After the election my reading tastes changed. I know I’m not alone. I saw many tweets from my bookish friends talking about what they would read after the election, and the power of reading. They posted lists of books to read, and ways they would use reading to fight darkness, hatred, and oppression. I think a lot of us felt hopeless, and were doing what we could with the tools we had. For many of us, our best tools, the ones we know how to use the best, are books.
I abandoned the dozen or so cozy mysteries I had laid in for the holiday season, and searched out books that might give me a clue about how we got here. I finally read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I am number 116 on my city’s waiting list for Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. Like many others I looked for a time when America was “great”, and fell short again and again.
There was only one solution. It was time to read another book in the Little House series.
On The Banks of Plum Creek is my favorite of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. Like everyone else who reads these books I often picture myself with a sunbonnet, running through the fields with Laura. When I picture myself doing this it’s on the banks of Plum Creek.
We pick up where Little House on the Prairie left off. The Ingalls family is in the wagon, looking for a place to settle. Their luck turns almost right away when Pa is able to trade and get them land right along the banks of Plum Creek. Everything here is a new adventure, and we get to follow along through Laura’s eyes. There are new animals to meet, and there’s time to swim in Plum Creek. Even keeping house is an adventure because they inherited a sod house, grass roof and all.
And there were plums!
There were green, red, blue, and purple plums. There were plums that ripened in hot weather, and plums that ripened after frost. There were enough plums that they could be dried to make pies from in the winter.
The glories of this book don’t end at plums either. We get three Christmas scenes! (Beware parents – one has a minor Santa Clause spoiler.) All Little House Christmas scenes are good, but the best in this book takes place in town. The Ingalls family heads to town at night to attend a Christmas service. In the church there is a Christmas tree filled with gifts for everyone. They return home that night with furs, china pieces, dolls, riches beyond measure really.
The girls are also close enough to town to start school. We finally get to meet Nellie Olsen, the girl we all love to hate. She’s just as awful as we remember, but it’s also fun to see the family interact with new people.
Life on Plum Creek did seem great.
A family could eat all the plums they want, raise enough hay to feed their cattle in the winter, and grow a good crop of wheat. They had land, but also a thriving town and church nearby. However, as many people have discussed in 2016, what appears to be great isn’t always when you look below the surface.
Grasshoppers come and destroy everything. There are no crops, no plums, and no hay. Pa can’t afford to pay for the house he built on credit. He has to leave his family and go east for work. His girls are left to fight fires and brave blizzards without him.
It gets pretty grim.
The Ingalls family doesn’t look to blame others though. They look toward the future. The book ends on Christmas day with the family thinking about how things will be better next year. It is an optimistic message, and in this time when nothing seems possible, it was good to have a little optimism in my life.