I think this is part three. I know I have been SLOW on this one!
Because I knew I was heading to the Laura Ingalls Wilder House/Museum in MO in April of last year, I started re-reading the "Little House" books towards the tail end of 2007. By the time 2008 rolled around, I had 5 to finish up, which I did in fairly quick succession. Having done so really made the trip all that more interesting and enjoyable; in particular, the museum, which housed many items/artifacts referred to in the Little House books.
By the Shores of Silver Lake ****
Laura's now 13. She and her family have left Minnesota and have settled in the Dakota Territory. Sister Mary is blind at this point and Laura had to say good-bye to her dear dog Jack who passes away. Although it is never mentioned in the books, a son is born to Charles (Pa) and Caroline (Ma) around this time, Charles Frederick, but, he does not live long. Little sister Grace is introduced in this book. The family has settled near the town of DeSmet (where they will eventually move in a later book) on the shores of big Silver Lake. Pa is working as a store keeper for the railroad, and, as much as he hates to do so, promises Ma that this is as far West as they will go; they'll finally settle down for good. As always, there are many lessons and morals in this book for kids and big kids alike. Oh, and at the end of the book, Laura catches her first glimpse of the boy who will become her husband!
The Long Winter***
I'm not sure why, but, this is my least favorite book of the series. Maybe because it is so well written that even the reader feels the drudgery of living through almost two years of blizzard conditions; having little heat or food; having to twist endless clump of hay to burn, almost starving more than once, etc. One positive of being stuck indoors is Pa tells a lot of stories (always engaging). Laura's future husband Almanzo and the dashing Cap Garland save the town from starving by going off on a foolish but brave mission to secure grain from a neighboring town. Ok, ok, maybe it's not SO bad after all! One other interesting note about this book; it's the first one in the series where everything is not told completely from Laura's perspective (excluding Farmer Boy, of course, since this was about Almanzo).
Little Town on the Prairie****
As the title suggests, this book, more so than any other, depicts town life in DeSmet South Dakota. After surviving the LONG winter (which was actually two winters), the Ingalls decide to move into town for the winters (wise of them) although they do still spend the summers on their claim outside of town. Because the focus of this book is town life, there is a lot more in here about Laura's friends, school life, church activities and socializing and less about planting, churning butter, and freezing to death. Laura's grown up enough now to wear her hair up (she's likely 15 or 16) and go to chaperoned parties. Mary's off to the college for the blind in Iowa and makes occasional appearances. The evil Nellie Olson has returned to torture Laura (although, in reality, Laura combined two rotten girls from her past into the one character of Nellie Olson). Finally, Laura realizes that she will be the one that has to become a teacher (this had originally been the plan for Mary) and help provide support to her family.
These Happy Golden Years*****
By far my favorite of the series! Laura embarks in her profession of teacher (at the ripe old age of 16). She experiences life away from home (and is fairly miserable but keeps a stiff upper lip) and learns how to deal with unruly students. She relishes in her weekends home and begins to appreciate Almanzo Wilder (who drives her home every weekend, even in terrible weather conditions). Throughout the book (and after Laura has moved back home for closer teaching positions), their romance blooms. Since this is a children's book, there is obviously nothing torrid about it, but, it's no less thrilling when he finally gets around to proposing. Laura's other friends are also getting engaged/married; Mary is doing well at college, Laura's little sisters are fascinated by the grown up Laura, and Pa and Ma remain the calm, serene and loving influences that they've always been. At the end of the book, Laura moves with husband Almanzo our to their own claim. The last few pages describing her entering her new house (he'd kept it a surprise) and exploring are my favorites.
The First Four Years***
Frankly, this books is fairly depressing because not a lot of good came out of the first four years Laura and Almanzo (referred to as "Manly" now) were married (save their daughter, Rose). Just about every bit of bad luck one living out on a prairie could experience, they did, including ruined crops, their house burning down, their baby son dying and Almanzo getting diphtheria. It was likely due to these awful times that the Wilder's ultimately moved to Mansfield, MO. Also, this book was not written by Laura per se. After she died, her diary of these four years was discovered. From that diary, this book was compiled. The writing is definitely not as rich or descriptive as Laura's (or Rose's, if you are to believe that it was actually Rose who wrote the Little House Books). I saw a review on this book that said, "For Laura diehards only!" I think I have to agree with that summation. Yet, I couldn't bring myself to give it a two star rating.