Book Friends: Laura Ingalls Wilder

A post by writer and reader Carynne McIver Button:

The summer I was five years old, my best friend was named Laura. She lived in a cozy cabin in the woods and, like me, she loved to play outside. She had adventures I had never imagined, such as seeing wolves on a prairie, helping to cut hay, and traveling in a covered wagon. Laura even inspired me to name my favorite doll after her own–Charlotte. Laura was the first of many “book friends” I’ve been lucky enough to have in my life. Since then, there’s been Lizzie, Anne, Scarlett, Lucy, and Claire (plus lots of real life ones!).

But Laura Ingalls was the original and always holds a special place in my heart. Even though she was shaped by words on a page, she was not a flat character. Laura was spunky, curious, occasionally jealous, and (usually) helpful for her parents. From her many stories, I learned the proper way to bale hay (and jump on it afterwards), how to efficiently pack a covered wagon, what it takes to live in a dugout, and how a china shepherdess can turn a house into a home. Sometimes the exciting moments in Laura’s life seemed dull when I attempted to recreate them (apparently molasses poured on snow is not nearly as delicious in the 20th century). Others–like Pa’s fiddle music in the prairie twilight–are memories I never experienced but for which I still feel deep nostalgia.


I have reread Laura’s books countless times throughout my life, returning to them when I felt homesick or missed the comfort of an old, familiar friend. Laura’s values of simplicity, a sense of home, and wonder in the natural world have shaped my own life. As a college student in Massachusetts, I even had my mom send me my worn copy of The Long Winter just to help me get through a March in New England!


I recently read Prairie Fires, a new biography about Laura Ingalls Wilder written by Caroline Fraser.


The book was fascinating and illuminated many of the difficulties Laura left out of her books–including significant debt, government support that dispels the myth of “self reliance,” and Laura’s own complicated relationship with her daughter and editor. My book friend Laura has always been different from the author Laura whom I admire, so these stories didn’t cause any harm to our friendship. Rather, they helped me understand more about how my friend came into being and why she still means so much to readers like me.

When my grandmother passed away a few years ago, I inherited a figurine she often kept on her bookshelf. I had seen the graceful, barefoot woman for years, but when I took her home for myself I realized I had my very own china shepherdess. I placed her on my mantle and I knew I was at home. She lives just a few feet away from my original well-loved copies of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books.

Carynne McIver Button is a grant writer and book lover living in Durham, North Carolina. When she needs a break from words, she enjoys yoga, gardening, and hiking with her husband Garrett. Visit her website


11 thoughts on “Book Friends: Laura Ingalls Wilder”

  1. I’ve never had such an intimate relationship with a fictional character but, now, wish I had. Still, there are so many books and characters that have inspired me over the years. Thanks for a thoughtful post, Carynne and Barbara!


  2. LIW is my childhood hero. Last summer I visited her home in Missouri and the museum in De Smet; it was something I’d wanted to do for years, and I planned the route of my 5000-mile road trip (undertaken for other reasons) around these sites. No regrets.

    When I read the biography Pioneer Girl (which was the working title for the first book), I learned a lot of things I hadn’t known, but Laura was the kind of strong we can all aspire to, regardless of how much fiction was in her own stories.


  3. I also love this series and have read it many times over. I am so excited that our book club at the Hillsborough Library has chosen Little House in the Big Woods for their December selection of First Monday Classics…. I’m thinking it will give the the opportunity to re-read the whole series and not just the one.


  4. I am interested in reading this new biography! I also love her work. Thank you for sharing Carynne and sending love to you! I remember you were always an avid reader! ❤️


  5. Formative series for me for sure! As a child I found The Long Winter to be so depressing. It was the one book in the series I didn’t like. Bet I would feel differently about it now. I’m glad you have had Laura to inspire you throughout life so far. Your Shepherdess is lovely!


    1. Thank you! Actually These Happy Golden Years was always my favorite, but I did love the Long Winter for a glimpse at how the family survived such a terrible time. And it made me grateful to live in North Carolina and not South Dakota!


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