Friday, March 19, 2010

Pa (as a kid) played that he was hunting Indians

Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, is Favorite Book #23 in Elizabeth Bird's SLJ "Top 100 Novels" countdown. Published in 1932, Bird says "As of right now, it has sold about sixty million copies in thirty-three languages."

Sixty million! That's a lot of people reading these words in "The Story of Pa and the Voice in the Woods" that begins on page 53:

"When I was a little boy, not much bigger than Mary, I had to go every afternoon to find the cows in the woods and drive them home. My father told me never to play by the way, but to hurry and bring the cows home before dark, because there were bears and wolves and panthers in the woods.    

"One day I started earlier than usual, so I thought I did not need to hurry. There were so many things to see in the woods that I forgot that dark was coming. There were red squirrels in the trees, chipmunks scurrying through the leaves, and little rabbits playing games together  in the open places. Little rabbits, you know, always have games together before they go to bed.    

"I began to play I was a mighty hunter, stalking the wild animals and the Indians. I played I was fighting the Indians, until all woods seemed full of wild men, and then all at once I heard the birds twittering 'good night.' It was dusky in the path, and dark in the woods.

There is no further mention of Indians as Pa continues his story. (The voice he heard was actually an owl.)

It is that last paragraph above that gives me pause. Wilder writes "I began to play I was a mighty hunter, stalking the wild animals and the Indians." Indians who she then calls "wild men." Wilder tells us this story, presumably a story her Pa told to her... A story wherein Pa tells her how he imagined himself, as a kid, hunting Indians. Hunting Indians. 

Pa (the adult) told Laura (the child) and Laura (the writer) told children that Indians are like animals to be hunted.

Did that paragraph leap out at you as you read the book?

When you read the book to children now, what do you do with that passage?