I have yet to meet a homeschooler who isn’t familiar with the beloved Little House on the Prairie series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her books have not only won the Newbery Award, they have stood the test of time from generation to generation. But how much do you know about the real Laura Ingalls Wilder? We had the opportunity to learn more about her by watching Little House on the Prairie: The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder, a documentary on DVD from Legacy Documentaries.
As a mom of three girls, the Little House books are must-reads in our home. I featured them in my series on classic books for girls. They were the first chapter books I remember reading when I was 8 years old and now I’m so happy to share that tradition with my own daughters. We’ve used The Prairie Primer unit study, Big Sis has dressed as Laura, we had an awesome field trip to the Almanzo Wilder homestead, and I’ve created a Pinterest board dedicated to Laura and Little House. After Hurricane Irene took out our power for 4 days, we pretended to be Laura and her family having to rough it in our own little house in the woods. We spend family time together watching the TV series on DVD. With all of that said, we still learned more facts about Laura by watching this documentary than we had known before!
The documentary is beautifully produced with a mixture of still photos, live action re-enactments in period costumes, and interviews with Laura historical experts interspersed throughout. It is narrated by Dean Butler, the actor who portrayed Almanzo Wilder on the TV series. It is so nice to see that he has a respect and affection for the real Laura’s legacy as well. Yet another testament to the unique influence Laura Ingalls Wilder has had on American culture.
One of the aspects I enjoyed most was learning about the relationship between Laura and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane, who was also a writer. I didn’t fully realize what a collaborative effort the first books were and how much Rose encouraged Laura to write them. Since Big Sis (11) and I are both writers and have worked together on stories, this had a special link for us. I also liked hearing some of the differences between Laura’s real life experiences and how she changed some of them slightly for the books. Pa’s fiddle, the hard times they faced, each book in the series, how they came to be written and published, and all of Laura’s travels throughout her lifetime were discussed. The documentary is so thorough and full of facts that we plan to re-watch it several times just to catch all the details.
Of course the documentary also highlights her marriage to Almanzo, the inspiration for Farmer Boy. There is another documentary available entitled Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura, which other Crew members reviewed. We would love to see this one, too! One of our favorite homeschool field trips was our visit to the Almanzo Wilder Homestead in New York. (You can read about our trip here, if you’re interested.)
This DVD documentary rivals the quality of any I have seen on PBS or The History Channel. Little House fans will not be disappointed. It’s not just for Little House fans, though. It is also excellent as a supplement to a homeschool study of westward expansion and pioneer days or as a literature study of famous authors. Students could easily use notebooking pages to add to the educational experience and make note of significant dates and facts. The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder is truly family-friendly and can be enjoyed by all ages.
Laura’s books have survived because they embody the universal themes of courage, family, love, and determination exemplified by the pioneer spirit. Laura’s books are infused with all of those qualities because Laura herself had those qualities. She was a pioneer both in historical terms and in the genre of children’s books. I have even more admiration for her after watching this documentary.
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