Caroline: Little House, Revisited
Caroline: Little House, Revisited follows Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic Little House on the Prairie, the third book in her bestselling series, that sees the Ingalls family set out from the Big Woods of Wisconsin in 1870 to stake a homesteading claim in the uncharted Kansas prairie. I read the former with my dog-eared copy of the latter in hand, feeling both nostalgia for a favorite childhood read and delight in having a different perspective. Indeed, I hadn’t realized until reading Caroline how much of Little House is a child’s half-overhearing of her parents’ conversations. Through assured prose, Miller puts us in those conversations, showing us the fear and uncertainty behind Wilder’s implacable, unflappable “Ma,” but also her strength and devotion to her husband and children.
Miller takes us through events familiar to any devotee of Wilder’s book—crossing the frozen Mississippi, building the log cabin, battling the prairie fire, waiting for Mr. Edwards to bring Christmas gifts across the winter-swollen creek—but she also reclaims the history altered or left out by Wilder’s editing, most notably placing Carrie’s birth in Kansas rather than in Wisconsin, giving us a pregnant Caroline to battle the hardships of travel and of establishing a claim. Another significant change, for a modern audience uneasy with the treatment of Native Americans in Wilder’s original stories, is a sensitive handling of the Osage.
Nostalgia aside, this is a stunning novel. Miller’s research is impeccable and her writing exquisite. I frequently paused to savor phrases and descriptions. Though Little House, Revisited is Miller’s subtitle, this is a novel that can be enjoyed even by someone not familiar with Wilder’s book, as a beautifully written and authentic account of a pioneer woman trying to make a home out of a little house on the prairie.