I’ve recently been listening to Alison Arngrim read the “Little House” series on her facebook page. (Want to learn more? This is my interview with Alison.) I’ve been really surprised by the fans reactions. It seems like there are a lot of people who care about “Little House” books, TV, real life, etc. versions that apparently didn’t know that you can buy “Laura stuff.” They’re estatic that you can buy bonnets, tin cups, etc. I thought this might be a great time to make sure everyone realized some of the Laura basics that are available.
So you’re looking for an “eyes nearly popped right out of their head” present for the Laura Ingalls Wilder fan in your life? I’m going to assume that they don’t have a large Laura collection already. There are many more possibilities, but if you have no clue here are a few to get you started.
The term Laura fans use for the places Laura Ingalls Wilder lived is homesites. It’s sometimes used to mean the entire town for each place Laura lived, sometimes it is used to mean the exact museum. Each museum has a giftship. The museums are NOT regularly funded by the Wilder estate. The museums are NOT funded by their states. So the museums depend on their financial existance for admission fees and giftshop sales. If you want the museums to be there when you can visit them, support them now! Find links, phone numbers, etc. on this homesite list.
Collect at the Beginning
- First up, do they have a complete set of the books yet? If not, a set of their own is a great place to start. The three most common editions currently available are:
- full color illustration paperback
- and pencil drawing illustration paperbacks. (Note that the full color illustrations do no have all the illustrations shown in the pencil illustration versions in the later books of the series.) They are also available on Kindle as ebooks. You can also find them as audiobooks on CD and as digital downloads as read by Tony winning actress Cherry Jones.
Books About Laura
Second, interest in Laura is wide spread enough to support many books about Laura and her life. Here are some suggestions.
- Prairie Girl by William T. Anderson – an 80 page introduction to Laura’s life
- Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Biography by William T. Anderson – a 256 page version of Laura’s life without footnotes, written at a jr. high/high school level, but very approachable for adults as well
- Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder by John E. Miller – the best scholarly biography on Laura, “choked with facts” and a treat for any devoted Laura fan
- Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life by Pamela Smith Hill – more of a literary analysis than biography this biography from the South Dakota State Historical Society provides an in depth analysis of Laura’s writing
- Pioneer Girl, Edited by Pamela Smith Hill – is an annotated version of the draft Laura wrote when she was first trying to get her story told. It’s in the first person and frankly it’s pretty obvious why everyone turned it down. Remember though it was written for an audience as a memoir – meaning it’s not necessarily 100% accurate.
Feel a Part of Her World
Third, there are books that help you feel more a part of Laura’s world. These are just the most basic for any collection. There are many other books that you might get depending on what part of Laura-dom you’re interested in.
- Laura Ingalls Wilder Country by William T. Anderson and Leslie Kelly – photographs of Laura Ingalls Wilder homesites around the country
- Laura Ingalls Wilder Songbook by Eugenia Garson – a collection of sheet music to songs in the “Little House” books with notations where they appear in the books
- Little House Cookbook by Barbara Walker – a collection of historic recipes as made in the books
Things from the Books
Fourth, get them a replica of something out of the books.
Many young Laura fans start a Laura collection with a bonnet and/or apron. Although you might be able to make your own or from a local source the homesite gift shops also sell them.
In a very memorable scene in the first book of the series, Little House in the Big Woods, Laura gets her first rag doll for Christmas. In the books, she is called Charlotte. Every homesite gift shop sells their own version of ragdoll Charlotte. These versions look very different check out the homesite giftshops to see photos and pick the one you want.
Also, in that first book, Ma receives a china shepherdess figurine. In all of the rest of the books, a house truly becomes a home once Ma puts out the china shepherdess.
There are three replica versions of this figurine available for sale right now.
Walnut Grove, Minnesota’s looks the most like the version used on the TV show, but it is made of resin, not china. Currently they also sell versions at Independence and Mansfield.
Ingalls Homestead tells me that their biggest seller is a tin cup. Laura and Mary each got a tin cup for Christmas the year they were in Independence, Kansas. Again you can get these at any homesite giftshop. They are close, but decorations differ. Look for photos in the homesite online stores.
Laura’s faithful companion through the first half of the series is her faithful bulldog Jack. Most of the homesites have at least one (and in some cases many) stuffed versions of her faithful friend for you to cuddle with.
A final touch of the books might be a recording of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s voice. Laura Ingalls Wilder Speaks is a CD with the only known recording of Laura’s voice and Pa’s real fiddle playing music. Laura reads a thank-you letter to school children in California as an older woman, but it’s our Laura’s voice. There are a number of Laura music CDs brought out by different artists and groups. This is the only one with Pa’s real fiddle so that you can really hear it. Of all the Laura music CDs I own my other favorite is a Tribute to Charles “Pa” Ingalls. It also features Pa’s real fiddle accompanied by, apparently, the world’s first bluegrass symphony orchestra. Other fans prefer other recordings see them listed in the online stores.
Fifth, a gift that keeps on giving. If your Laura fan isn’t a member in the organizations that support Laura yet, each homesite has its own fan membership and the group that offers gift memberships. (Most of the time I was growing up my mother bought me one life membership in a different Laura organization each year for Christmas.)
While you can get many of these Laura based presents from multiple sources (unless otherwise noted), we urge you when possible to shop at Laura homesite museums. These museums dedicated to Laura get no regular backing from her estate and rely on admissions, donations, and gift shop sales to stay open for us to visit and preserve Laura’s legacy. Find links to their websites, phone numbers, etc. on this homesite list.
An earlier version of this post appeared on Beyond Little House.
Every year at Christmas time I put together a post of new things the homesites are offering. Check out my previous posts. Most of the presents that I suggested in 2011 , 2012 , 2013 , 2014 , 2015 , 2016, 2017, 2018 , and 2019 are still available so take a look at previous shopping posts for more ideas.
Sarah S. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many times at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. She is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic, and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. How can you help? Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, look at her photos, and find her on Facebook , Twitter , LinkedIn , SlideShare, and Academia.edu . Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and former director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.