Some of my favorite Christmas stories come from the “Little House Books,” Laura Ingalls Wilder’s multi-volume chronicle of her childhood on the American frontier in the decades after the Civil War. Each book in the series builds to a memorable Yuletide, celebrated in conditions that are sometimes cozy and sometimes fraught with worry. In Little House in the Big Woods, Laura’s eyes shine as she cradles her very own rag doll; in On the Banks of Plum Creek, she sees her first Christmas tree in a mission church on the Minnesota prairie. The chapter from Little House on the Prairie titled “Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus” is a masterpiece of suspense, warmth, and joy. I remember comparing my childhood Christmas-morning bounty with Laura’s meager stockingful of gifts and feeling slightly uneasy. (“Think of having a whole penny for your very own,” Wilder deadpans. “Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny. There never had been such a Christmas.”) Reading it with my children made me appreciate how sensitively Ma and Pa’s anxiety over Santa’s likely failure to deliver is conveyed through Laura’s innocent eyes.
The Little House Books make an excellent gift for any grade-school child, whether in tried-and-true paperback format (HarperCollins sells a boxed set of nine paperbacks for $71.97) or in the handsome new hardcover editions of the first three books, Little House in the Big Woods (HarperCollins, $12.99, 224 pp.), Little House on the Prairie (336 pp.), and Farmer Boy (368 pp.). These newer editions, also available as a boxed set, have heirloom-style cover art, no interior illustrations, and new forewords by an assortment of famous names. (The only one I read, by former librarian and first lady Laura Bush, didn’t add much.) Wilder’s text needs no dressing up, but these books have the look of a gift to be cherished.
A child already acquainted with the Ingalls family might like to receive A Little House Christmas Treasury (HarperCollins, $14.99, 144 pp.), which collects the abovementioned Christmas chapters from each book in a single volume. It’s perfect holiday fare, with little preaching but a great deal of genuine sacrifice and generosity.