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Little House: EXTINCT! Could It Happen?

Tuesday morning seemed ordinary enough. I got my oldest off to school, fed and dressed my younger two, and packed them into the car for the weekly drive to Story Hour at the library. My toddler excitedly pushed the handicapped-accessible button to open the doors, we walked in, and I caught a fleeting glance at a poster on the wall across the building.

My eyes aren’t the best, but I can recognize a set of Little House books anywhere and from any distance. I scurried over for a closer look.

Yes, it was those familiar gingham covers all right — with the words PIONEER CLUB emblazoned above them. Am I the only one whose heart beats faster in excitement at any unexpected Laura sighting in my everyday environment?

I couldn’t stop thinking about it throughout Story Hour. What do they do in Pioneer Club? Could I come help with it in any way? Should I? After all, with three little ones underfoot, I have to be far more protective of my time than I used to be.

By the time Story Hour had ended, my decision was made. I approached the librarian and asked about Pioneer Club.

“Well, I thought we would read through the Little House books, and do some activities to learn about westward expansion,” she began. “But no children have ever showed up.”

My heart stopped beating for a moment as I processed those words.

No one showed up? Not one child saw that poster and felt the same excitement that I did at the thought of a Laura club? Not one parent saw that poster and forced their child to go because they loved those books when they were children so by Jove, so will you!?

I find this overwhelmingly sad. Children love Laura’s books — how could no one show up?

And then I started thinking. 15 years ago, when I established a Laura website, children wrote all the time. Children participated on  message boards and left messages in guestbooks. They emailed with question after question about Laura. Although I have essentially abandoned that website, people still email from it, and people still wander onto the message board. But rarely a child. I hear from grown women who love Laura all the time… but almost never do I hear from a child anymore.

Camp Laura this summer seemed like a fabulous idea. And it was. But I was surprised at the low registration numbers. Where were all the Laura-obsessed children? We only found a handful.

Are children truly losing interest in the “Little House” books after eighty years of popularity? Have the “Little House” books changed from being books for children to being books for women? Or are these instances purely coincidental?

If so, why? Is it that the books aren’t being introduced much in schools now due to government policies filling so many hours of the day with mandatory tasks that there isn’t time left anymore for reading and enrichment? Is it that society has changed so much in recent years due to technological advances that children can’t identify with the Little House characters anymore, or has our fast-paced world caused children to feel that days gone by are too dull to be worth reading about?

What do you think? Will “Little House” ever be in danger of going out of print due to lack of interest and sales?

May I never live to see that day.

 

 

 

P.S. I suggested to the librarian that we might try to resurrect the club in February with a party for Laura’s birthday. So if we do… how do we get the kids to show up??

 

 

 

 

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21 responses to “Little House: EXTINCT! Could It Happen?”

  1. Laura Welser

    This has become a fear of mine lately. It’s why I look around me at any event having to do with Laura and the Little House books to see how many children are in attendance. It’s why, in every single bookstore that I visit, I always make my way to the children’s section to look for Little House books. I’ve even been known to buy a Little House book, just because.
    My conclusions are exactly the same as yours, Rebecca. I think it’s a combination of them all. And it’s sad. Can Little House compete with Harry Potter? Personally, I think there’s room for both.
    My own children never became as passionate as I about the Little House books. I sometimes wonder what else I could have done (and those who know me know that I have yet to give up!).
    Maybe if we all went to our libraries and encouraged more Little House programs (and those of us with time should offer to help)? Maybe WE need to be the ones to spread the word, to help preserve Laura’s legacy. It seems that I’m beginning to believe that if not us, then who?
    Okay, I’ll step down from my soap box now. :)

  2. Sharon Campbell

    If the parents don’t get their kids excited about them and the schools stop encouraging them, which they have, then how are the kids going to learn to love them? Schools don’t teach from them because there are some “politically incorrect” passages that have to do with interracial issues and I think many teachers don’t see their relevance any longer. It’s a very sad day.

  3. Laura Whitaker

    My experience has been the same. I have a
    Nephew and niece, 11 and 10, that show no interest. I bought Farmer Boy for my nephews 10th birthday. I don’t think he’s read it yet, though I was told his mom devoured it after we went to Malone last fall. The books I see them reading are far from Little House and though I’m glad to see them reading at this point, it’s sad because I would have loved a Pioneer Club when I was their age (still would today ha).

  4. Judy Green

    I recently was told by a teacher that the third grade does not read “On the Banks of Plum Creek” anymore, because the Lexile number wasn’t high enough. I had to ask what that meant, but you can guess.
    I don’t know what they expect these kids to read…. Tolstoy?

    My last few months at the library, the supervisor allowed me to host something called “Little House Book Club”, I think that was the key to getting kids in the door.
    As long as there are people like us, these books will not become extinct.

  5. Sarah Manley

    I agree that sometimes Little House has a lot of competition from other sources and concerned adults like us should encourage (not force) the books.
    My 4th grade son had to read the chapter in Banks where Laura is naughty and goes to the swimming hole. The homework was really on vocabulary: ruffled, badger, bristled, patched, bank, rushes, jointed AND a written component on how Pa felt when Laura disobeyed and what had happened. But one small exposure like this will probably not endear the series to kids.
    Some of us may never have found the books if it wasn’t for the tv show and if parents didn’t like it or read it, it might be difficult to encourage new people to read the books. My kids play “Hunger Games” and “Harry Potter” in the backyard with the neighborhood kids, not Little House. But I have boys; they did enjoy Farmer Boy and Farmer Boy Goes West and they think the rest of the books are ok, but it doesn’t seem to get them excited like the other things do. Hmmm, food for thought.

    1. Elizabeth Johnson

      Sarah– my 4th grader had to read the same passage, just last week. I was so excited, thinking that perhaps that would inspire her to want to read the entire book (I’ve been trying to interest her in my well-loved collection for a few years now). But no, the only person it inspired was me–I’m now rereading the books for the umpteenth time. In her defense, though, she is currently working her way through the Roald Dahl canon. But I dream of the day when she will love the Little House books as much as I do.

  6. LauriOH

    I asked my best friend’s niece started 3rd grade this year (well technically she moved to a gifted school and started 3/4/5/6 this year). I was told they were too long for her attention span and too juvenile for her giftedness. I got the impression off the record that they didn’t want her to read stories with a positive father figure in it because her parents are divorced.

  7. Sue

    I gave my yellow box set to my nieces when I got my hardcover set. My older niece (11) read them and really liked them. My younger niece (9) asked to read LHitBW after I returned from my trip to Laura Land and heard my stories of picking up pebbles at Lake Pepin (and hated that her sister knew what I was talking about). However, I don’t see either girl wanting to do pioneer stuff at the library.

    When many of us were young and falling in love with the books, the tv show was a huge hit. We wanted to live the lives of Laura and Mary because we wanted to be like the girls on the tv show. We don’t have that visual or collective social culture to draw from now.

    I was introduced to the books in the 4th grade, when my teacher read a chapter from a book each morning to start the school day. It came right after she read a chapter in the Bible and we said the Lord’s Prayer (that’s dating myself). Of all the books she read over that school year, the only one I remember is the single LIW book because I liked it so much and was even more thrilled to discover it was part of a series, which I loved. No teacher made the series part of classroom reading or discussion.

    And why I think these books will always endure — go to a site like Good Reads and read the reviews. You’d be surprised that the obscure books that endure. Example: I found a couple of books in a series about the Tucker family that I vaguely remembered from my childhood. I popped into Good Reads, and there was a long list of reviews of people who had rediscovered or just discovered this series. Same with a series by Carolyn Heyward that I had been beating myself up to remember for two years.

    Just because kids today don’t react to books in the same way you did or you want them to doesn’t mean they aren’t falling love with the books themselves.

  8. Wendy McClure

    Fifteen years ago, HarperCollins was still very actively marketing the Little House series, because they were doing the spin-off books. This was because they wanted to appeal to readers of the American Girl and the Dear America books (which is ironic, since these franchises were largely inspired by LH in the first place).

    More than thirty years ago, kids were reading the books because of the TV show and because there was a big boom in children’s paperback publishing, with the help of Scholastic Book Clubs and other outlets. That’s when a lot of us found the books.

    In the 60s, they were part of many third and fourth-grade curriculums. In the 50s, they had just been reissued with the Garth Williams illustrations.

    The point here is that there were specific reasons and movements that got these books into kids’ hands.

    For the past few years HarperCollins hasn’t been doing anything to market the books to kids, most likely because they haven’t seen a viable angle or opportunity. That could change now that Common Core curriculum standards have been adopted in most states, and publishers are now motivated to show how their books apply to those standards. From all I’ve heard lately, we should expect to see publishers offering and emphasizing more historical fiction to fill these needs, and maybe that will nudge HarperCollins to try something new.

    But in the meantime, I don’t think we should lament too loudly that kids aren’t reading these. The nature of decision-making in kids means that there are mixed results when one generation tries to pass books on to the next. That’s always been true. We can blame the culture, the educational system, political correctness, etc., all we want, but maybe it’s better to just have realistic expectations about what books a kid will pick up and why.

    And the books will endure. I don’t think there’s any danger whatsoever that the books will go out of print in our lifetimes. They are classics and if Harper ever lost interest, there are still plenty of folks (including MacBride’s heirs, probably), who would work to get the rights reverted and reissue the books. Children’s books that endure for more than fifty years after publication usually do so because they’re either award winners or because they have a passionate adult following, and that’s certainly true for Little House.

    1. LauriOH

      It reminds me of something I was told one time that it’s almost always more interesting to do something that your grandparents enjoy than your parents because the distance is needed to see the point/enjoyment.

  9. Marilyn

    In Canada, the Little House books have never been a part of the curriculum and there is very little interest even among my adult friends in the books. If there is any at all, it is because they all remember watching the tv show as we were growing up. So, welcome to my world, sad to say.

    Rebecca, maybe you should invite the parents to the group as well as the children. I’d love to belong to a LH discussion group, like this one only in person. Can you imagine how much fun we would all have together sitting in a room reading and having these discussions. It would be like Laurapalooza every Sat morning! That would be awesome. If the children saw how excited the adults get, and participated in the group, maybe they would become LH lovers as well.
    Just a thought.

  10. Rebecca Brammer

    How nice to see such a lively discussion — at least the adults are still taking notice! :o )

    My 10-year-old niece and 5-year-old daughter have both responded very positively to the books, which is what makes me think that it’s due more to lack of exposure than to lack of interest. There are always some children who won’t take to them, but that is consistent across generations.

    Perhaps a Little House Wii, DS or Xbox game would revive interest in today’s generation? ;o)

  11. Patty Collins

    Luckily, I have experienced something different in the public library where i work. I find many of girls (and their moms) thrilled to look at my posters filled with pictures of the “real” Laura. Its fun to watch them look at the Laura’s trails map and see where the Ingalls traveled. Plainly, I think it has helped that the Hallmark channel (and several others) run countless Litlte House reruns every day. I love to take these families to Anderson’s books and give a bit of “the rest of the story.” A few years ago, I worked with the Friends of the Library to bring Bill Anderson to our community. Due to limited seating, tickets were required–205 people came–kids to seniors.
    I am sorry to hear that you all are seeing different things where you live. I guess it will be up to all of us through our presentations, research, and involvement with the museums and other Little House fans to educate and entertain others to build interest. Now, if anyone can tell me how to get my great niece excited about her last birthday gift, a copy of LHOTP–let me know!
    In LIWLRA–the Ls are for Laura’s Legacy! I think we can do it!!!

  12. Karen Pearce

    I was in elementary school during the mid-late 80′s/early 90′s. The Little House books were never assigned. However, chapter books were rarely assigned during my elementary school years. The bulk of our reading material came from our reading textbook, which might include a chapter or two of a larger work. In fact, the only chapter books I remember reading were a handful of books I read for my own pleasure. My fourth grade teacher read “Anne of Green Gables” to us, and I am an avid fan of that series to this day. I really wish one of my teachers had assigned the Little House books to us or read them to us. I would have become the fan that I am so much sooner. As a child, I watched the tv show and I knew it was based on a book because I remembered seeing a copy my sister had checked out of the library a few years before. I thought “Little House on the Prairie” was the only book. I had no idea there was a whole series of books until I was much older. I eventually decided to read the books and became hooked on Laura. I don’t really know why I didn’t read the books sooner. I’m sure they were in my elementary school library, and maybe even the middle school library. They were never even recommended to me. If they were, I don’t remember. I suppose I didn’t think they would be as exciting as they really are. Perhaps many kids today think fantasy and magic are much more exciting than the spell of Laura’s world. I think many kids just don’t know about the books or don’t give them a chance. Some kids also just won’t take to them, regardless. I know my attention span was very short when it came to reading in my early years and I couldn’t really stick to chapter books until I was about eleven or twelve. Perhaps that was part of it for me. I suppose it’s better late than never!

  13. Marge Loch-Wouters

    I am a long time public library children’s librarian. What you all describe and lament is what happens frequently over the decades. Tastes change. Well beloved books of our childhood or our children’s childhood that maintained strength and popularity for long years often peter out. I could cry sometimes to see the marvelous books (Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series; Kjelgaard’s dog series; Farley’s Black Stallion; Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series and etc and etc and etc) fall out of the interest-orbit of kids. Something marvelous, though, is always around the corner. And like my many friends in the Betsy-Tacy Society – almost all women of a certain age – they celebrate the books still and give them the love that keeps them alive.

  14. stella

    I am reading LITTLE house in the big woods to my 4 1/2 year old. she loves it and doesn’t want me to stop. so, not extinct at our house. and now she wants to drive to see where she lived. road trip!

  15. naomi

    I think one difference from when we were kids (or at least, when I was a kid), is that there are a lot more books available to choose from today. Period. Even with the downturn in book publishing in the past few years, there are still many more books being published now than there were in the 1960′s and 1970′s. I’m closing my eyes and picturing the children’s book room at my public library when I was a kid. It was a good sized room, with shelves all along the walls, a few free-standing shelves for picture books in the middle of the room, and lots of tables. I can even walk,in my memory, right to the spot on the shelves where Laura’s books were.

    And I compare it to the children’s book room at my local library today. The room’s about 4 times as big, and it’s pretty solidly packed with shelving. (I can’t find, online, statistics on how many children’s books are in the collection.)
    And yes .. tastes change. At our local library, Laura’s books are now found on two ranges of shelves labeled “Classic Fiction”, on which I find not Laura, but Narnia, Ann of Green Gables, Danny Dunn, “All of a Kind Family”, Cherry Ames, Mr. Bass, the Black Stallion, and most of the other books I read and loved as a child. (And they are being read .. the library owns many copies of each, and quite a few are currently checked out.)

  16. Betsy

    I find this interesting; with the downturn of the economy and the rising interest in modern “homesteading” and self-sufficiency, I would think the books would be seeing a resurgence of popularity? I know in conservative religious circles the books are still widely popular, at least with parents. Perhaps that’s the issue here….the books are more appealing to adults now than children.

  17. Vicki

    I have given presentations about Laura and the Little House books to fourth grade and second grade classes for several years as part of community outreach. Fourth grade does a unit on Famous Missourians and the second grade reads OTBofPCreek. Each group seems eager to ask questions and both girls and boys are fans. This year the first grade teacher contacted me about speaking to her group since the state of Missouri has added LIW’s LHitBW to their curriculum. This interest might just be our region but that’s not even counting the children that visit the museum in Mansfield in mass droves. We see thousands of children in the month of May when they take their field trips to see where the LH books were written. You really need to be up on the LH books as they will ask you things their teacher read to them two days ago!

    There are still parents who monitor what their children watch on tv and will tell us they view the tv show with their kids by way of DVD. We at the homesites do everything possible to further the interest of LIW to the entire group of visitors we welcome as guest each season. We want each person to leave with a positive experience. Maybe it’s the husband that was dragged there by his wife and he enjoyed the history behind it after all. Maybe it’s the family that brought ‘little Susie’ because this trip was “for her”. Whatever brings them, they leave with a smile!

    Take heart, we are working on it.

  18. Maridel Weaver

    I have tried with my kid, two nieces and two nephews, and now have given my grand-niece LHitBW. She hasn’t asked for LHotP. So sad. I just wish I had been able to join a Pioneer Group as a kid. At least now we have the LIWLRA!

  19. Laura McLemore

    This is a very interesting discussion. I usually have audiences that are mixed…children and adults. I offered a teacher’s workshop a couple of years ago called “A Visit With Laura Ingalls Wilder”. No one enrolled. The same workshop 10 years earlier was filled to capacity every semester. I think teachers are so overwhelmed with the curriculum they are required to teach that they don’t have time to add anything in. Our district finally added in time for “read aloud”. We are supposed to read short stories or picture books that teach a skill but ever the rebel, I choose to read novels. I started with “Did You Carry the Flag Today Charley?” and “Ramona the Pest”. My students loved them. In Jan/Feb. I plan to read Little House on the Prairie”. Political correctness, as implied in an earlier post, has nothing to do with why teachers don’t read the books with their students. If anything I think we are in a new trend cycle. When I was a kid in the late 60′s and early 70′s,pre TV show, many prime time television programs were history related…Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Daniel Boone etc. So when we pretended, we pretended that time period. What’s onTV now? Reality, Sex and Violence. Kids are interested in other things. But, there will always be persistent teachers and parents who push books we love on unsuspecting children.

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