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The First Four Years


The First Four Years Cover

ISBN13: 9780060264260
ISBN10: 0060264268
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Publisher Comments:

The First Year

It was a hot afternoon with a strong wind from the south, but out on the Dakota prairie in 1885 no one minded the hot sunshine or the hard winds. They were to be expected: a natural part of life. And so the swiftly trotting horses drawing the shining black-top buggy swung around the corner of Pearson's livery barn, making the turn from the end of Main Street to the country road Monday afternoon at four o'clock.

Looking from a window of the low, three-room claim shanty a half mile away, Laura saw them coming. She was basting cambric lining to the bodice pieces of her new black cashmere dress and had just time to put on her hat and pick up her gloves when the brown horses and the buggy stopped at the door.

It was a pretty picture Laura made standing at the door of the rough claim shanty, the brown August grass under her feet and the young cottonwoods standing in their square around the yard.

Her dress of pink lawn with its small sprigs of blue flowers just cleared her toes. The skirt was full, and tucked to the waist. The little tight waist with long sleeves and high neck had a bit of lace at the throat. The sage-green, rough-straw poke bonnet lined with blue silk softly framed her pink cheeks and her large blue eyes with the bangs of her brown hair above them.

Manly said nothing of all this, but he helped her into the buggy and tucked the linen lap robe carefully about her to keep off the dust. Then he tightened the reins and they dashed away for an unexpected weekday afternoon drive. South twelve miles across bare prairie to lakes Henry and Thompson, along the narrow neck of land between them where chokecherries and wild grapes grew. Then over the prairie againeast and north to Spirit Lake fifteen miles away. Forty or fifty miles in all, but always "around the square" to come home.

The buggy top was up to make a shade from the heat of the sun; the horses' manes and tails flew out on the wind; jack rabbits ran and prairie chickens scuttled out of sight in the grass. Striped gophers ducked into their holes and wild ducks flew overhead from one lake to another. Breaking a somewhat lengthy silence, Manly said, "Can't we be married soon? If you don't want a big wedding, and you would be willing, we could be married right away. When I was back in Minnesota last winter, my sister started planning a big church wedding for us. I told her we didn't want it, and to give up the idea, but she hasn't changed her mind. She is coming out here with my mother, to take charge of our wedding. But harvest is right on hand. It will be an awfully busy time and I'd like us to be settled first."

Laura twisted the bright gold ring with its pearl-and-garnet setting around and around on the forefinger of her left hand. It was a pretty ring and she liked having it, but. . . "I've been thinking," she said. "I don't want to marry a farmer. I have always said I never would. I do wish you would do something else. There are chances in town now while it is so new and growing."

Again there was a little silence; then Manly asked, "Why don't you want to marry a farmer?" And Laura replied, "Because a farm is such a hard place for a woman. There are so many chores for her to do, and harvest help and threshers to cook for. Besides a farmer never has any money. He can never make any because the people in towns tell him what they will pay for what he has to sell and then theycharge him what they please for what he has to buy. It is not fair."

Manly laughed. "Well, as the Irishman said, 'Everything is evened up in this world. The rich have their ice in the summer but the poor get theirs in the winter."'

Laura refused to make a joke of it. She said, "I don't always want to be poor and work hard while the people in town take it easy and make money off us."

"But you've got it all wrong," Manly told her seriously. "Farmers are the only ones who are independent. How long would a merchant last if farmers didn't trade with him? There is a strife between them to please the farmer. They have to take trade away from each other in order to make more money, while all a farmer has to do is to sow another field if he wants to make a little extra.

"I have fifty acres of wheat this year. It is enough for me, but if you will come live on the farm, I will break the ground this fall and sow another fifty acres next spring.

"I can raise more oats too and so raise more horses, and it pays to raise horses.

"You see, on a farm it all depends on what a man is willing to do. If he is willing to work and give his attention to his farm, he can make more money than the men in town and all the time be his own boss."

Again there was a silence, a rather skeptical silence on Laura's part, broken at last by Manly, who said, "If you'll try it for three years and I haven't made a success in farming by that time, I'll quit and do anything you want me to do. I promise that at the end of three years we will quit farming if I have not made such a success that you are willing to keep on."

And Laura consented to try it for three years. She liked the horses and enjoyed the freedomand spaciousness of the wide prairie land, with the wind forever waving the tall wild grass in the sloughs and rustling through the short curly buffalo grass, so green on the upland swells in spring and so silvery-gray and brown in summer. It was all so sweet and fresh.


Laura Ingalls Wilder is beginning life with her new husband, Almanzo, in their own little house. Laura is a young pioneer wife now, and must work hard with Almanzo, farming the land around their home on the South Dakota prairie. Soon their baby daughter, Rose, is born, and the young family must face the hardships and triumphs encountered by so many American pioneers.

And so Laura Ingalls Wilder's adventure as a little pioneer girl ends, and her new life as a pioneer wife and mother begins. The nine Little House books have been cherished by generations of readers as both a unique glimpse into America's frontier past and a heartwarming, unforgettable story.

About the Author

Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in 1867 in the log cabin described in Little House in the Big Woods. She and her family traveled by covered wagon across the Midwest. Later, Laura and her husband, Almanzo Wilder, made their own covered-wagon trip with their daughter, Rose, to Mansfield, Missouri. There, believing in the importance of knowing where you began in order to appreciate how far you've come, Laura wrote about her childhood growing up on the American frontier. For millions of readers Laura lives on forever as the little pioneer girl in the beloved Little House books.

Garth Williams's classic illustrations for the Little House books caused Laura to remark that she "and her folks live again in these pictures." Garth Williams also illustrated Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and almost one hundred other books.

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

Amy BookGirl, February 20, 2014 (view all comments by Amy BookGirl)
I read several reviews for this book and it was critiqued pretty harshly. People said the writing was poor and not at all like the rest of the idyllic Little House series. I, however, liked it--a lot.

First of all they’re right, it is not a literary work of art. It was actually published from four notebooks, a handwritten rough draft, found after Laura’s death. But, what resonated with me was a feeling of authenticity. The other book I've read, Little House in the Big Woods, was wonderful, but felt censored--highly polished? For example, she’s afraid of being spanked by her Pa, but instead he curls her up in his lap for a moral story. Leaving me feeling that this man never, ever, lost his temper… Not even when his daughters disobey him, not once, but twice. But, if she was afraid of being spanked then wouldn't she have to have felt his belt before?

Laura and Almanzo are married early on in the story. Laura is nineteen and Almanzo twenty-nine. That’s what attracted me to this story, I was twenty when I was married and part of me wanted to revisit those newlywed years and contrast them with hers. The comparisons in our daily lives are that there aren’t any. I lived in a cozy little apartment in the suburbs and she lived in a government homestead in the Dakotas. However, Laura and Almanzo are immediately recognizable. Laura is still a woman/child, (like I was) who spends a snowy day playing and sledding, (like I did). Almanzo is an earnest, hard working man that doted on his young wife. (Like mine did.)

Laura has doubts (what? Laura has doubts!?!) about Manly’s choice to earn a living by farming a homestead. She doesn’t want to spend her life poor and broken from work. Infinitely optimistic, Manly convinces her to try it for three years. Each year their labor is devastated by forces of nature. Their wheat is filling out beautifully, then heat swoops in and dries it out. All that hard work was for naught. Plowing, seeding, tending… Done. Gone. The livestock, the prairie grasses (sold as hay) and Almanzo’s strong back, provides just enough to get by and they try again the next year. Then Rose arrives.

Authenticity aside, I was a little relieved that Rose didn’t arrive by stork. Although when Laura’s labor began, the doctor arrived and then she fell asleep and the baby was here. Woah. I think modern medicine has taken a step backwards. Or she did a little creative storytelling to protect her modesty. I can understand that in a pioneer era woman.

The next three years are rife with disasters and oddities that can only be real, fire, losing a child, fever, Almanzo’s stroke, their friendly neighbor who offers to trade baby Rose for a horse. Through it all, Laura never despairs and Almanzo never loses faith. After hail flattened $3000 in ripe wheat, money that would render them debt free with some to spare, Almanzo cheerily suggests they use the hailstones to make ice cream. Laura and I decline, and wonder if he’s a little touched in the head..

I understand why Laura, herself, never published this book. I also understand why she had to write it. Sometimes a writer is not in charge of what she writes. Sometimes a story becomes a nag, crowding out other ideas demanding to be written. So she did. However, she chose not to publish her doubts, trials and pain. A story can demand to be written, but the author gets choose what to do with it afterwards.

I am glad she wrote it. I’m glad it was eventually published. I’m in awe of their perseverance and hope. I’m in awe of their evident love for each other. I’m touched by Laura’s vulnerability and support of her husband despite her reservations. Perhaps their struggles bound them as a couple. In modern “me” times, it seems to tear couples apart.

Three ways I felt this book’s authenticity:
*Laura is not always happy.
*The Dakotas are a fracking scary place to live--weather wise. You could go out for a walk in the Spring, get caught in a freak blizzard and be found frozen to a rock three days later.
*I closed the book feeling admiration for what they endured, and wholly fortunate to live in modern times.
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crowyhead, October 18, 2007 (view all comments by crowyhead)
I always loved this one when I was a kid, even though it's rather sad at the end. What sitcks out in my mind is the joy of the beginning of the novel, and the beautiful house Almanzo built for Laura.
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Product Details

Williams, Garth
Williams, Garth
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Wilder, Laura Ingalls
aura Ingalls
Wilder, L.
New York
Children's 9-12 - Fiction - General
Social Situations - Adolescence
Historical - United States - 19th Century
Frontier and pioneer life
Historical - United States - General
Lifestyles - Farm Life
South dakota
Wilder, Laura Ingalls
South Dakota Fiction.
Lifestyles - Farm Life & Ranch Life
Wilder, Almanzo
Children s-Historical Fiction-U.S. 19th Century
Edition Description:
Little House
Series Volume:
v. 21
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
from 3 to 7
8 x 5.5 x 0.65 in 8.8 oz
Age Level:

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Related Subjects

Children's » Classics » General
Children's » General
Children's » Historical Fiction » United States » 19th Century
Children's » Middle Readers » General

The First Four Years Used Hardcover
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Product details 160 pages HarperCollins Publishers - English 9780060264260 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , Laura Ingalls Wilder is beginning life with her new husband, Almanzo, in their own little house. Laura is a young pioneer wife now, and must work hard with Almanzo, farming the land around their home on the South Dakota prairie. Soon their baby daughter, Rose, is born, and the young family must face the hardships and triumphs encountered by so many American pioneers.

And so Laura Ingalls Wilder's adventure as a little pioneer girl ends, and her new life as a pioneer wife and mother begins. The nine Little House books have been cherished by generations of readers as both a unique glimpse into America's frontier past and a heartwarming, unforgettable story.

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