I grew up watching the Little House on the Prairie television series. From its debut in 1974 to conclusion in 1983, I was captivated by the drama, shed tears at the believable hardship, and snarled whenever Nellie Olesen showed up. I had little knowledge of the real Laura Ingalls and even less of her husband Almanzo Wilder, the star of this documentary. I looked forward to reviewing Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura produced by Dean Butler (Legacy Documentaries), who played Almanzo in the Little House TV Series from 1979-1983. I am one of the rare homeschoolers who had not read Farmer Boy, so I invited my twelve year old to join me as we dimmed the lights, grabbed some candy, and watched the forty-five minute documentary.
The film was visually stunning with its focus on the beauty of nature and use of various film techniques such as narration, interviewing, archival footage, reconstruction, and dramatic sequencing. A perfect complement, the background music was soft and crisp like a breezy autumn day.
Dean Butler introduces the family friendly film (sells for $21.95), which is intended to explore the life of Almanzo Wilder who besides being the husband of Laura Ingalls Wilder, was the inspiration for her second book, Farmer Boy.
Farmer Boy was written when Laura was sixty-five years old and published during the great depression. Americans gleaned hope from the book, which besides sharing the heart warming story of a single year in Almanzo’s life, was one of Laura’s goals. With the assistance of her daughter Rose Wilder-Lane, who was also a successful professional writer, Laura wrote Almanzo’s recollections on a school tablet which Rose later typed out for submission to her publishing company. Proof writing a best-selling book can happen at any age, and is usually a cooperative venture. At a time when people were scared for their future, the charming story of a nine-year-old boy with his resolute principles and rewarded hard work ethic gave Americans hope that they too would prosper again.
Those who have read Farmer boy will enjoy hearing the selected readings and seeing the illustrations pop out and pan the screen. It made me want to run out and get the book and coax my teenagers to snuggle with me on the couch while I read aloud this classic story of the historic pioneer life of homesteading, milking cows, churning butter, and homemade apple pie.
Life Before Laura is quite educational – anyone unfamiliar with the grueling work involved in maintaing a farm will never look at the local supermarket the same. Did you know the average mid 19th century family of five could live on $540 annually? Also, they ate an average of four thousand calories a day and managed to maintain normal weights. Baths were once a week as it was an ordeal just to get the water warm enough to strip and clean.
What did my son think of the documentary? He liked it enough to watch it for twenty minutes, said it was good, and asked me why we didn’t read Farmer Boy when he was younger. Good question. Though we may have missed this classic, we read all the others.
I watched this DVD a second time before sitting down to write this review. I enjoyed it again, and felt a wealth of respect for The Wilder Family and was in awe of the legacy they have left. Over a hundred years after they met on the western trails, fell in love, raised a family, and wrote an elegant story of their experiences, they are still influencing and encouraging those who read the Little House books. Their examples of honesty, responsibility, self-reliance, success, individualism, family togetherness, and resiliency echo still. Legacy Documentaries has done a wonderful job bringing light to the life of Almanzo Wilder, the little Farmer Boy who though grew to be a man of few words, married the woman who took those few words and multiplied them to touch the hearts of the young and old who read her memorable accounts of life on the prairie. I can’t imagine anyone not liking this documentary. Watch it, read the book, make a pie, churn some butter, ride a horse, and, if you happen to live near Northern NY, schedule a visit to Almanzo’s homestead in Malone – a perfect ending to a wonderful family adventure.
Thanks for stopping by, and may I send you over to the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog to read more reviews of both Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura and The Legacy of Laura Wilder.
Oh my gosh – my apologies! Nasty Nellie barged her way in. She is so pushy.