanks for this blog 🙂

    As to the question…I can’t remember when I read these for the first time, I know I was rather young…maybe 7. I began reading them allowed to my daughters at about 4 or 5 years old. I would definitely recommend that:) As for an age that is good to start reading themselves..well, my eldest daughter was about 7 or so I think. It really does depend on their reading skill. My younger daughter is 7 but only just getting good with reading. So I will wait for her..but we will read them aloud 🙂


  5. Lauri says:

    We saw a film strip in second grade that immediately sparked my interest, but the school library was closed for the summer by that time in May. I started devouring them when we started back in the fall.

  6. Rachel says:

    I started reading them out loud to my daughter at age 3, last spring. She loves the first few, when Laura was a little girl, but got bored with Silver Lake pretty quick. She often asks for specific chapters, so while we’ve only read al the way through the first 4 once, we’ve read certain chapters 2, 3, or 8 times.

    This summer, my mother-in-law found 4 or 5 of the Renee Graef illustrated versions at a rummage sale and got them. Liese loves to “read” those herself, or have me read them to her. When I read them to her, she often fills in with things that happened in the full book but is skipped in the kiddie ones.

    I will say though, I don’t read word for word to a 3/4 year old. Anything that seems to be boring her, or over her head, gets skimmed. LHoP was a quick read, because there are whole chapters that I read like this “Then Pa built a door”. New chapter. “Then Pa built a roof.” New chapter. And so on.

    I got them for Christmas at age 7 1/2. I was an advanced reader though, so they were great for me!

    It’s totally gonna depend on your child. My friend, with a daughter about 2 months older than mine, reads the Graef kid versions to her daughter, who loves them, but she would be bored with the full-length versions.

    (And if you are wondering what we are doing now… We just finished Alice in Wonderland and started Wizard of Oz. I’m hoping to raise a great reader!)

  7. Betsy says:

    I agree that it depends on the child. If one is not sure if the child enjoys reading or not, I’d say 4th grade (9, 10 yrs) would be the “normal” time to introduce the books. I remember that I was in 4th grade myself when I started them.

  8. Em says:

    As an elementary teacher, I read the first 5 books aloud to my third grade students (8-9 year olds, this is the age when everything should be in place for reading i.e. vision, language, sight/sound relationship, etc.). After a chapter or two of LHBW they are eager to check the library for a copy of the book to read ahead of me or to follow along. Around 7 or 8 years of age seems to be the right age for these books. (I was given my set for my 8th birthday). Former students have told me they’ve reread the books for book reports and presentations in the older grades. Which is another reason I love the LH books – they progress from a simpler text to more advanced as Laura grows older.

  9. Jody says:

    We got my daughter the boxed set last Christmas, she was 4. It took us about 6 months reading a chapter or two a night to get through the whole set and she loved them the whole time. I read to her before bed, so thats not the same thing as her own interest but she picks what we read and we’re going through the series (out of order) a second time right now… on “Little House in the Big Woods” for the third time actually.

    My only frustration is her preference of Mary over Laura, I can’t call her my “little half pint of cider half drunk up” because thats not Mary.

  10. Sandra Hume says:

    Jody, you might like this essay, which addresses the same thing from a Mom’s perspective: http://www.literarymama.com/columns/bookshelf/archives/2009/11/coming_soon.html


  11. Katey says:

    I was a good young reader, and probably started with the Little House books at about 7. This was the time of the beginning of the American Girl Craze so anything old-timey was sought out for independent reading. I never owned them until my post-college years, before that I used to take the books out of the library again and again.

  12. Anne says:

    We have started them with our daughter at age 8–she LOVES them. It’s about a 50-50 read—half us and half her aloud. The stories are compelling and perfect for our adventurous girl. It’s a different kind of fantasy writing, as the Little Prairie world seems so unreal to her, and yet it’s a great conversation starter about facets of life that have changed dramatically from then to now…

  13. Leslie says:

    We started reading them together when my daughter was eight and a half. She’s nine now, we’re working through “Little Town on the Prairie” and will no doubt go to the end of the series within a couple of months. It’s been interesting to observe how her attention to detail and her remembering detail has developed through this time. She wants to read the series on her own, but she’s not quite there yet….her strength right now is math more than reading.

  14. Leslie says:

    On an added note, I think what really finally sparked her interest in the series was participating in the Apple Valley School simulation last spring. The classroom was transformed into a one room school house and for a week, the kids learned hands on about the mid 19th century. We skipped “Farmer Boy” because that’s the one they read together – will have to get back to it.

  15. Pat Israel says:

    My mother read to us almost every evening before we went to bed. We borrowed from the local library, the edition before the Garth Williams illustrations. The books were not in our school library! This was in the 1950s., My father did a lot of woodworking things, still without power tools, and my mother baked our bread, so we were fascinated by all the descriptions of how the many other things were done throughout the series. There were moral lessons too but presented in a mild manner. My sister would have been perhaps 7 and that would make me 5. We both could read (I had not started school but recognized many words) but still loved to have my mother read to us. By the time I was 7 I too was able to read the books on my own, but did not read the last two until I was about 10, I think. My father used to read “Farmer Boy” about once a year even into his 60s. He liked to cook, and the descriptions of the big yummy meals must have been his favorites!