A book by Kimberly Pauley
Fifteen-year-old Laura Ingalls learns that living away from home and teaching school can be a bit frightening when most of the students are taller than she is, but every week Almonzo Wilder arrives to take her to her family for the weekend. A Newbery … see full wiki
WONDERFUL NIGHT, BEAUTIFUL WORLD
“Twilight faded as the little stars went out and the moon rose and floated upward. Its silvery light flooded the sky and the prairie. The winds that had blown, whispering, over the summer grasses all day, now lay sleeping, and quietness lay over the moon-drenched land.
‘It is a wonderful night,’ Almanzo said.
‘It is a beautiful world,’ Laura answered.”
And, for the most part, it is. Desmet, South Dakota, remains ideal in the last book of the Little House Series. Throughout three blissful years, Laura Ingles—ultimately Laura Wilder—revels in both freedom and the constraints of home life. Although THESE HAPPY GOLDEN YEARS is pleasant and wholesome in every way, its more mature tone and somewhat hasty nature render it less captivating than other works by Mrs. Wilder.
JUBULANT HARMONY: FIDDLE, ORGAN, AND BELLS!
THESE HAPPY GOLDEN YEARS is replete with dramatic irony, for the book’s first several chapters are the antithesis to the title. Fifteen-year-old Laura Ingles has just received a teacher’s certificate and will be receiving forty dollars for her pedagogic efforts. Laura’s descriptions of the Brewsters, the family with whom she boards for two months, lead me to believe that she deserved much more. Mrs. Brewster is glum in every way, rocking idly each evening and refusing to care for her young son. While Laura sleeps in the frigid bedroom, she frequently sees fit to quarrel with her husband, often resorting to violence. Mr. Brewster speaks only when necessary. The weeks are quite bleak.
Each Friday, however, glimmers of hope are brought to a joyous fruition. Then it is that Almanzo Wilder travels with his small cutter-sleigh the twelve miles to the Brewster home. After taking Laura home to town, where a cheerful fire awaits and Pa’s fiddle laughs notes of welcome, Almanzo returns for her on Sunday afternoon. Neither Laura’s initial silence nor a frigid, 060-degree day prevent Almanzo from returning for Laura each Friday.
At last, the term is ended. With spring come buggy rides, work as a seamstress, and an entertaining visit from Laura’s Uncle Tom. The summer months bring Mary home from the college for the blind. No longer does Mary sit in a rocking chair, allowing others to pity her. Rather, she has learned to read Braille and to create beautiful beadwork. Always wise and thoughtful, Laura’s older sister has developed a pensive, philosophical disposition and expresses sorrow at the changes that have come about as a result of Laura’s newfound employments.
At intervals, Laura holds down a claim with a lonely woman, continues to sew, and teaches two more terms. Throughout these joyful years, Almanzo consistently courts Laura each Sunday. The two go for buggy rides, filling their arms with summer roses or eating just-ripened grapes. Winter provides a brilliant opportunity for the beautiful music of sleigh bells. No matter the season, Laura sings constantly-songs that have generally been accompanied by Pa’s old fiddle, songs that the two have learned in singing school, songs perfectly suited to the beautiful occasion of evening rides.
Following Laura’s second school term, the anticipation regarding music rises. Pa’s purchase of a new, beautiful organ will allow Mary to play whenever she is home.
Meanwhile, the music of affection seems to be increasing in pace and fervor. Together, they must tame a team of colts. Skip and Barnum are nearly impossible to break; they run and trot, but seem unable to walk. Laura can scarcely hoist herself into the buggy each Sunday, prevented, as she is, by Barnum’s constant rearing. However, Laura is convinced that Barnum has a gentle nature that has only to be carefully brought forth. When Barnum finally walks, Almanzo’s enthusiasm is endless.
Almanzo’s ultimate proposal to Laura occasions much joy and nostalgic heartache in the Ingles household. For the last time, Pa plays his fiddle and Laura dances with her younger sisters, Carrie and Grace. Ma furnishes Laura with pillows and the dove-in-the-window quilt that Laura created as a child. Almanzo’s new home will be beautiful, with cheer and affection.
IT ALL DEPENDS
Throughout Laura’s courtship, I was impressed by Almanzo’s gentleness with young Laura. Their first kiss occurs after their engagement. Ahhh, wholesome literature!
That said, Laura’s affection for Almanzo seems to arise from rather shallow principles. When Almanzo inquires as to whether she would accept an engagement ring from him, she replies, “It depends on what the ring looks like.” Perhaps this was meant to be somewhat flirtatious; perhaps Almanzo interprets Laura’s remark as acceptance. However, readers who are not extraordinarily perceptive may be tempted to classify Laura’s response as shallowness.
THE BARNUMIAN BOOK
Remember that incorrigible colt who seemed incapable of anything save haste? THESE HAPPY GOLDEN YEARS is a perfect reflection of Barnum’s actions. Laura’s writing hops, skips, and jumps from one scene to another, with scarcely enough room for detail. Three years simply cannot be condensed, as Laura attempts to do. No longer do we hear of the family’s Christas in ful detail. No more do readers take lingering strolls with Laura, beholding the sunset with her in poetic, lyrical writing. Nearly all innocence and imagination seems to have been usurped by hasty descriptions of school terms, with very little description of most of the puples; hasty details of Laura’s relationship to Almanzo; hasty accounts of work as a seamstress; in short, hasty, abridged vignets. This seems extraordinarily out-of-character for the Laura that readers of previous books have come to know.
During other books in the Little House series, Laura’s beautiful words and leisurely, captivating tone have gently abolished the need for reliance on illustrations. True, I have heard that Ingles’ other books are beautifully illustrated; yet, the need was not present. Even for me, a visually-impaired individual, Ingles’ words sufficed. Not so with this work. The writing is woefully factual. Quite seldom do I wish that I could see; however, this time proves to be an exception. This sketchy work cries out for a bit of detail—detail that I am certain that the illustrations provide. I do regret that I cannot comment on the illustrations that I know to be present in THESE HAPPY GOLDEN YEARS; however, your lack of knowledge should simply entice you to purchase the book!
In a previous review, I wrote that books should be able to stand upon their own merits, regardless to their number in any chronological series. Although I do not feel that readers of this book would be entirely confused if they read it before the other Little House books, I do feel that this is a satisfying conclusion. Little background information is given regarding Laura’s sisters; then again, the younger girls are scarcely mentioned. In short, this would be best read at the end of the series, where it belongs; yet, if you choose not to read the books in order, you should be able to follow the story. As it is, I am forced to review the Little House books out of order, as the books are difficult to locate in audio formats.
The verdict, then, is this: THESE HAPPY GOLDEN YEARS is well-written in its way and provides a satisfactory conclusion to an intriguing series. However, the lack of detail renders it less educational for the young. Intended for grades 4-7, THESE HAPPY GOLDEN YEARS provides very little in the way of daily life. Readers are treated to a romance rather than to an holistic portrait of Laura’s last three years before adulthood. Nevertheless, this work is a worthy, wholesome one that many youngsters—particularly girls seeking historical novels—will surely enjoy.
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