As I started to read this book, I was sure I recognized the author’s name. Cynthia Rylant, Cynthia Rylant… At last I could stand it no longer. I pulled up my data base… and there she was. She was the author of… MISSING MAY? Horrors! But, thank goodness, Old Town in the Green Groves is nothing like Missing May.
Laura loves their little house on Plum Creek. She wishes she could live there forever. All they need is for this year’s crop to be successful, and then Pa will be able to pay off his debts, and they can stay there for a good long time.
But the crop isn’t successful. For the third year in a row, the Ingalls’ crop is destroyed – consumed – by grasshoppers. As far as Pa can figure, their only option is to sell the farm, pack up the family, and move to Burr Oak, Iowa, where he’s been offered the job of helping to run a hotel.
Laura is said to be leaving her beloved home. And when she gets to Burr Oaks, she’s not very impressed by its constricting borders. But she trusts Pa, and she hopes that he too will soon be influenced by his love of the prairie and they will soon drive a wagon west, far west…
I have to hand it to Ms. Rylant – she did an amazing job calling up the Little House on the Prairie atmosphere. And she was very careful with her material – about a third of the book was spent recalling incidents that had happened in previous Little House on the Prairie books, and the rest was based on a dozen pages that Laura herself wrote. Her attention to accuracy was impressive.
There was such a sweet family sense to Old Town in the Green Groves. You got the feeling that everyone in the Ingalls family really loved one another.
“Now, flutterbudget,” said Pa, putting an arm around her in the rain, “what could a pot of gold possibly bring you that you haven’t already got?”
Laura stood next to Pa and looked all around her. She looked at their wonderful house full of real glass windows. She looked at the door leading into it and, beyond that, in her mind, she looked at Ma smiling back at her, and Mary and Carrie and little Freddie all well and happy and safe. She looked down at poor soggy Jack besides her feet and at Pa’s old boots, worn from so much work and so many miles to make a good home for his family.
Laura looked at the new barn Pa had built, warm with the smell of hay and oats and strong, fine animals. She looked through the raindrops at the farmland and fields opening all around, promising wheat and corn and potatoes and good-rooted turnips. And on beyond these were the slender little leaves on the willows beginning to bud and the soft green shoots of the yellow star grass and the blue violets and the friendly white daisies set to bloom.
Laura thought about it all there in the steady spring rain. Then she looked at Pa.
“You’re right, Pa,” Laura said with a smile. “I can’t think of anything I haven’t already got.”
Pa hugged her shoulders, and she followed him to the barn. [pgs. 31-32]
Mary, Laura, and Carrie are very industrious little girls who work around the house as a matter of duty. They manage to successfully run the house when Ma is having baby Freddie, and later when she is sick. When the girls themselves are sick, Mary apologizes to Ma for not being able to help her.
After Ma recovers from her illness, Laura “wished to do even more for Ma. She wished she could give Ma everything. Laura never again wanted to think about Ma being sick and thin and yellow.” [pgs. 50-51]
I thought this was sweet.
“May I hold Freddie as far as Nelson’s?” Mary asked Ma as the girls climbed into the back of the wagon.
“Oh, can’t I hold him please this time?” asked Carrie.
Laura wanted to hold Freddie too, but she didn’t say anything. She didn’t want to make it a squabble.
“Mary asked first,” Ma said, “So she may take the baby as far as Nelson’s. Then Carrie may hold him as far as the creek. When we cross the water, Laura may hold him until we reach home.”
All three girls were happy. [pg. 18]
Isn’t that sweet? All of the little girls wanting to hold their little brother – and Laura not wanting to start an argument.
When the Ingalls first move to Burr Oaks, both Ma and Pa work in the hotel in an attempt to pay off their debts. Laura is very saddened by this because she misses the time she used to spend with Ma. This is the girls’ reaction when they hear that Ma is about to stop working.
“Oh, good!” said Mary. “Good, good, good!”
Laura was relieved too. Ma would belong to them again, not to the hotel.
“I can’t wait, Ma,” said Laura.
“Neither can I,” said Ma with a smile. [pg. 116]
Once, when Laura is feeling depressed, she goes to Pa with her problem. He listens to her, talks with her, and gives her the security she needs.
At the end of the story, when little Grace has just been born, Ma looks at the girls and asks them,
“Do you know what ‘grace’ means?”
The girls all shook their heads.
“It means the spirit of God in someone’s heart,” said Ma. And her eyes filled with happy tears. [pg. 147]
After they move to Burr Oak, Laura, Mary, and Carrie meet the Steadman boys. These boys are rough, rowdy, pesky, and generally everything unpleasant. They mercilessly tease the girls, and because both of their families live at the same hotel, it is impossible for the girls to escape them. Laura wants to retaliate to them, but
Ma had instructed the girls never to be mean to him.
“But he’s mean to us, Ma,” Laura had said.
“And you are a lady,” answered Ma, and that ended the discussion. [pg. 91]
And although the boys continue to tease the girls, none of them ever responds in kind. However, when the boys mock them for having the measles, Laura hotly wishes, “I hope Johnny gets them.” A few days later, Ma tells her girls that Johnny did get the measles.
Ma waited to see if any of her good girls laughed. But not one of them did. They all looked solemnly at Ma, and not one cracked a smile. Satisfied, Ma went back to work.
But as soon as she left, Laura looked at Carrie and Carrie looked at Mary and Mary looked at them both and they laughed and laughed and laughed! [pg. 112]
Although we should not be happy at the misfortunes of others, I could not blame the girls for being happy that their tormentor was temporarily out of action. At the very end of the book, after Johnny hits her with a spitball, Laura sticks out her tongue at him.
Pa tells a story to Ma which Laura overhears.
“What do you mean he ‘burned out his lungs,’ Charles?” asked Ma in a hushed voice behind the curtains of the four-poster.
“The fellow drank so much whiskey,” said Pa, “that he was full of fumes, and when he tried to light a cigar, he breathed in the flame of the match and burned out his lungs.” [pgs. 113-114]
After Laura’s little brother, Freddie dies, Laura tells Ma, “He was an angel.” Ma agrees with her.
Upon seeing a rainbow, Pa tells Laura that there’s a
“Pot o’ gold out there somewhere,” said Pa.
“Really, Pa?” asked Laura.
“Honest truth,” answered Pa. “But only elves can find it. That’s what they say, anyhow.” [pg. 31]
Laura remembers that “Ma had told Laura that if ever she had a dream about clover, it would foretell a happy marriage, a long life, and prosperity. Laura was still waiting for this dream.” [pg. 140]
‘Darnedest’ and ‘by golly’ are each used once.
Conclusion. For anyone who enjoyed the Little House on the Prairie series, this book is for you!
Review © 2013 Laura Verret