Q: You have written so much about Laura Ingalls Wilder. How did you first get interested in her life and work?
WA: I got started just like all her fans: I read the “Little House” books when I was a kid. When I was a boy, my elementary school teacher read her books out loud to the class. My third-grade teacher read us “Little House on the Prairie.” I enjoyed it so much that I read the rest of the series on my own.
I got curious about what happened to the characters in the book. I knew they were real people. So I decided to try and find out more about them. But at that time – this was the 60’s – there was almost no supplemental information on Laura Ingalls Wilder. About all you could find was a small 3-inch column in the World Book Encyclopedia.
Then someone told me about the Wilder home in Missouri. I wrote them for information. One thing led to another, and before long I was in touch with people around the country who were interested in Laura. People who had known her family gave me firsthand accounts of her life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was gathering together a valuable collection of material , especially since many of the people who knew her, including her daughter Rose, have died over the past twenty years. My family and friends encouraged me. My family arranged visits to all the places the Ingalls lived on our vacations. We went to DeSmet, South Dakota, and their home near Lake Pepin. My father and mother finally said maybe I should write about everything I’d learned.
Q: What was the most important single element about her you wanted to convey in your books?
WA: That Laura and her family found happiness and beauty in very simple things. They worked hard to survive, but they enjoyed themselves a great deal. They found pleasures in everyday things like wildflowers growing on the prairie, Ma’s home-cooked meals, and Pa’s fiddling. They just enjoyed living. I want kids reading my books to get a sense of that.
Q: What do you think children today get out of reading about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life?
WA: I think Laura provides us with a link to the past, to the pioneer days of American history. Children can feel and understand the past through her. I really think kids learn more about American History – especially about the way people lived day-to-day from the “Little House” books than from any history textbook.
What many people do not realize is that Laura wrote the books only at the urging of her daughter, Rose. Rose had always known that her mother could tell a good story. and when she became a successful journalist, she encouraged her mother to write the “Little House” books. It was the perfect partnership.
Rose had the literary know-how, dealing with publishers and agents and all. Laura had the real folk quality. In a way, the “Little House” books were a family undertaking. Laura might not have been a trained writer, but she was good at describing things as she saw them. Laura’s books are full of sentiment, but they’re not sentimental. She was a feisty character, and that comes across in her books. Its interesting for example, that they appeal to boys as much as to girls. One last reason Laura’s books are so popular may be that kids reading them grow up with Laura and her family. Through the books, the readers pass through all the phases of childhood…