Rediscovering Little House in the Big Woods: Reflections on the Influences of Reading
Tracy Springberry
 
 

In one of my earliest memories I am making out the words in Little House in the Big Woods. The words were hard to know, and I formed each one by saying it silently, sounding it out, but then suddenly I knew the words and like a stream released from a dam, I was washed into that cozy little house with Laura, Mary, Ma and Pa. I loved the sensation of being swept into other worlds. Quickly books became my home, and the Little House series was central. I read them over and over. When I was in third grade, I asked for nothing else for Christmas and received three sets. When I was a new teen my father told me if he saw me reading those books again he would throw them away. (He moved out soon after and I read them anyway). I not only read the Little House books again and again, but all the works of Zilphia Keatley Snyder: The Eygpt Game, The Changling, Below the Root, and of Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Secret Garden and The Little Princess.

Nearly twenty years after I closed those childhood books for the last time, I opened them again to read them aloud to my three sons. I turned to the first pages innocently, expecting only wonderful stories, and the rediscovery of favorite characters, scenes, and descriptions. I did not expect, in fact, was shocked, to find myself -- my passions, my values, my struggles --- on those pages. There in Little House in the Big Woods was my desire for a close family and my romantic notions about living off the land. In the works of Snyder, I found my belief in imagination, spirituality and creative friendships. Burnett described my on-going struggle to transform my youthful isolation into a life that blooms with people.

At first, startled, I thought, "Those books made me who am!" But as I recovered, I realized that even Little House in the Big Woods read twenty times doesn't have that power. As a mother I know people are born as they are. Babies come wet and wiggly from the womb with challenges, gifts, and passions intact. Not that our lives are determined. We have choices. We can hate ourselves for our challenges, let our true gifts shrivel, ignore our passions--or we can face our challenges with humor and love, nurture our gifts and embrace our passions.

Creating a good life with what we have been given is not easy. It requires vision. I found my visions on the grade school library shelves: stories filled with children who saw the world as I saw it, cared about what I cared about, struggled with problems I struggled with. These story children made paths through a hard and often scary world. I read their journeys again and again, dreamed their worlds, and started on my way.